#30 Authors – Proustian Interview with Kristopher Jansma

jansmaYou may not know this, but I’m a huge fan of Kristopher Jansma. I thought his debut novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards (review), was complex, challenging and brilliant. So I was thrilled to be asked to interview him for #30Authors and the Legacy: An Anthology blog tour. Thrilled and then terrified. So I took the easy way out and crafted a Proustian-style Questionnaire for him. Enjoy!

1. What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and Dave Eggers’s The Circle back-to-back, both of which scared the hell out of me and made me want to sign off of all social media forever. But things like this #30Authors group are a nice reminder of the ways I think that the online world can be a help to writers as well. I’ve discovered so many great new voices in the past few years thanks to the writers and readers that I follow online. But right now I’m reading a strange little novella that was recommended to me the “old-fashioned” way by a bookseller at one of my local shops, Greenlight Bookstore. It is called The Log of the SS The Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford and it is really bizarre. A book about a couple living on a giant barge that is floating around in the middle of some strange post-apocalyptic-y world. I’m loving it so far.
2. What is your view on writing in books? Do you do it?
 I’m a really avid dog-earer. Sometimes when I finish a book it will be almost twice as wide in the top corner because I have dog-eared half the pages. But I don’t write in the books unless I am going to be teaching from them (and usually I do that on a photocopy). Then I scribble all over them. Notes in the margins, underlinings, etc. It’s something I like to do when I am in “teacher” mode, and then when I read for fun I set the pen down and try to just enjoy myself.
3. Are you a monogamous reader or do you read multiple books at a time?
I will often read the beginnings of many books in a row, until I find something that really grabs me or suits my mood. I have a big pile of books usually on my windowsill that I’m considering getting around to. But then once I find something that clicks for me, it’s all or nothing. I will plow right through it until the end, and I could never read something else in the middle.
4. Tattoos – do you have any? If so, what are they?
No tattoos! I have never really been able to think of anything that I was so sure would be permanently meaningful. Even favorite books or lines from books, I always wonder if, ten years or fifty years from now, I will still feel the same way about. Once I thought I might want to get a little rectangle with a rainbow stripe across the corner, because of all the old Salinger paperbacks that I collected that have that design. But my wife pointed out that getting what would look like a rainbow tattoo might end up sending the wrong message.
5. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?I don’t know. That’s not me being evasive… that’s what I say too often. I’ll say, “I don’t know,” and then I’ll launch right into a long report on exactly what I do know about something anyway. “What do you think about Virginia Woolf?” someone might ask. “I don’t know,” I’ll inevitably answer, and ten minutes later I’ll still be talking about her.

But in my writing it’s different. I tend to punctuate dialogue with little gestures that aren’t necessary. After I finish I draft I go back and cut out a thousand “he smiled”s and “she shrugged”s and that sort of thing. It’s a bad habit and I barely notice it when I write them in initially. Then later I realize my story is swarming with people nodding their heads or humming or stammering. Nine times out of ten the line of dialogue itself already makes it clear.

6. Where would you most like to travel to?

There are so many places I’ve never been before, but when I dream about taking a trip it is usually to Oxford, England where I spent a summer abroad studying James Joyce and Virginia Woolf many years ago. It was one of those great, formative times for me, and I fell in love with the city and its great history, literary and otherwise.

7. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

In 2009, after scrapping the third novel in a row that I’d attempted to write, I decided to set myself a seemingly impossible goal. I set up a little blog online and told my friends and family that I was going to post a new short story there each week, three weeks in a row and then get a week off. The aim was to write 40 new stories over the course of the year and to reboot my writing in the process, and push past the limitations I’d been hitting. It was a really insane thing to try and do, considering I was teaching 4 or 5 classes at the time. But I kept at it all year and not only did I end up with the 40 stories, over 600 new pages, but several of them eventually became the initial pieces of my first published novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards.

8. Where and when were you most happy?

Well now we’re getting into the territory I’m exploring in my next book, but I can say that it was in New York City, during maybe the third and fifth years I lived there. At first I hated the city and felt like I was in over my head and very alone. I had only two real friends from college who I saw once a week for a (very cheap) dinner out. But more people kept coming, including my girlfriend (now wife) and I began to fall in love with the city as I began to find how it all fit together, and where I fit into it. That took two years, like I said, and after that it was still a constant struggle to make rent and get writing done and crawl ahead in my teaching career… but it was always exciting and I was very happy then. It didn’t last forever… or at least it changed. At some point the scales began to tip in the other direction… but I’ll stop there before I spoil my next novel.

10. When is your favorite time of the day? Morning, afternoon, evening, late night?

Evenings. I love whatever time I can find to spend with my son and my wife after a long day teaching or writing before he goes to bed.

11. When are you most productive?

It used to be late nights, after everyone else went to sleep, and then I switched to early mornings before they all got up. These days it tends to be late mornings, after I drop my son off at school and before I break for lunch.

12. What television show are you most obsessed with right now?

I am really excited about the end of Mad Men. Before the final episodes came back on I rewatched the entire series from the beginning. It is so amazing to see how history and time have changed them all. Once that goes off the air I really don’t know what will hold a candle to it.

13. If your life were made into a movie, who would play you?

People used to tell me that I looked like Michael Cera but more recently I have gotten Jesse Eisenberg so maybe I am growing up. Still the truth is that all I have ever wanted is to be Ethan Hawke in just about anything.

14. What is your favorite place to read?

In an airplane. Obviously in a quiet and not cramped seat. But I live for long flights where I can get lost in a long book without any emails or phone calls to interrupt.

15. What is your favorite place to write?

Planes work great here too, and also airports for the same reasons. Nobody bothers you and if anyone calls you can just say “Hey I am at the airport” and no one expects you to stay on. But in place of that I will take a clean, well-lighted cafe, preferably with ample outlets and spotty WiFi.

16. What is your greatest extravagance?

Probably living in Brooklyn. It makes so little sense really. It is one of the most expensive places in the country, if not the world. And with my son these days it isn’t like I get out to the restaurants or bars or museums or theaters very often. Plus I teach in New Paltz, about two hours north. But I haven’t been able to give it up. I never thought I would live in New York. Moving here was very hard and hanging on has been harder and harder. But it made me who I am today, no question. Before this I didn’t have the ambitions or drive. I wanted to write but I didn’t know much about the world… I found all that here. And on certain days I look around at it all and think to myself that just being here is more than I ever expected.

17. Dog or cat?

I have only ever had cats and they have always been already more than enough to keep up with.

18. When can we expect a new book from you?

Very soon! My next novel is called WHY WE CAME TO THE CITY and Viking is planning to have it out in February of 2016. We are just putting the finishing touches on, but it is a book I’ve been writing since the same year I began LEOPARDS and wrote all those stories I mentioned. The novel follows the lives of five college friends who have moved to the city together, and how they must struggle together when real tragedy strikes for the first time in their lives. It’s a very personal story for me and I can’t wait to share it with my readers!

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10 Comments

  1. Love this interview! I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but I love hearing what writers have to say about their lives and what they like to read, etc. I still have his book on my to-read list – I really do want to read it! I also want to go check out that book by Stanley Crawford…

  2. Fantastic interview! I think you asked some really thoughtful questions and I have to say, this story was probably my favorite at least out of the fiction selections. Now I really need to get to reading The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards!

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