Home // November.21.2017 // Cassandra A. Jones

Mesmerizing Trash: A Shame Spiral Interview with Jeremy P. Bushnell

I did what writers are supposed to do. I tried to hustle. I contacted my editor and pitched an interview. I reached out to the author. I readied a plan of action to capitalize on the opportunity I’d created to earn another byline. And then, I proceeded to drop the ball in a spectacular fashion—Atlas-dropping-the-Earth-on-his-toe levels of dropped ball.

Here’s the story. I set up an interview with Jeremy P. Bushnell, whose fiction I’m a fan of. We met in a Pavement coffeehouse on the edge of the Northeastern University campus, where he teaches English courses. We had a rapport, I wasn’t entirely ineloquent, and I felt like I put down twenty pages or so of great notes about our shared interests. I thanked him for his time and parted ways with him, planning to write up our conversation while it was fresh.

There’s the sticking point; I put off writing-up our fascinating conversation for, oh, seven months.

My memory of our exchange fuzzed—hard. The timeliness of the piece imploded to the point of minimal risk output. Maybe Bushnell will forgive me (if he remembers me) now that this piece is out in the food chain for consumption. Maybe my editor will forgive me for handing over such a late write-up.

In the end I decided to try to make lemonades out of my own self-sabotaging lemon crop. Watch as I pivot on self-flagellation to turn the situation around:

Welcome to the Shame Spiral Interviews!

In this series [This better not be a series. Ed.] I will be reporting on conversations I’ve had with accomplished literary people, months after the event. Instead of the usual tightly transcribed format, these write-ups will be composites of the impressionable bits, any turns of phrase or quirks of personality that stuck with me after my extended period of procrastination.

Okay, enough noodling about.

Across my desk I have laid out the notes I scribbled down while I spoke with Bushnell, the author of The Weirdness and The Insides. I read:

punky place, trashy fantastical stuff, bad fantasy, novels not written well; need psychological reals

If I’m deciphering my Bic-blank handwriting correctly, those must have been the opening topics of our discussion. I believe Bushnell bought me a coffee before I wrote that first note. If he didn’t purchase me a drink, he definitely seemed the type who would have. Does accepting an addictive substance compromise my integrity as a literary journalist?[Yes it does; see me. Ed.]

Ah, here’s a note that jogs a memory. When I compared him to Gaiman + Gibson, Bushnell smiled.

In his novels Bushnell achieves the same magical-realistic-modish tone as those two grand G’s. His characters are relatable, even when they’re cooler than you. Theirs is the perfected cool of someone you idolize, not the mainstream-thwarting, self-segregating cool of a hipster. Think Hiro, Shadow, and Case. Add a world where devil-magic is a thing, leaven with writer-centric jabs, and that’s a Bushnell joint.

At the time of our meeting, I hadn’t yet read The Insides, so our talk focused centripetally on The Weirdness. On his website, Bushnell describes his debut novel as “a comic misadventure about a failed writer who teams up with the Devil to thwart the apocalypse. Along the way they encounter bad readings, good coffee, hot poets, evil goats, and Norwegian sex magicians.” (Give me some of that, amiright?)

From shared admiration of the G’s, Bushnell and I moved on to a sharing session where we geeked-out over style. Whenever I think back on our conversation, I envision Cynthia from Rugrats. Why? Well, we were talking about how mash-up genres seem to kiss like a kid smashing two dolls together, and genre writing is the ugly toy of the literary world. I wrote, Split the difference; Bushnell probably said something more insightful. Continuing in a long scribble, I wrote:

Sniff around incredibly abstract colliding words and phrases. All genres are up for grabs. Horror and Darkness with humor, mash to find something fresh. Mesmerizing trash.

I remember being obsessed with making the magic system in Bushnell’s novel fit my political interpretation, as regards to the importance of consent. The devil in The Weirdness cannot make his protagonist, Billy, do a damn thing until Billy explicitly consents. I thought this was perhaps a commentary on Bushnell’s position as a college instructor —he must have an awareness of the increased visibility of consent-based interpersonal contact, given his participation in campus culture. Had he grafted this current issue onto his magic system?

My notes read:

Consent and University—no. But, he’s a feminist and wants the issues to show up in his work. Address privilege. Magic is about how you exert your will over people, important to stay grounded in such things.

Ah, okay. I was only half-right: he was thinking very deliberately about the question of consent, but he wasn’t drawing connections between his world-building and his experiences in academia. English major syndrome then.

From this point on my notes are largely unintelligible. Our conversation over coffee was getting so engrossing, that I found it difficult to disengage enough to keep up with my note-taking. A few legible phrases peep out of the mess: annoyances of the publishing world; combating competitors in the attention economy; something-something about Bushnell’s band. I wish I could share more of our conversation with you. I’m spiral; I’m shame.

Let me at least end this interview [That's a strong word. Ed.] with a touch of conviction.

At the close of our time together, Bushnell said something that struck me as wise, and I was on the ball enough to write it down clearly: Synthesize what you know. What Bushnell knows is music, role-playing games, teaching, and photography; and it’s my testimony as a reader that he also knows how to pull that material together and write a solid book. It’s refreshing to meet an author who so clearly takes his own advice.

Banner graphic source: A photograph (cropped) uploaded to the pxleyes.com contest forum by user fumoffu89 in 2010. Used here in view of the "reuse with modification" information included in the photo file metadata.

See also: [NERObooks homepage] [tag:interview] [tag:shame spiral]

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