George T. Anderson’s work has appeared in PANK, Maudlin House, the Curator, and other venues. He is working on a novel in the vein of Black Mirror. He is a classical composer by training and a writer by choice, though he still releases damaged pop as The Victorious Airborne. He enjoys cooking, biking, and spending time with his wife. Follow him @GT_Anders, or see http://george-anderson.net/.
TBL Author Q&A Series: George T. Anderson
This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!
How would you say your writing career began? Was there a certain event, person, intuitive impulse that guided you to forge your own literary path?
Books were a way of life at our house. My dad has a book nook in the basement, which I always found fascinating. My mom read many novels to me and my brother. I loved that world, and I wanted more of it.
As a homeschooled kid, I had lots of opportunity to pursue self-development. I wrote my first mini-novel at age 9. My mom put it in my homeschool portfolio with a big title page that read, THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. I remember thinking, “Wow, I could really do that!”
From then on, I’ve written nonstop except for two years when I was a teenager. As an adult, I’ve sought out (and received) all kinds of guidance, particularly in the commercial fiction market. The New York Pitch Conference was a big one. I learned a lot about the market there.
In addition to writing since you were a kid, you also have a rich music background. Have you found that your music background has influenced your writing? If so, in what ways?
Good music is all about themes and thematic development—what’s happening under the surface of sound. That understanding has helped me write thematic fiction, but it’s only taken me so far. There is no analog in music to character in fiction. That’s a big difference that I’ve had to learn.
Music still forms part of my creative cycle. When I get fed up and really depressed, I’ll write and record a song. I try to release this music as The Victorious Airborne. I’ve been sitting on a second album for 6 years now. One day I’ll get it out there.
How would you describe your writing process? Has it changed over time? How do you go about revising your work?
I write notes on paper for as long as necessary, then write a first draft on paper. I type this up and probably revise it 10-50 times. Out of those revisions, 1-3 will usually tear the whole thing down. That means refocusing around something that either wasn’t present in the original or was present in a form I misunderstood.
The process has steadily grown more complex over the years. Now I have to journal out every subplot or thematic nuance in a novel—even in a short story, actually. It’s a frustrating but rewarding process of exponential increase. Final word count doesn’t show you the boxes and boxes of notes that got me there.
Can you discuss the themes and topics that entice and inspire you most?
I’m most interested in truth, evil, and grace. We don’t have all the answers intellectually—anyone who tells you otherwise is a charlatan, including me making that statement. That’s why I like to see the inbreaking of Other, something from beyond a character’s experience, whether good or evil. I’m not sure that answers the question, though.
What/who are some of your greatest literary influences?
C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength is huge. I’ve read it over and over since I was a kid, and it remains the most exciting book I know. The ending is structurally weak, but I don’t care.
Dostoevsky is important. He gets the fact that evil starts at home, inside me, and that I should work on myself before pointing fingers at others (even when that finger-pointing is justified, as it often is).
Owen Barfield’s book Saving The Appearances changed my understanding of the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s something like a critical history of scientific consciousness.
Also, Jean Baudrillard and Nikolai Berdyaev give me a lot to chew on. We live out Baudrillard’s concept of simulation and the hyperreal every day—and not just on social media. Almost everything we do to hit cultural norms is simulated, with no real heart of love behind it. I want to see a radical return to authenticity. It can only happen person-to-person, not at the level of abstractions, policy, or isms.
How did you react when you got notice that PANK accepted “The Kaleidoscope Kid?” Can you discuss the process of how the reader was selected for the audio version on the website?
My wife and I went out for a glass of wine. I hadn’t been published in a while, so it was a wonderful feeling.
That’s actually me reading the story. Chris Campanioni asked if I could record it. I had a blast doing that!
As you see growth in your own writing career taking place, what advice would you give to fledgling writers/artists?
Realize that as writers and artists, we aren’t terribly special. Only our best moments of inspiration and consequent hard work are special. The only way to figure out which moments are truly inspired (and, paradoxically, worth the work) is to let your ideas compete against each other through hard work. Trust your intuition to act as a natural filter and drop the ideas that lose color when you dig in to them. The squeakiest vision gets the grease.
One other thing—dedicate yourself to your day job. When you do good in the world, it comes back to you.
What are you currently working on? What direction do you see your writing taking now, in terms of both craft and publication? Do you have any plans of writing a novel?
Definitely! I’m tightening up a novel—a tech dystopia called The Year of Perfect Sight, roughly Black Mirror meets The Circle. I attended the New York Pitch Conference, pitched this book, and got a manuscript request from an editor. I hope to query the book in the first quarter of 2018.
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