Interview With Author Jackson Bliss
Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I was born in Traverse City, Michigan and spent the first fourteen years of my life there before moving to SoCal, Chicago, the Pacific Northwest, and then back to SoCal where I’ve lived now for over a decade in LA where I got my PhD in literature and creative writing. In middle school, I wanted to be a concert pianist, but as I got older, I found community and companionship in books: reading them, writing about them, and creating them. My musical background, however, shows up everywhere in my writing. I’m the winner of the 2020 Noemi Book Prize in Prose and the mixed-race/hapa author of the literary short story collection, COUNTERFACTUAL LOVE STORIES & OTHER EXPERIMENTS, which dropped in October 2021, the backwards novel, AMNESIA OF JUNE BUGS, which dropped on 26 April 2022, and the forthcoming experimental memoir about mixed-race/hapa/Nisei/AAPI identity, love, travel, & masculinity, DREAM POP ORIGAMI, which drops in July 2022!
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
AMNESIA OF JUNE BUGS came out a few weeks ago and DREAM POP ORIGAMI comes out on 26 July 2022. AMNESIA was my MFA thesis, which took me oh, fourteen years to rewrite, revise, and reimagine. It’s an experimentalish novel in the style of Zadie Smith, Junot Díaz, and Karen Tei Yamashita that goes backwards in time, is divided into the four stages of an insect’s life cycle, and centers four BIPOC/AAPI characters whose lives intersect on the C train in New York during Hurricane Sandy. DREAM POP ORIGAMI, on the other hand, is a choose-your-own-adventure memoir that oscillates between short, lyric, personal essays and autobiographical lists, giving readers the freedom and the responsibility to make decisions after chapter. In the end readers help decide this memoir but they also help put the fragmented pieces together.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Not really. I’ve been promoting these three books of mine that have appeared (or will appear) within the space of nine months (kinda suicidal, if you ask me), so I haven’t been able to write new material in over a year, which is fucking terrible! But I believe, as writers, that we need to not idealize the act of writing too much. It’s obviously fundamental, unavoidable, and crucial, but there are so many things we can do when we’re not writing that can help us or hinder us to write again, like research, reading other authors and finding inspiration in their texts, traveling, jotting down notes, even strictly cutting and revising, that aren’t technically writing in a literal or creative sense of the word, but that are connected to, and often a necessary part of the writing process. So, while I can and do sometimes sit in front of a laptop for twelve hours writing, I try not to freak out when I don’t write because I’m never out of that orbit.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
Here are a few:
1. Zadie Smith’s WHITE TEETH
2. Junot Díaz’s THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO
3. Karen Tei Yamashita’s I HOTEL
4. Haruki Murakami’s NORWEGIAN WOOD, HARDBOILED WONDERLAND & THE END OF THE WORLD, & AFTER DARK
5. JD Salinger’s FRANNY & ZOOEY
6. THE COLLECTED STORIES by Lydia Davis
What are you working on now?
Mostly promoting TF out of my books, but I just recently finished a screenplay called MIXTAPE, I have a newsletter on Substack that I write every week, also called MIXTAPE, and I’m working on a novel about mixed-race prodigies.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
Personally, I think author websites have become mostly informational in nature because viewers only go to your website because something else lead them there. IMO, I think that authors need to promote their books or no one will know they exist, which is where I’ve had to begrudgingly accept that social media plays a necessary role for emerging writers. If you’re famous, you don’t need them, but most of us aren’t, and the ability to discover, create, and find your own community on Twitter & IG can’t be overstated enough. Also, reading at festivals gets your name out there to book lovers.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Don’t look for shortcuts, don’t expect to live off of your books, don’t talk obsessively about your writing to your partner (that’s what writing friends are for!), don’t disappear when your writing friends need you, don’t ignore literary journals along the way, and don’t worry about whether or not you’re a writer. If you are, you won’t be able to stop writing until each book is done and you’ve found a home for each manuscript. OTOH, be generous, be intrepid, take risks with your writing, read other books as a form of nourishment, study the industry, learn about comparable titles in your particular genre, learn how to write a query letter, create complex characters, don’t reinforce stereotypes, and always remember the joy. If you can’t find joy at any stage in the writing process, then why the hell are you doing it?
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
I once read an interview with Hannah Tinti that I still think about. Basically, she said, there’s a longer way and a shorter way to learn how to improve as a writer. You can either listen to people who know what they’re talking about and who spot technical and craft issues in your manuscripts or you can learn the hard way on your own what the major issues of your manuscripts are. They’re both valid, but the latter takes a longass time and the former requires you to overcome your own artistic ego, which is hard. The former is much faster, but you also have to first figure out which critiques are in the interest of your book and which ones are just pretentious drivel written to make the critic feel important. In workshops, both are plentiful!
What are you reading now?
I know this sounds narcissistic, but since AMNESIA just dropped, I’ve been trying to treat it like any other book and finally read it all the way through. I’ve never been able to see it in hard copy before (it was a word file for thirteen years), so I wanted to see how it felt now to immerse myself in it like any other book I bought at my local bookstore in the literary fiction aisle. As it turns out, it feels pretty damn good! But it bugs the shit out of me when I notice a copyediting issue!
What’s next for you as a writer?
Once DREAM POP ORIGAMI drops in July, I’m going to promote all three of my books, which is fucking insane, I know! I’ll do that until October 2022, then I’ll drop COUNTERFACTUAL LOVE STORIES from the list. And once April 2023 hits, I’ll drop AMNESIA and just focus on DREAM POP ORIGAMI until July 2023. Then I’ll be free at last!
Beyond that, I’m hoping to break into TV writing, write another libretto, eventually start working on my literary fiction trilogy (basically three counterfactual novels all about the same mixed-race protagonist who makes three major life decisions, each decision dedicated to one novel written in a particular fictional subgenre). I’d also like to travel internationally again for the first time since the pandemic. I’ve got a decent amount of family in Japan, so I’d like to go back there, but my wife and I have also wanted to travel to Portugal, Iceland, and Norway for years now, so who knows?
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
I’d take an empty journal so I had something to write while I was there. I’d also bring THE IDIOT, I HOTEL, & 1Q84.
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Jackson Bliss’s Social Media Links