Tuesday, June 28, 2022

John Vercher

John Vercher lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife and two sons. He has a Bachelor’s in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA in Creative Writing from the Mountainview Master of Fine Arts program. He is a contributing writer for WBUR Boston’s Cognoscenti, and NPR features his essays on race, identity, and parenting. His debut novel, Three-Fifths, was named one of the best books of the year by the Chicago Tribune, CrimeReads, and Booklist. It was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Strand Magazine Critics’ Awards for Best First Novel.

Vercher's new novel is After the Lights Go Out.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Speaking only regarding my own personal preferences, I’d say titles matter for both active and potential readers (as well as writers). As a writer, I love the process of coming up with a title that engages a reader’s curiosity, especially a title that doesn’t quite have its meaning revealed by the back cover copy. It’s fun to imagine the feeling of discovery when they encounter a passage or line that reveals the title’s importance to the novel. It’s fun to imagine this because it’s enjoyable for me as a reader to experience as well. It can be tempting to make the title gimmicky, so to that end I strive to keep the title relevant to the overall themes of the book and perhaps doing the work of hinting at the book’s conclusion. In the case of After the Lights Go Out, I hope I accomplished those things.

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

For me, beginnings and endings are actually easier than the middle. In the great plotter vs. pantser debate, I’m pretty firmly in the pantser camp. That said, I only sit down to write when I’ve figured out both the beginning and the end. The middle is the most challenging, but also the most enjoyable. As with the title, I enjoy the sense of discovery from putting my character in a challenging situation and revealing his character in the ways in which he works to get himself to a better place. In terms of changing one more than the other, the answer is neither. I don’t begin writing until I have the beginning and end firmly set.

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

While it’s not auto-fiction, there are certainly elements of myself not only in my protagonist, but in my other characters. Authenticity is important to me as both a reader and writer, and I feel the best way for me to be authentic on the page is to bring elements of people and places I know well. I admit that’s a longer way of saying “write what you know,” but it’s what I’ve found works best for me. I know my style well enough to know that if I wrote anything based on significant research, it would come off sounding like exactly that.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Music? Pictures? Movies? The news? The environment? Politics? Family? Yes to all! After the Lights Go Out was heavily influenced by music. Fighting is very rhythmic, and I wanted my sentences and paragraphs to have their own rhythm. As such, I often listened to music to infuse my sentences with a flow. I also tend to think cinematically while writing and am a huge fan of fight cinema, so there are certainly elements in this novel. I’m always intrigued by explorations of race and family as a reader. I’ve followed the advice of writing what you want to read and so those two subjects figure largely into the theme and content of After the Lights Go Out.
Visit John Vercher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue