Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Adam Braver

Adam Braver is the author of Mr. Lincoln’s Wars, Divine Sarah, Crows Over the Wheatfield, November 22, 1963, Misfit, The Disappeared, and Rejoice the Head of Paul McCartney. His books have been selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers program, Border’s Original Voices series, the IndieNext list, and twice for the Book Sense list; as well as having been translated into Italian, Japanese, Turkish, and French. His work has appeared in journals such as Daedalus, Ontario Review, Cimarron Review, Water-Stone Review, Harvard Review, Tin House, West Branch, The Normal School, and Post Road. Braver also edits the Broken Silence Series for the University of New Orleans Press, a book series that tells the firsthand accounts of political dissidents. In addition to being the Associate Director and a faculty member at the NY State Summer Writers Institute, he serves as the Library Program Director at Roger Williams University, where he is also on faculty. He lives in Rhode Island.

My Q&A with the author:

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

In some respects, this is a tricky title. On the one hand, it is quite literal, with its allusion understood by the underlying events of the opening pages. It also is a phrase later chanted by one of the characters. But I also hope that its metaphorical aspects are part of the underpinning of reading the book—namely, the idea that much of the novel looks at a significant moment in modern history, and the moment where a kind of idealism is challenged, and for some, even, lost, or destroyed. And in tracking the echoes of that time—the feelings of confusion, loss, and uncertainty—it was important to me that the book ultimately become about the idea of connection through beauty and grace (even when difficult to see). And with The Beatles being for many (at least in my world) the touchstone of the unconditional belief in love and peace (a version of my saying beauty and grace), that title, Rejoice the Head of Paul McCartney became the title almost from the get-go, in that it told the story of the story in so many ways.

What's in a name?

I am fascinated by the expiration dates of names. I’m often struck by how many names of the generations above me (and in many respects my own) have gone dormant. Quite often, a name will come to memory, and then I will scour almost twenty years of student rosters to see I have never had a student with that once common name. But I also do love the rare occasion when I do come across a student with one of those long forgotten names. It feels to me as though they carry the character of an era in them, as though they are a living part of history and inadvertently carrying with them some sense of tradition. (Of course, they usually are deathly embarrassed by having an “old fashion” name.) So, while I don’t tend to think about my characters’s names in term of allegory or homage, I do try to honor them with names that are not just there for naming, but rather with the same sense of character and completeness that I feel when I meet someone whose name has really become them.

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

I picture my teenage self seeing this book as the literary equivalent of doctoring and manipulating a photo of yourself to imagine what you’d look like as an old person.

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

It’s a tough question, in that to really get going with any earnestness, I need to know what the experience of the novel will yield — meaning the place where a character starts with some kind of hope, the experiences that challenge the character’s sense of what they expect, and how the character is affected or changed by how it ends up. If there isn’t that kind of transition, then I have a hard time squaring it as a narrative; instead, it just reads as a long anecdote. I find there are novels that build off a series of cause-and-effect events, and there are those that are about the wave of effects born from a single event. Rejoice the Head of Paul McCartney (as with most of my novels) tend to adhere to the latter. So with that in mind, I’d have to say that I rewrite and revise the beginning more than any other part of a novel. And it makes sense to me, as there is a winding-in to it, finding the place and the people and the emotional tenor that tells you that this is where the story starts.

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

By and large, I’d say that I am in all my characters in some way or another — the good, the bad, and the ugly. This novel draws from so many of experiences I had run into throughout my life — from my boyhood in Los Angeles, all the way through adulthood in San Francisco and then later in New England—that it was hard not to find myself tapping into my own emotional world. That, of course, is not to imply that these characters are based on my own experiences, but, rather, ones that I might have observed, or were legendary among peers, etc. Quite often, it might just be an opening situation that is based off something else, and then imagination takes over for the purposes of the story. For example, there is a section of the book that kicks off with a couple at a diner where the kitchen tries to pass off a plate of basil as a salad. That is something that had happened to me any my wife years ago. And it set a tone in real life, as it does with this section. Still, there is nothing of either of us directly in the story, nor is there anything else in that section that is connected any real experiences — other than the emotional experience, which, I guess, gets to the heart of the question. The only way that I can make my characters authentic is to draw from my own emotional well (as unpleasant as that can be at times while doing it). If a character is suffering, I need to draw from my own past suffering. Joy. Grief. Anger. Love. All the same. Dug up and relived, in order to take the character out of being a character, and instead into a person who is real and honest— a person who, in some capacity, may connect to many of us.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Without question, music, and in too many different ways to list out here in any detail. But in short, writers like Bob Dylan had a tremendous influence on me in regards to language and its power; others taught me a lot about rhythm and tone; so many taught me about the lines between formal and experimental, with the permission to play with form and to find new meanings in those forms; other showed me attitude and humor and conviction; and taken all together. I suppose it all adds up to the idea that being able to be so moved in a matter of minutes by a song — despite the style or genre or era — is something I’ve always wished I could replicate in narrative.
Visit Adam Braver's website.

--Marshal Zeringue