I’ll let you all in on a little secret: for the past four years, Troy James Weaver has been quietly churning out some of the best books out there. Period. In 2015, there was Witchita Stories (Future Tense Books) and Visions (Broken River Books). In 2016, there was Marigold (King Shot Press). And now this March comes Temporal (Disorder Press).
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a string of books like this that have affected me as deeply as each of these have, let alone a string of books published within such a short time. There’s just something about Weaver’s writing that lures you in and gets deep under your skin. There’s the confessional nature of the first-person narration in all his books, often being told by kids and teenagers, but then there’s Weaver’s gift of being able to put his thumb right on the pulse of humanity, which is never quite so clear as it is in Temporal, a novel narrated by three college kids dealing with all the shit these kids deal with these days, self-inflicted and otherwise (for a taste of this, check out these four short excerpts from Hobart).
Here’s Aaron, one of the narrators, describing his drug-fiend buddy Cody: “When you have a schnozz like an aardvark and the courage to die, guess you get to feeling like Superman of something.”
Or there’s Samantha, the lone female narrator of the trio of friends, diagnosing her place in the world: “This lazy young generation I’m apart of is the most traumatized and digitized in ages, meaning I can be savage as fuck. I don’t care. It’s time to get moving into the next geological epoch. That, or destroy this stupid world and build it new.”
Here’s the thing: I was worried before I started reading Temporal. As much as I loved everything Weaver had written, I was sure there was going to be a let down. I didn’t think it was possible that you could put out four books in four years and have them all get into you like that. I had read Marigold four times. These days I rarely have the time to read a story more than once, even if I like it. Marigold has basically become my Catcher in the Rye.
If it’s not clear by now, I am not an objective critic, nor do I try to be. Books are too important to me to try to put up a cool front about them. I’m a fanboy. I’m a zealot. I’m a proselytizer.
And as such, I felt the pressure for Weaver. Probably he didn’t. He’s a cool cucumber as you’ll see below. Then when I saw that it was going to be alternating first-person narrators and those narrators were all going to be college kids of the shoegaze variety, I didn’t see how that could be pulled off.
Then I read it, and there it was, probably the best of the lot. It’s saying some of the most important things about this generation of kids I’ve read—and I teach college writing, so I tend to hear a lot about what ails them and what’s wrong with them. But with Temporal there’s Weaver diagnosing it, sure, but also showing the humanity of it, universalizing it. Showing this generation of disaffected digital junkies is all of us—the ugliness of it, the tenderness of it, the innocence and the guilt and the fatal consequences, for all of us, young and old.
Okay, so here’s me trying to hold back my enthusiasm (poorly) and do his writing justice (imagine Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney):
– Benjamin Drevlow
BD: Someday I’ll have to send you like a hundred, two hundred bucks or so, maybe much more. For a year or so, I’ve been having my comp students read that “Confessions of a Reformed Book Thief” essay you wrote for Lit Hub a while back. That last part of the essay always gets me: “reading, for me, is simultaneously running from my past and embracing it. And there is no other word for that than hope.”
When I was reading your earlier stuff about the methhead brother and abuse and suicide and death, death, death, it was simultaneously escaping my own shit to read about these characters’ shit, but also bringing my own shit back to bear (but also to bare).
I was wondering: Is that writing for you too? Or is that a different mental exercise for you?
TJW: Thanks for that, sharing that essay. Glad it resonates.
I don’t really know. I always tend to be working through certain things emotionally that are happening in my life when I write, though rarely am I conscious of it. That’s something that only becomes apparent to me with distance and time. I just try to tell interesting stories, mostly. However, my interests are pretty stubborn, so threads show up time and again in my work. I like to think that I’m coming at these things from new angles in each new thing, but who knows? I find writing to be completely exhilarating. Though usually when I finish a project I feel completely drained for a bit of time.
BD: Do you think part of that exhilaration is that you tend to write a lot during breaks at work, on order pads for carnations and all that? Note, that this is your work as I imagine it: carnations all carnations all the time (for more discussion of Weaver’s job filling flower orders, check out Bud Smith’s interview for Real Pants)
Do you feel like there’s a difference between the writing you do at work and on little notes, versus when you have to revise on a computer? Are you ever like, Shit, now I have to sustain the energy of the original draft? Or maybe, you’re like, That must’ve been a shitty sandwich day?
TJW: No. Not really. My job is in wholesale, so I’m mostly lugging boxes around and unloading trucks and answering phones. It’s a warehouse job. Not retail. I don’t work in a flower shop, I sell and ship flowers to flower shops. And as far as the process. I don’t lose steam or feel any less exhilarated one way or the other, the creation is what is exhilarating. Even on a fourth or fifth draft. Editing is what makes a thing a thing. The constant sculpting. I love it, that’s why I do it.
BD: In the foreword to Marigold, Michael Kazepis talks about how you both almost walked away from that book and only salvaged it after agreeing to start over. Was there really a moment where you were going to scrap that book and do something else? That book meant so much to me, but I wonder if some of that struggle of writing it was also what I identified so much in the narrator’s struggles with life. Am I reading too much into things now?
Also, did this process with Marigold change the way you went at Temporal?
TJW: Not at all. We just butted heads for a minute, but it all got worked out. I love Michael. I’m glad the book exists. Marigold was easily the easiest book for me to write. I don’t know why that is. It was just all there in my head and ready to go.
Yeah, I’m always interested in trying new things. At one point Temporal had five different POVs, but I felt like I was overcomplicating things, so I rewrote those parts to reflect how the three POVs I left in viewed the other two characters, which became a challenge. I just wanted to write a book that is very simple on the surface but super layered throughout. To me it is a book that is more a commentary on art than people, but it’s also both.
BD: Damn it. I was hoping for a real exposé there. True Hollywood: Troy James Weaver.
Okay, maybe let’s get back to Temporal then. How about Mr. Larry. Can we talk about that guy? There’s some very uncomfortable humor in the absurdity of him with his Mario Kart and his “music,” but then from almost the beginning we realize that he’s messing with these kids’ lives pretty badly. That, and he’s clearly struggling himself. That seems like something you strive for with your characters—no easy punch lines.
TJW: Yeah, I mean half the time I think adults act more like children than children do. So I tend to put emphasis on the absurdities.
BD: There are all these moments of clarity for each of these characters in Temporal, but especially Samantha. Like, out of the malaise of sex and drugs and texting and constantly writing and talking about everything and nothing, there are these moments where she seems to put her finger right on it in ways that only a girl experiencing all this first hand could (but also in ways that a lot of people going through it maybe never could articulate). Of course, then there’s the depressing reality that this knowledge doesn’t seem to make her life any better.
Here’s the question: How do you navigate this balance between writing these young people feeling lost in their shoegaze world but also being able to articulate so artfully this knowledge that seems beyond their years? Especially through the first-person narration?
TJW: My nephew came to live with me and my wife when he was 17 and I’d just turned 29. He lived here for almost two years, so he could finish high school. It was a real challenge for all of us. I also have a good friend I work with who is pretty young, early twenties. Literally all of the knowledge in Temporal is theirs. Also, I knew all along that I wanted Samantha to be the seer of the book. That was vital, seeing as I was dealing with characters who would claim to be “woke” but in reality are just as toxic and broken as any other man.
BD: That was actually something I wanted to ask you about—“toxic and broken… men [and boys].” It seems like that’s one of those threads you were talking about. One of the scenes that really stuck with me from Witchita Stories was the narrator putting a fish hook through his brother’s thumb and then kissing it. Then immediately, he says, “just give me that goddamn thumb and I’ll know and you’ll know how much it is I really love him.”
In Temporal, there’s that really tender/messed up scene where Aaron decks Cody out of nowhere and then tells him he loves him.
I was the youngest of three boys growing up on a farm, and my brothers would regularly beat the piss out of me with bats and shovels and fun stuff, then tell me how sorry they were afterward to make me stop crying. (Though we would’ve never said we loved each other; I don’t think we ever ever did).
Obviously, as the baby, I was whiny little spoiled punk kid, and of course, then I’d try to go and rough house at school with my friends, and they’d be like, What are you, a psycho?
It’s this messed up thing what we do to each other, eh?
TJW: Yes, that’s unfortunate, right? And it’s wrong and abusive. Thing about that, seems it’s the most important thing to explore. Men are the most toxic and deadliest things on the planet. And in the most warped/fucked way that’s how a lot of those animals show their love. Men are the weakest creatures on earth. I acknowledge it and also wonder why. I’m one. And more than half the time I’m ashamed I am.
BD: Yeah, that’s something I really struggle with—in my writing and my life. My dad wasn’t abusive or anything, and in so many ways he was a great role model, my hero, but he was the most stoic man I’ve ever met. He never expressed emotion. I watched him lose half a finger and go back to baling hay for like four more hours. He didn’t swear or even yell. I was the “sensitive” boy, the “mama’s boy”—whereas my older brothers both took after him. My whole life, I know it’s unhealthy, but I’m like don’t show people your sadness, your insecurity. Don’t let them see you weak. Show them how strong and stoic you are. Don’t cry, don’t whine. Definitely don’t write about it.
My oldest brother, near as stoic as my dad, went and killed himself the day he turned 18. You want to talk about stupid shit men do to themselves. Except in my mind—in my own stupidity—I convince myself that that’s the manly way to do it. Off yourself, don’t be a burden. Don’t whine, don’t complain. Definitely don’t write about it.
I try three different times to off myself knowing just how much of dickhead move that would be to my parents. Of course, I think the thing that saved me is I couldn’t “be a man.” I was terrible at it. I couldn’t commit to anything that might actually work. So terrible I’m still here writing about this stupid man shit twenty-five years later. I feel like a perma-boy.
I guess that’s what draws me so much to your writing; it helps me see my own stupid shit without me having to go on whining about it or inflicting it upon others.
Who are those writers for you these days?
TJW: You know, my dad was much the same way when I was younger. I know he broke his little toe. It was basically sticking out from his foot where it’d be a hindrance to getting a shoe on, clean break, all the way through, and he bit down on a belt before work, set it, taped it, put his shoes in and went to work for 10 hours. But he’d been through a war, was shot and everything, so I just grew up thinking you a broken toe isn’t anything to worry about. But I see now that it might make you walk funny after some time, bones haven’t fused right.
But he got out of being like that when he started going to the VA when he was around 60. The doctors, mostly psychologist helped him figure shit out. The last ten years, even though he was in AZ and I was KS, were the closest years we had together, just I think in terms of understanding each other. He hasn’t been with us since September of 2017, but I can’t help but feel like he’s always with me, in me, we are the same. And I’m proud to be able to say that. He was a great man.
And I’ll say this, don’t take anything for granted.
My dad’s favorite book was Don Quixote. He exemplified why that book should be read.
Personally I feel like Scott McClanahan’s books will still be read in a thousand years.
Brandon Hobson has a new book out, too. I think it is already a classic, at least to me.
Really excited for a lot of new stuff.
Grace Paley is a favorite, though. Richard Yates. Barry Hannah. Amy Hempel. Clarice Lispector. Juliet Escoria. Elizabeth Ellen. Elle Nash. Women are the now and the future.
BD: I’m so sorry to hear about your dad, man. Thanks for sharing that. My dad’s getting up there in his seventies and his health’s not great. Every time my mom texts or calls, I think it’s going to be the one. I’ve taken the man for granted for too long; this is what I deserve.
Anyway, so last question: Who are you writing for these days? Yourself, sure. Anybody who wants to read it, obviously. But are there people out there, maybe you know them, maybe not, that you’re like, I got to be true to that kid? If only I’ve been able to reach people like that, I’m okay with everything else?
TJW: No. I’ve never written for or to an audience or person. I just try to be truthful about how I see things. I also consider writing to be just as much art as a painting or film or sculpture, so I think I’m more concerned with aesthetics than connection. But I’m really grateful when people reach out to me because my work in some way “helped” them. It’s just, that wasn’t my intended purpose. I just wanted to paint something.