Q: You have a BA in Creative Writing and have had a varied career, when did you first want to become a writer?
A: I’m not sure I would call what I’ve done since graduating college and getting The Evolution of Shadows published a “career.” It might be more accurately called, treading water, or paying my dues, or that old saw “suffering.”
I usually mark desire to be a writer to when I was 12 and in the sixth grade. Fridays were “art day” and for a while, my sixth grade teacher, Connie Jobe, liked to use these story worksheets that taught the parts of a story. There were three or four activities on each worksheet, and then an assignment. Each worksheet had a theme, like “Sunken treasure” or “Alien Invasion.” The final assignment on each worksheet was to finish the fragmented story from the worksheet, or write your own version of a sunken treasure story, or an alien invasion, or whatever. We’d turn in our stories on the following Monday and the next Friday Mrs. Jobe would pick a few to share with the class before we did another worksheet. By the end of the year a private competition had developed between me and my friend Lars Ellingson to see how often our stories would be picked. All of my stories were part of a series, “The Adventures of Jason & Friends.” I still have a few of them in a box somewhere secret and I’ll never tell where.
It turned out it was a great outlet for my imagination . . . and curbed my penchant for telling tall tales.
Q: How did you first come up with the story for The Evolution of Shadows?
A: There are two parts to this story. The first goes back to 1995, just as the war in Bosnia was winding down, and the second comes from late 1999, early 2000.
I became interested in Bosnia just as I was graduating from college. Immediately I wanted to write a novel set in or around the war. Thankfully, at the time, I was still too young, undisciplined, and naïve to pull it off. So, I put the idea away and moved on to other things. But I kept reading about the Bosnian war because I found it so appalling that the European Union and America refused to act until late in war.
Then, in 1999/2000 I was in my first year in the MFA program at Naropa University and I had a full-time job in the call center of a media and market research company. There was also a very beautiful, young Korean American woman working there named Callie. I developed a massive crush, but never worked up the courage to talk to her, except this one time. I don’t remember what I said, but I didn’t intend it to be funny, but she laughed and, embarrassed, I never tried again. The crush didn’t go away though, so, I started a short story called “Curse Softly To Me,” which was supposed be an exercise to get over my crush. But about halfway through the two characters quit being proxies for me and Callie and became wholly themselves. And there I was with these two shattered, desperate characters – Gray and Lian – and no idea what to do with them. After I took the story in to a workshop, my classmates reinforced the idea that there was a lot more story to those two characters than a short story could handle.
I fumbled about with them for months after that, trying to figure out who they were, what they did, and how this one shocking act would affect them. Then, one day, while trying to figure out something about Gray, I picked up one of my books on Bosnia and that little light bulb went on in my noggin.
So, that’s it. A five-year-old obsession and the desire to get over a crush on a girl lead to The Evolution of Shadows.
Q: What sort of research do you do for your books?
A: Mostly, a lot of reading and a lot of observing the people around me. I’m not a big traveler, mostly because I’ve never had the luxury of time without a need to work, nor the money to do any traveling. Plus, I write about relationships between people and the mutually sad and wonderful thing is that people feel love, hate, fear, anger, joy, betrayal, and grace pretty much everywhere. Get the people right, and the rest will take care of itself.
Q: Which books or writers do you admire/enjoy reading? What are you reading now?
A: I actually have a shelf in my office where I keep the books by all the writers I admire most. However, I think two of the best living writers in English are Michael Ondaatje and John Berger. They both have the capacity to make me forget that I’m a writer. Ondaatje is the more poetic of the two, while Berger is the more stark. However, they both have this deep, emotional core that is completely without sentimentality while also being incredibly generous. I go back to “The English Patient” a lot, and Berger’s book “To the Wedding” is the sweetest of melancholy heartaches. I hope that I live long enough to write a book even half as beautiful.
Right now I’m reading “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea” by Yukio Mishima, and “Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same” by Mattox Roesch.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Currently, I’m working on cleaning up my second novel before submitting it to my editor. It’s tentatively titled “By The Still, Still Water” and it’s a multigenerational family drama set over a weeklong family reunion in 2001. When a stranger shows up to the Goodson family reunion looking to hear the story of how his father died during the Korean War, the stoic patriarch of the Goodson family, Ben, decides to finally tell the tragic and horrible story of the events he’s been trying to forget for the last 50 years. His story also begins to shift his family’s perception of him and of themselves and how they became the people they are. It’s kind of about how the mutation of memory and secret history shape us as much as the things we know (or think we know) about ourselves and our origins.
I’m also trying to resurrect a project that I mistakenly killed a few years ago. Not sure what else is on the horizon. I have a list of ideas and related books to read. I don’t mean to be cagey about it, but I’m from the school of thought that telling a story before writing it means you don’t have to write it.
Q: Is there something that no one has asked that you wish they'd asked?
A: Nothing comes to mind. I’m so new at all of this I’m just happy people are asking about the book.
Congratulations, Jason! The Evolution of Shadows doesn't read like a first novel at all. It has the complexity and anguish that reminded me of The English Patient. Have you thought of sending Callie a copy of the novel? I'm looking forward to your second book. Thank you for taking the time to chat today and for the book recommendations. I haven't read anything by John Berger yet. Best of luck and congratulations again!
About the Author, courtesy of his website:
Jason Quinn Malott has a BA in Creative Writing from Kansas State University and an MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University (The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. He has worked as a dishwasher, a short order cook, a barista, a newspaper stringer, a photographer, a phonebook chucker, a market research associate, an in-bound call center operator, a movie house troll, a bookseller, a bookstore inventory manager, a technical writer, and an adjunct composition instructor. He is the publisher and the Editor-in-Chief of the online literary journal "The Project for a New Mythology" at pfanm.com. The Evolution of Shadows is his first novel. He is currently working on his second. Learn more at Jason Quinn Malott's website at http://www.jquinnmalott.com/_/Welcome.html
A big thank you to Caitlin at Unbridled Books for this opportunity!