Q & A with JP Paul - Part II
Any other influences that helped form the work?
After discussing my work with numerous people, one theme that popped up frequently was my involvement with the visual arts and how it affects my writing. I think it's a valid point. Stylewise, I'm very aware of the use of contrast, form and negative space as well as the need to leave plenty of room for the viewer or reader to reflect from a personal standpoint. I don't serve every detail. I suppose in literary terms you would call this forcing the reader to delve between the lines. A few academics I chat with frequently have called it collateral interpretation. Sometimes what isn't written is equally important as what is. The late, great artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, explained it perfectly, "I cross out words so you will see them more: the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them."
Literary purists may balk at this approach. I can safely say I'm not a purist. The same applies to musical similarities. Cadence, tone, spacing, beat and pulse are more important to me than grammatical perfection even though I don't go out of my way to botch sentences. I think this applies to all the arts. Perfection can be dull unless the creator is a skilled craftsperson. Besides, what is perfection? I'm more interested in fluidity and keeping the reader engaged.
What about Latin America. Can you reference this ?
Clearly there is the influence of living in a Spanish-speaking culture for much of my adult life. The Spanish language has fourteen general verb tenses instead of six in English. Castellano is lush and naturally rhythmic. It's verb-rich and utilizes much longer sentence construction with far less punctuation. This has clearly influenced my English writing and is a nice counterpoint to the clean, modern works of Hemingway and others. I talk to many people who question Gaddis or Pynchon or Foster-Wallace for rambling on and on. I usually respond by saying, "You think they are long and twisted? Try most of the Spanish writers and the magical realists!"
To be honest, I'm not fond of woodpecker writing, paragraphs with fifteen sentences of three or four words each. Too choppy, no flow. Get it. Don't get it. Perplexed. Next thought. :-) They say it adds tension. Maybe it does, but it also gives me a headache even if it doesn't pull me out of the story entirely. I think it will pass as a fad. People will look back thirty years from now and say, "Why so blunt, why was everyone in such a hurry? Were the authors nervous, insecure? Didn't they read Dickens?" Why talk in sound bites or write in tweets when you have an entire novel to flesh out your ideas and story? Call me strange, but I believe that well-constructed longer sentences are often much easier to read and can greatly enhance flow. I try for balance to control the pace and enhance readability.
What’s more important to you, the writing quality or the story?
Story and character development are generally what pulls most readers through a book, but I also love great writing and can wrap myself in the peculiarities of a writing style regardless of the story. That's not to say grammatical perfection or vocabulary Olympics. Both can produce stale, dated or derivative work. I enjoy surprising forms of expression, unique voices when you can tell immediately that the author is feeling no constraints from the vehicle nor preconceptions of the intended readership. Some writers have a special gift to be able to make anything read well. Contrarily, even the best stories can stall if the writing is either flat or blatantly over-written. Many great writers manage to get out of the way of the story entirely, imparting their style so subtly that it becomes integral to the book rather than serve only as that vehicle.
In the visual arts, I'm always looking for something unique or at least a fresh approach to an old style. Same in writing. I love rule breakers and enjoy a good literary puzzle even if the story stumbles out of the blocks.
What type of stories do you prefer?
I like slice-of-life stories, those events, circumstances or relationships that any of us might encounter at some point in our lives. How do we react? What decisions do we make? What can I learn from the success and failure of others?
I also want to be challenged. I like to be forced to think about the story's intent and the author's relationship to it. I want to explore the time and the characters beyond the surface. Many readers like to be whisked away to fantasy worlds. I understand that need for entertainment and escapism but I think we have plenty that can be accomplished as a global community right here on Planet Earth. I'm positive we can still get the world right if we work at it rather than run away from it. I'm both entertained and free to escape through realism.
The problem I have with fantasy genres is that they tend to recreate many of the same socio-cultural problems that already exist but wrap them into ugly monsters or pseudo erotica of incarnate shells. This creates unbelievable villains and heroes who often don't seem to carry sufficient credibility - in my opinion - for me to care whether they succeed or fail. I’d rather know how a human being, my neighbor for example, would react given a specific set of obstacles or pending decisions. I question why so many fantasy writers hesitate to show the warts of real people and instead choose to dehumanize their characters so we don't take the criticism personally as a society.
That said, I enjoy a good speculative novel if it tackles bigger questions from which we can learn. Margaret Atwood, for example, is timeless and has dominated that genre for years.
November 2017: Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.