Interview: Aaron Burch

May 15, 2020

Hello Aaron, Thanks for doing this interview with Middle House. Can you introduce yourself to the readers?

 

Hi readers! *handwave emoji* I’m Aaron. 

 

What are some notions you have about fiction writing? Can you tell us about some of the things that have stuck over the years? [M]

 

That it should be fun? I mean… writing is almost never “fun,” in the classic idea of the word, and more often than not I find myself procrastinating via something, anything else, but I think you should entertain yourself. Or at least that’s what I want to be doing. I’m not that prescriptive about it. Maybe you’re not an entertaining yourself kind of writer or personality. But, personally, I’ve never had very elevated thoughts about writing, about it being capital-I important or holy or sacrosanct or whatever. All that said, one of the most “fun” things about writing is when you surprise yourself, and that idea, of creation happening on the page, I think is pretty universally important, whether you think of your writing as Important or goofy or somewhere in between. [A]

 

How do you feel about the process of motivating the creation of prose in workshops? [M]

 

I’m… not sure what you’re asking here? [A]

 

I’m asking about your perspective on teaching creative writing in the sense of do you feel that creating is a you-either-have-it-or-you-don’t craft? Will a good instructor/professor make a difference? Or is writing so isolating that the motivation to create resides only in the individual, no matter how good the instructor/professor? [M]

 

I think a good instructor can definitely make a difference. I also think friends, a mentor, a writing group, anything like that can also all fulfill that role. Ideally, whatever is in that role for you, there is some combination of encouraging you, and holding you accountable, and exposing you to new things. I’m watching The Last Dance right now, and obviously Jordan is on the far end of having it end of the you-either-have-it-or-you-don’t scale. Both in regards to skill and drive. But he had coaches. He had a trainer. Sometimes a coach or professor might be most helpful just in having someone to push against. And sometimes a trainer helps be like, okay, you’ve turned your body into a baseball player and now we need to turn it back into a basketball player, this is how we’re going to do it. Okay, these are some of the things you’re doing really well in your writing, what if you tried this? Here, you should read these books. Have you thought about…? [A]

 

 

What do you think about the energy of young writing? [M]

 

I… like it? It’s great? The goal, I think, is often to try and marry the energy for writing that often (but not necessarily only) happens when young with a kind of Gladwellian 10,000 hours of practice that has helped you figure out at least a little bit about what you’re doing. [A]

 

I agree. Writing is more about practice than age. There are young 50s and old 30s. [M]

 

What I’m interested in is: energy is finite. And we are always spending time. The amount of energy a young writer (in the sense of starting out) spends submitting 500 times could probably produce a novel. Do you think it does any writers a service to romance the idea of oh-the-writer-I’d-be if I had known at 16; if I had known at 22 that my life’s work and passion would be words? [M]

 

IS energy finite? I think I’m not sure. I think a lot about Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, and also, I’ve run here and there on and off over the years, but have really become much more serious (although still not SERIOUS) about it in the last year. I went on a run a couple of days ago, one of those days where I really didn’t want to go. It has been pretty nice weather the last few days and we’re in the middle of this quarantine and so I’ve kind of enjoyed my daily runs. It gets me out of my apartment and moving a little and out in the sun. But it was overcast and cold and I just didn’t want to… but I made myself. And it was a struggle. I don’t know if it was a struggle because I so didn’t want to be doing it or I didn’t want to do it in part cause I knew I was tired and it was going to feel like a struggle, or some combo or what. But I did it, and then it felt good, after, to have done it, but it was really slow. A slower run than I’d done in a while. And days like that can sometimes feel like a waste or like you’ve taken this step back after having felt so good and like you were progressing. But then I thought about my time and how it felt so slow… but was still quite a bit faster (and farther!) than I was running this time last year! And also, my run yesterday felt good and was faster again. I think, in the long run, energy is very rarely “wasted.” Sure, all that time you spent submitting 500 times could theoretically produce a novel… but it’d probably be a crappy novel. You gotta just put in the work. And you probably have to put in the work of both submitting and writing. It’s different work but it also kinda all needs to be done? I also think I’d be a worse writer if I’d known at 16, or 22, what I discovered at 25, and 30, and 40. Or maybe not worse, but different? I’m generally pretty Mr. Peanutbutter-y, and don’t spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about “what if”s. I (mostly?) like the writer (and person?) I am now, and I like writing about 16-year-olds who like to skateboard with their friends and play video games and don’t care about much else in the world, because that’s what I was; I don’t want to write about 16-year-olds who want to become writers. [A]

 

There's plenty of writers who land big publications young and then chase that only to seemingly get back "there" every few years. What are your thoughts on success? Is the best writing landing at the best places? [M]

 

Maybe this circles back to my “fun” answer, but I don’t really think about this that much. I mean, I haven’t landed a “big publication,” so I can’t speak to that, although I’d love to. I think it’s easy sometimes to “punch up” — to look at, say, The New Yorker or big press books and call what they’re publishing boring and think that the only place any exciting writing is happening is at small, indie places, and I think it goes all ways. A lot of big press books are boring and some writers and journals and presses deserve more attention and credit and all of that, but the reverse is true too. I’ve been reading a lot of The New Yorker fiction this last year and a lot of the stories are pretty great and fun and weird and exciting and not what you’d think of as a “New Yorker story” and a lot of “exciting”/young/indie/new places publish is whatever. [A]

 

As far as accomplishing what you consider to be the best work, who are some contemporary writers on your mind? [M]

 

The books that jump to mind from the last few years, almost all novels, were those by ​Kevin Wilson, Chris Bachelder, Jac Jemc, Emily St. John Mandel, Brian Evenson, Gabe Habash, Scott McClanahan. [A]

 

Who are the most influential writers/poets/professors to you personally and in your work? [M]

 

All of the above, all of the editors and writers I’ve worked with with Hobart. [A]

 

Writing advice you wish you would have received as an undergrad? [M]

 

Nothing, really. I didn’t major in English, didn’t know Creative Writing classes were even a thing, didn’t really start writing until after college… but I don’t really wish I’d gotten any advice. I think being confused and not knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up and just kinda stumbling my way through it all was part of what made it fun and I mostly just appreciate the trajectory that happened. [A]

 

Let’s hear about your trajectory? [M]

 

I’ve written about this a decent amount, but… I majored in Communications in college, largely because it was the degree that I could get the soonest with random assortment of credits I had after jumping around and trying a handful of different majors and just never figuring out what I was drawn to. I took one New Media Communications class where the teacher was like this oldschool hacker nerd who taught us HTML and some basic Photoshop and Flash. This was in 2000, before WordPress or any other kind of easy website building platforms. He taught us how to handcode HTML and our homework was turned in via a personal website that we had to build. I kinda loved it. Then I graduated college, moved down to California with my girlfriend at the time, got a job a bank, and was kinda just like “wtf am I doing with my life?” a feeling that was only multiplied when we broke up, and so I just kinda threw my time and energy into designing a website, which I’d had so much fun doing in that one class. I’d also started reading more, and had discovered McSweeney’s, and then from there a handful of online journals (Pindeldyboz, Eyeshot, Sweet Fancy Moses, Haypenny, Opium, Surgery of Modern Warfare) and so building a website for fun turned into an online journal, Hobart, and from there these different tracks—doing a journal, reading, writing some myself—all just kept feeding one another. [A]

 

 

First memory or project where you really committed yourself to the writing? [M]

 

​Probably Hobart. Even before I committed myself to any writing project (the jury is actually maybe out on if I ever even still have), I threw myself into Hobart. [A]

 

 

Bio:

Aaron Burch is the author of the memoir/literary analysis Stephen King's The Body, the short story collection Backswing, and the novella How to Predict the Weather. He is working on a collection of essays, THIS WAS ALL BEFORE THE INTERNET, about growing up and music and religion, essays from which, about Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, and Alice in Chains, have appeared in Salon, Catapult, and The Smart Set. He is the Founding Editor of HOBART.

 

 

Suggested readings (optional):

 https://jellyfishreview.wordpress.com/2019/08/05/no-longer-there-by-aaron-burch/

http://www.joylandmagazine.com/regions/midwest/oysters

https://www.salon.com/2019/04/05/im-not-like-them-but-i-can-pretend-obviously-this-is-an-essay-about-kurt-cobain-and-nirvana/

https://catapult.co/stories/subliminal-messages-on-nine-inch-nails-broken

 http://vol1brooklyn.com/2017/07/30/sunday-stories-the-plan/

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