Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Josh Weil

Josh Weil was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his debut collection, The New Valley. A National Book Award "Five Under Thirty-Five" author, he has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, Columbia University, the MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, and Sewanee. His fiction has appeared in Granta, Esquire, One Story, and Agni.

Weil's debut novel is The Great Glass Sea. From his Q & A with Alex Espinoza at the Los Angeles Review of Books:

ALEX ESPINOZA: Geography features prominently in both your books. The novellas in The New Valley all take place in “the hardscrabble hill country between West Virginia and Virginia.” In The Great Glass Sea, Russia serves as the setting. It seems that people oftentimes hold preconceived notions and ideas about specific locations, both nationally and internationally. How do you as a novelist complicate the geographies your characters inhabit?

JOSH WEIL: You’re right, geography (and simply a sense of place) is vital to me when I write. I wind up using that as my way into a scene, a moment; if I can visualize it, place myself in it, then I can start to make it feel real enough to myself to let the characters work naturally within it. So it’s maybe a bit odd that I tend to write about places that aren’t lifted directly from my own life. I’m not very interested in writing about a guy who lives on a walking trail outside a tourist city in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevadas, a guy who drives a Prius and goes jogging and lives a life that I find kind of uninteresting. Do I want to push my life in more interesting ways? Yes, always. Do I succeed? Rarely. But one of the things that does get me living closer to something that I’d like to write about is that it’s vital to me to be on the ground in a place when I’m writing about it. Or to at least have fully experienced the specifics of that world — that geography — before I can put the pen down and call it done. For The New Valley that meant that I spent a lot of time living in a remote cabin in the middle of Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, about as close to the land as you can get these days. I made that my home because I wanted to write stuff that was set there. I was drawn to it (because I’d been born there and, as an adult, grown into myself while holed up there), so I knew I had to spend the kind of time with the place that would allow me to know the details of that world. It’s tremendously helpful to be able to go for a walk in the evening and see something — the way a wild turkey roosts in a tree; the way crows attack a floating hawk — and let that drive the writing, become a part of it. So, first, I’d say, it’s important to really put yourself in the place, observe it carefully, record it, try to get the details down. Obviously, that was harder to do with The Great Glass Sea, since it’s set in Russia. But I did do it. After I wrote the first draft, I went to Russia for research. By research I mostly mean just being there, witnessing life there, trying to soak it up. It helped that I’d...[read on]
Visit Josh Weil's website.

Writers Read: Josh Weil.

The Page 69 Test: The Great Glass Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue