a rally cry for literary independence

I have an article up on The Curator today about A.S./Pete Peterson's amazing forthcoming novel, The Fiddler's Gun. As you will read, I enjoyed every single page.*

However, in my eternal curiosity about everything, I asked A.S./Pete** way too many questions to fit into my article. Sooo, here are some outtakes from our interview that I found particularly interesting . . .

Jenni: What did your parents do to turn you and Andrew into such good writers?

Pete: It’s funny how often people ask me that, and I still don’t know the answer. I don’t recall being read to at home more often than most kids or being taught any differently, but my Dad was, and still is, a preacher. For my entire childhood I was forced to go to church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday and in general, I tried as hard as I could to hate it.

My Dad is a great speaker, though. He’s well-read and knows how to pack his sermons full of revelatory stories and illustrations from great literature. What I recall very keenly about my Dad’s sermons was the way he told his stories. He knew how to draw out dramatic pauses, how to vary his voice to build tension, and how to deliver an important line with passion. I was easily drawn into that kind of oral storytelling and from early on, I think I understood that stories were a means of making complicated ideas palatable - a way of saying more than one thing at once. I loved listening to those portions of his sermons and I think I’d be a fool to assume that they didn’t help to shape my own writing.

Who are your literary influences?

My earliest memories of being truly struck and amazed by a story go back to Tolkien. I must have read The Lord of the Rings twenty times before I was out of high school. In that same time period, I became a fan of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books which I’ve now gone back and read as an adult and am still amazed and moved by them. I think being so strongly affected by those two works early in my life was instrumental in the style of storytelling I prefer today. I’m very much drawn to books and movies and even music that revolve around characters who deal with an oppression of tragedy, pain, and darkness and yet despite the world around them and despite even themselves, they manage to find and cling to even the dimmest of lights.

As an adult, I see that same theme running through much of the literature I love: books like Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment; Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry; Hugo’s Les Miserables or The Hunchback of Notre Dame; Godric by Frederick Buechner; The Book of the Dun Cow by Walt Wangerin, Jr.; even movies like Magnolia, Children of Men, or The Shawshank Redemption.

I noticed this quote by Frederick Buechner on an introductory page of your book:

The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.”

I also noticed that quote in the artwork of Eric Peters’s latest album, Chrome, and it resonates with me, too. Why did you share that quote with your readers?

It’s an invitation to see beyond the simple narrative of the story. One thing that separates a good story from a great one is the extent to which a reader is able to see him or her self in it. And it’s worth remembering that the reason we tell stories to one another is that they’re a means of communicating things that we might not know how to say otherwise - a way of showing another person who you are and what you think of the world around you.

Are you nervous at all that real books will one day disappear?

I have a Kindle and I love it. It’s great for traveling and taking my library with me, or for buying that new bestseller that I’m curious about but know that I won’t be keeping on my bookshelf. Electronic reading is something that’s going to become commonplace, there’s no doubt about it, but I don’t think books are going anywhere. In fact, I wonder if it won’t force books to be better designed, to be more of an art form. If a new book comes out with an ugly cover, cheap paper, and poor typography, why not buy the digital version? On the other hand, put out something that’s beautiful to look at, to hold, to smell, and feel the weight of in your hand, and I’ll buy the hardback any day of the week.

Any words of advice and/or encouragement for aspiring fiction writers (such as myself)?

First, read, read, read. And don’t just read good books. I’ve learned as much from reading bad books as I have from reading great ones. Sometimes it’s more important to understand what not to do.

And secondly, discipline. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he talks about the 10,000 hour rule. It’s the idea that you’ve got to spend ten thousand hours doing something before you achieve mastery of it. That chapter of his book had a big effect on me. I realized that if I’m sitting around watching TV, every second I spend doing that I’m getting better at watching TV. So why not spend my time getting better at writing? Just like any other form of art, it’s a matter of practice. You aren’t going to be great the first time out, or the second, maybe not even the seventeenth. But by the time you’ve hit that ten thousand hour mark, you’ve got it mastered. Then you’re ready to do something that’s truly great. I think about that all the time. What would I rather be getting better at doing?

* - You can pre-order The Fiddler's Gun right here. I highly advise that you do so.

** - The author's dual name is explained in my article . . .


A. S. Peterson said...

I really appreciate all the work and thought you put into the article, Jenni. Thank you. One of these days when I'm in Houston I need to buy you and Johnny coffee or something.

jenni said...

'Twas my pleasure! It's fun to write about great writers & books. Johnny and I would love to meet up the next time you're here - please let us know.

Robyn Jones Clark said...

great article, jenni! Pete, looking forward to getting the book! i think the peterson's have done well :) i had the joy of knowing andrew and jamie when i lived in nashville - kept the kids some, too. you both are very blessed and talented young men.

kate o. said...

thanks for putting the out-takes here. this will make its way into the amazon cart.

i've been meaning to pick up gladwell's "outliers." i really liked the 10,000 hour rule he mentioned.

good work!

jenni said...

Thanks, y'all.

Kate, I don't think it's available on Amazon, but you can order it from The Rabbit Room. Johnny and I both wanna read Outliers, too ...

Kimberly said...

Very good! I've got a new book on my list of "books to get"!!!

Marcella Brown said...

good work. i appreciate the idea that books are not to disappear, rather than become more popular.