Q & A with JP Paul
December 21st, 2017
First, congratulations on your fine review @ Kirkus Reviews. Before I ask you a few quick questions, I'll copy the review for those who haven't read it.
From Kirkus Reviews:
A stylish family saga in which modernity comes to a small, old Southern town.
In his ambitious debut novel, Paul tells the story of the savvy, artistic Proctar family in Cane Valley, Florida. They find their sedate way of life disturbed when corporate interests and an ambitious technology company, Global Cybernetics, stumble upon their idyllic town and offer buyouts to local landowners. Although some see the influx of wealth as an opportunity, the family patriarch Max Proctar, a sculptor, is reticent, wary of the changes that the town’s growth will likely bring. His social standing and his land holdings in town command respect, but they also make him a target as outside forces begin to infringe on his bohemian way of life. In addition, Max must also face the return of his adult children, who struggle to reconcile their love for him with his curmudgeonly ways. The most compelling character among this cohort is Zara Proctar, an aspiring painter searching for her own path. The Proctars, a collection of witty, erudite aesthetes, resemble J.D. Salinger’s famous Glass family, but they also bring a Faulknerian Southern attitude and 21st-century concerns. Paul writes in a verbose, intelligent style that recalls David Foster Wallace. The narration is lively, but the dialogue sometimes bumps up against the limits of the believable; casual conversation includes comments such as “Isn’t this the century when workers thrive on independence and middle managers with antiquated cattle prods fade into irrelevance?” Still, although such remarks may strain credulity, they also lend the Proctars an indelible charm. This novel will be sure to please fans of family epics, and may also appeal to those with an interest in how technological and corporate culture are encroaching on personal lives in the 21st century.
A strong, stylish novel about one family’s battle to preserve its identity in the face of changing times.
I've known and collaborated with you for many years. I must say I think they nailed both you as a writer and the book, RATTLE. How do you feel?
Thanks, and yes, I'm thrilled that Kirkus seemed to enjoy both the nuances of the story lines and the stylistic decisions I made when considering the writing approach. To have a professional reviewer like Kirkus invoke references to great writers such as David Foster Wallace, William Faulkner and J.D. Salinger is heart-warming and humbling. I admire all three, something I won't consider lightly as I progress in my career. Simply overwhelming. Next question.
It's interesting that the reviewer felt that Zara Proctar is the most compelling character?
In November's Q&A at the time of book launch, I mentioned that I felt that the main female characters like Zara, Chloe and Lillian were pillars of the story. They're not the main characters, and certainly Max is the lead protagonist since much of the action and plot sculpting revolves around him, but I'm happy to see that Zara is getting her respect. She's a strong force throughout the book. It's important to remember that this family and story were envisioned as a series. There's plenty of time for Zara to glow in Part Two.
Kirkus feels your writing style is verbose and intelligent? Do you feel you're too wordy, possibly long-winded?
I'm not ashamed of verbosity, if that's what you mean. I don't read it as a criticism. To be compared to David Foster Wallace under any context is an astounding complement for me because he was a master contemporary writer who I admire immensely. Again, last month I mentioned that many years immersed in Latin America has influenced my style. One consequence of this is elaborate, lengthy sentences and layered descriptions. English teachers and editors warn students to be careful about using too many adjectives and adverbs. I guess I missed those classes! I love modifiers and descriptions that clarify. I mean, if this is what comes out when I'm constructing sentences, and if I feel the text is still fluid and approachable, then why go back and simplifiy it for the small minority of readers who just want to speed-read through a story? I've always mentioned that my writing isn't for everyone, that many from different backgrounds won't grasp my references, but I believe that a reader can engage with this book at different levels. For those who want to delve in the subtleties, they can. Others can fly through the story, if they prefer. I purposely made a novel that has many skins.
So you admit that sometimes your writing requires patience and time to absorb?
I guess, sure. I enjoy telling stories, but I also enjoy the craft of using words to paint stories. The latter intrigues me about the process, much as I've spoken about the types of novels that pull me along simply for the unique style of the writing. I prefer writers who challenge readers and tried to provide the same experience for my readers.
One last question, this one in regards to the reviewer's comment that your lively conversations may at times bump against the believable and strain credulity even while they lend the Proctar family indelible charm. Do you believe you went over the top in some passages?
Of course. That was the intent, and I'm ecstatic that it was mentioned. I don't dumb down conversation, in fact, I abhor writing that does. Think about it. Two people in a room, no other action on the set. The focus is 100% on the conversation. You have the readers, or the audience viewing a play, concentrating solely on the dialog. I say go big rather than use simple banter to steer the action of a story. The conversations in RATTLE are the most important action -- and ultimately an important takeaway -- of the book. There's absolutely no reason for me to apologize for challenging a reader to think beyond the words. I respect my readers and know they're more than ready for it.
A major reason for writing this novel, as others have mentioned before, is to explore cultural dichotomies and challenge stereotypes. I wanted farmers who weren't bumpkins, creative street dwellers, corporate managers with heart, thieves with a pulse who weren't necessarily rotten to the core. And, in an age of Trump-fueled anti-intellectualism and slang-laden, dumbed-down conversations, I wanted to honor preparation and attention to form. I'm unabasheduly pro-education but my characters are still allowed to rise or fall in different occasions. If people have trouble with challenging writing, there are plenty of other options. I don't apologize for expecting more.
Why Rattle: When Even Wealth Misses the Itch?
This was the story that came to mind and was waiting to be written for over five years. It combines lengthy recent experiences in Jamaica and Florida that remain fresh in my memory. It also deals with corporate politics, the art world, dysfunctional families and various dichotomies such as rural / urban, rich / poor, developed / undeveloped nations and cultural peculiarities that many of us sometimes misinterpret. I think it's timely, given the recent political climate in North America. Beyond that, I've dealt with all of the above on a daily basis for the past thirty years. Rattle isn't cathartic, rather an attempt to explore some deeper issues within the guise of a compelling and humorous story.
There's a unique bouyancy to your writing. Clear and straighforward, yet often complex and melodic. How would you describe the voice or style of Rattle?
I believe it's current, conversational and fluid. I hate to say contemporary since that has weighted connotations of its own, more so in the visual arts world more than writing, I suspect. I don't want people to think that this book is overtly experimental or bizarre. I've been told by one editor who I admire that it is acrobatic and dizzying -- in a good way I think -- and aimed for the reader who prefers to engage with the writing and the life-like situation rather than escape to an unreal place.
I wanted the story to seem familiar and well-paced without being hectic. I don’t want to confuse readers but I admit it will certainly help if the readers reserve some time to get lost in the book's layers. I try to write as a reader, not a word scientist. I use humor when I think it works, drama where its intended. I’m not out to game readers. That said, I hope my writing makes people contemplate the issues that lay behind the story.
Some characters are regular Joes with huge upside, people working to build careers and create a better life for themselves and their community. They are fictional depictions of imperfect people who you might know or meet on any given day. I've always enjoyed studying the human condition and strive for recognizable protagonists who are credible even if they're not pleasant or easily-accessible hero types. That said, I think my characters have plenty to cheer for. Some, albeit, after rough starts.
Rattle created a dilemma for me in the modern reading world. My work often has character arcs with difficult beginnings and positive endings. The protagonists may seem unlikable for many but they grow into better persons through the story. Balanced against the need for instant hooks to soldify the reader's engagement, it's difficult to set the protagonists properly in the first few chapters for the sake of the plot without the reader saying, "Wait a second, I don't like this character, or that one. Why should I continue reading?" I hope readers can get into the minds of my characters and see where they're going rather than let personality flaws dissuade them. I believe they are thought-provoking and worth getting to know. They better be since at least one sequel is in the works for release in 2018!
Updated December 21st, 2017: Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.