I had the pleasure of interviewing Jesse Miller, Common Deer’s newest author. While discussing the Common Deer Press’ Fall 2017 lineup, Elizabeth, publisher and friend, mentioned Unwrap Your Candy. Let me tell you I wasn’t expecting a book about man who works at a condom factory, loses his mind, then leaves and his job, all in one night. But since I saw the first page, then the condoms and cigarettes sparkled throughout the book’s design, I knew I was in for a fun read.
Don’t miss out on this book! It comes out on September 10th.
Welcome to my blog! Thank you for taking some time out of your day to have an interview with me. And congratulations on your upcoming book birthday!
- Can you tell readers what your book is about?
Thanks for having me aboard your blog! Describing this thing I’ve created is tricky for me. Even though I’m the one who created it, the book may be something very different to me than it is for others. But I’d say, Unwrap Your Candy is about being madly in love with and consequently, blissfully intoxicated by language. It’s the story of Thom Evans and a day/night he spends after he leaves his miserable job at a condom factory for a night on the town with his compellingly attractive, but seriously wounded lover, Samantha. The tagline my publisher came up with is choice, something like: Imagine Woody Allen made a movie about Dilbert and James Joyce wrote the screenplay. That’s what you should expect from Unwrap Your Candy.
Really, UYC is a book of chapters, and perhaps the non-linearity of the narrative might be a barrier for someone to push through. But if you can get past some of the construct mechanics, it’s really a book of songs, with recurring phrases, with recurring lyrical motifs, many of which are introduced in a kind of overture at the beginning, stretched and unpacked as the book spins on, and then brought around in the close. I suppose that sounds kind of absurd, and perhaps worse, pretentious AF, as the kids might say. How about this: it’s a concept album in the form of a novel.
- Why did you plan to write it? Was there anything that gave you inspiration to do so?
The real germ of UYC came from an article I read many, many years ago in one of those douchebag men’s Maxim-y magazines. I was sitting there in the waiting room at the dentist’s office and the cover had a little blurb: “The Magical, Mystical Condom Factory Experience!”—some such nonsense. I think the angle was like this Willy Wonka-esque tour through the factory as told by a kind of “with it” Hunter S. Thompson narrator-type driving the story. What struck me most was how during the tour, the writer wasn’t allowed inside certain rooms—I’m sure this is standard procedure, but he made such a huge deal out of it, out of this barrier, this kind of off-scene place. It got me wondering: What was beyond those walls? And then some lyrical part of my brain took over and wondered what that all meant—the barrier, the NO that existed in a space that made barriers. From there, the unknown, the beyond, and not just the actual room in the factory, became the quest. And then in time, the mood and the undercurrents of the book started to take shape.
- Can you also talk about your main character, Thom? How did he come to life?
Thom came to life for me in the ensuing years after I had written a full draft and had put the book down for a while. There was something about his “condition,” self-imposed as it is, that some part of my brain couldn’t stop returning to it. It was a kind of unresolved melody bouncing off the walls of my cranium, trying to get out. I suppose then, so much of Thom experience is a sense of purgatory, even in, and perhaps especially in, his youth. The book is prefaced with a portion of Tennyson’s poem Tithonus, and as misguided as Thom may be, I think he identifies with the unresolved condition Tithonus experiences in the poem—the sense of being shielded physically but not protected emotionally…feeling powerless as you watch everything decay. It’s odd, but that kind of chewing on a heavy poem for years, and returning to some lines you might mutter to yourself or anyone in earshot, at questionable times even, feels real to me, makes Thom real to me, anyway.
Of course, when I first started the book, I was roughly about the age of our dear punchinello. I was once a young, anxious man vibrating with the exotic narcotics of adrenaline and hormones, trying to figure out how to exist inside my own skin. Interestingly, it was ultimately in my aging, in my removal from the kind of “condition” of this character that I suppose I could see Thom, and write from a perch where I was capable of looking back to make some out of meaning of the flurry of his youth. I always thought there was a dark humor in this book, but as I’ve worked on the revision, and the countless other revisions, and as life has worked on revising me—I suppose I’ve appreciated the humor in the Thom’s self-created folly more and more.
- You’ve published a novel before. What have you enjoyed about this book’s publishing process?
I’ll tell you, this has been a remarkable experience. The good people at Common Deer Press have been extremely receptive to how I envisioned this book finding its form in the world. I particularly loved the way the dust jacket came out—that long phallic factory stretch into infinity just kills me. And the 3-tone trinity spareness of the cover gives me chills, gives me that rockin’ pneumonia of, say, a White Stripes album.
I am thrilled (to) be part of CDP and to bring Unwrap Your Candy into the world! This is, well, an unconventional novel, which drifts way out there at times, and it is only fitting to work with a unique publisher so keen on presenting the work in its proper form. CDP gets this book, and I very much looking forward to the unwrapping.
- You’re a visiting lecturer at the University of New England. Why did you decide to choose literary fiction over other genres? Is there something that sets it apart?
I am! I generally teach writing courses at UNE, including creative writing courses.
Choose literary fiction? That’s not exactly it for me. Really the question is: What is literary fiction? I’m not trying to be bratty, but it’s worth considering. It’s certainly something we wrestle with in my writing classes. As I understand G E N R E, with a capital G—as both a writer and a teacher of writing—is that other genres radiate from literary fiction, and we receive their rays on many different planets. Literary fiction, for me, without putting too fine a point on it, is a home-base of sorts, an incubator, a kind of Rome from which all other genres widen and radiate. And that’s what makes other genres interesting, in their reach and radiation from home-base. And really, UYC is a probably a little bit of a transgressive book in the truest sense and in the genre sense. But I don’t really live and die by genre.
Literary fiction so often has elements of other genres. Christ, one of my favorite short stories, The Swimmer by John Cheever is really a ghost story. I love reading that story with my fiction students as “literary fiction” and then looking at from another genre-y lens. EXPLOSION! Students come in loving stories, so I really try to avoid being sclerotic with how I define or have them experience fiction. Tell me a story. Make me care. Avoid cliché. Get out of your comfort zone. That’s really my ambition in the classroom and at my writing desk.
- Are you planning to write more books in the future at all?
Well, I’m so pleased that my fabulous publisher has purchased the rights to my first novel and will be re-releasing ARK. That will be the next project to attend to. You can check out a little sample of the cover art and a blurb about the book here:
Beyond that, I’ve been writing an eschatological novel, a kind of mosaic for years and years now, which feels like with just my luck, that I’ll finish just in time for the end of the world. I’m calling it the WAX novel at this point, like drip candles that accumulate on prior drippings, because it seems like with this project I keep returning to it, burning over for a while when I can really focus; and then I’m back teaching, and that kind of singular focus I need evaporates. The cycle has been going on for a long time, writing in fits and bursts… falling into the book, back again, and then I’m gone again. The process of coming and going in and out of the book, that wax and wane, is having an impact on the style of the prose for sure.