Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Josh Swiller

Photo by Heather Ainsworth
Josh Swiller is the author of Bright Shining World, a YA eco-thriller published by Knopf. He is the author of The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa. He lives with his family in the forest in Upstate New York.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Bright Shining World is a straightforward title that right away gets mysterious as it doesn’t at all fit the action at the opening. But that is kind of the book in a nutshell: not what it seems to be. The title makes more sense at the end of the book for sure.

What's in a name?

I just liked the name Wallace, back from the character in the absolutely magnificent HBO show The Wire. Conveys a decency. In the book his last name is Cole but his placeholder last name through the early drafts was Coleslaw, which was fitting because in German, “Kol” translates as cool and “Slav” as dude. He was Wallace Cooldude. I just made that up.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

He’d be like, damn slav, finally. I was always looking for books like this -- engaging books about the meaning of life without heavy-handed preaching or rainbow farting unicorns, with sly humor and big feeling. Sorry, teenage self, I wanted to get it to you earlier, but got sidetracked. Watch your credit more closely.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

A very good question I have no answer for. I knew the first and last line of this book before I started. That hasn’t happened before or since. Inspiration strikes and you have to grab it. The harder part, for me, is putting in the time when inspiration refuses to get out of bed and all the coffee in the world won’t rouse it. To put it another way, I had the first line and last line of this book before I sat down and it took over five years to write the lines in between.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

For sure, I give characters parts of myself, parts of people I know and see what they do with those parts. Often so they can handle those parts with a little more tact and grace than I’m doing! One thing that really informs Wallace, the main character of Bright Shining World, and that might not be apparent to many readers, is my deafness. Growing up deaf, I had to constantly be a detective, figuring out what people meant, what they felt, who was a danger. It was tremendously isolating and I’ve spent many years learning to find and build and trust connection. That is the basis for much of Wallace’s journey.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Well, I was a hospice social worker for years, and besides being humbling, heartbreaking work it was also a great literary teacher. When you’re alone in the room with someone leaving this world, the great questions come. What matters? How can you honor others? How can you honor this act of breathing? I live in the woods, surrounded by state forest, and the trees are always asking the same questions. My dog, on the other hand, knows the answers and looks on my ponderings with great pity and mild annoyance.
Visit Josh Swiller's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bright Shining World.

--Marshal Zeringue