The Write Stuff: Jon Boilard on Pressing On and Fixing What Ails You

Jon Boilard by Robert Houser.jpg
Robert Houser

The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.

Jon Boilard was born and raised in Western Massachusetts and has been living in Northern California since 1986. More than 50 of his short stories have been published in literary journals in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia. A River Closely Watched is his first novel.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them... ?

These days I tell people I'm a writer. I think I know what you're getting at -- it was a while before I felt I had permission to call myself a writer. Because, of course, the follow-up question is always, "Do you have a book?" And I didn't then. But now I do. David Poindexter of MacAdam/Cage, the publisher of my first novel, and I had a conversation over beers one night, during which he basically asked me what I tell people I do for a living. And I confessed to him that I usually talk about my suit and tie job, and I don't mention the fiction writing thing. "That's bullshit," he said. "You're a fucking writer." It was great to hear a true book man like David say that. I felt like I had permission at that moment.

What's your biggest struggle -- work or otherwise?

Finding balance.

If someone said "I want to do what you do," what advice would you have for them?

I would say, go for it. I would tell them to press on and that they could do worse than to heed the words of Calvin Coolidge: "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

Do you consider yourself successful? If so, why?

I supposed it's all relative, but I would say yes, overall, especially considering my humble beginnings. I have a wonderful wife and two terrific young daughters. Supportive extended family and friends. We have food in the fridge, a car in the garage, and money -- enough to enjoy traveling together every now and then. We laugh a lot and rarely want for anything. So hell yeah. But specific to my writing career, although I've been at it for years, I feel like I'm just now getting started.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

I thought my Uncle Meatball was pretty badass. I wanted to be a Hollywood stuntman.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn't have to be ideal.

Hiking and camping in the Yollo Bolly Wilderness Area with my dad. Showering in a waterfall, fishing in a brook, cooking over a campfire, reading books under a shady tree.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

Not to be an asshole, but I'd rather be on the receiving end.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

Enough.

What's wrong with society today?

All the damn people. Just kidding.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

Nope.

What is your fondest memory?

A single memory doesn't come to mind. But more of a collage of memories of my big brother, Carl, and I exploring the rocky cove around my grandparents' home on the Massachusetts coast. We spent many summers there. There were lots of bad things happening all around us, but together we always managed to escape for a few hours; hunting for crabs in tide pools, blowing up GI Joe's with firecrackers, jumping from the pier into the cool blue Atlantic Ocean.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

Every morning when I wake my daughters for school.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

I won't try to define it for you (I know it when I see it -- ha), but I do find it necessary. A good book is a work of art. Reading a good book sometimes allows me to escape. Reading a good book sometimes allows me to understand things in my life, to gain some perspective, to make sense of the world. That's why.

What are you working on right now?

My second novel, tentatively called The Castaway Lounge. It's another dark and violent romp through a busted mill town -- more New England gothic for you. My goal is to finish writing it before summer 2013.

What kind of work would you like to do, or what kind of writing do you most admire?

I most admire writing that sticks with me long after I put the book down. William Gay, Cormac McCarthy. Those guys do it to me every time.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

Snow would be nice.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Great question. A night on the town means everything to me and here's what it looks like: A warm plate at Sodini's, a cold beer at Gino & Carlo's and then top it off with a shot of Fernet around the corner at Maggie McGarry's. That right there will fix what ails you.

What's the strangest thing you've ever seen?

Nothing comes to mind.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

I can tell you a story in 50 words. I can take my three girls to dinner for 50 dollars.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Baking bread, car exhaust fumes, the ocean.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

It would be cool to travel the world in a private jet for a year. Just wake up in the morning and pick a destination and go. That would be sweet.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. This interview conducted by Evan Karp. Follow Litseen at @Litseen.

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