Spotlight: Justin Lawrence Daugherty

Our first ever spotlight is on our first Flash Fiction contest winner, Justin Lawrence Daugherty! His story “Mermaids”, which was selected from our semi-finalists by Jennifer duBois, can be found in the pages of Gigantic Sequins 4.1. Justin is the editor of the online journal Sundog Lit & you can read some of his other work via the publications page on his website.

Our fiction editor, Zach Yontz, interviewed him.

1) Where do you most like to write?  Probably why also?

I always dream of having this killer writing space: art surrounding me, a good music system, a coffee pot, a bottle of whiskey, a nice bookshelf with all my favorite work at the ready. I sort of had that in Michigan. I’m in my parents’ basement at the moment — and something about it makes me not really make it MINE, you know? The “you can never go home again” thing, even though I’m there. It’s that it’s a temporary place — before I get into a school or a new teaching job or whatever. I haven’t really made it my space. There’s a desk, a bunch of books on it. I’ll go to coffee shops, too. But, I get distracted. Distraction is the easiest thing to fall into. I think that’s why a “space” is ideal. It’s got to feel like home, like a creation space. I’ll get writing done when I’m out at coffee shops, but I create very little when I’m out compared to the time I’m in a shop.

(I’ll include a photo later when I get back home. It’s a boring space – maybe I’ll add some flowers to it or something – but I’ll take a few iPhone pictures and send them on.)

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[Ed’s note: This is Justin’s photo of the space–]

2) What is your general writing process like?

This is always an interesting question to me — a question I always ask other writers about.

I know a lot of writers have routines. They have many projects and sit down and have a specific time to write and they do all these various things as PART of a process. Write every day – that’s one piece of what I imagine many writers’ processes are like. Right? But, I’ve never been good at making myself work at that pace. It’s a distraction thing, a “I don’t have any ideas” thing. My process, most often, is to sit and stare at the computer, play on Twitter, read, read, read, and hope for something to come to me. I’m trying to cancel out those distractions — turning Twitter off is a big one — before I get started. But, a lot of my writing time is spent not-writing.

[ed’s note: You can (and should) follow JLD on twitter.]

When something comes, though, it’s a pretty simple process. I close everything. Open up a document. Put on some music. And, just start. There’s a lot of stopping as I go, but I try to plow ahead as much as possible. I’ll stop to read a passage from something or to check out how a favorite author does a certain thing, a technique. I have to have multiple books with me when I write, too. Just things to inspire me.

I don’t plan what I’m writing. Once I start a novel, maybe that will have to be a bit different. But. I have never been able to start out the process by thinking about the piece. I just start writing. Usually, where the story or piece ends up is far different than what I imagine when I begin.

3) Is there any music or art that helps with your writing?

If I’m drafting, I have to have music on. But, it’s very low and quiet. And, usually chosen for tone depending on what I’m working on. I won’t be listening to The Kinks while writing this really dark lizard-boy novella, for instance. What helps me most with writing, oddly, is science. I’ll try to find articles on space and physics and biology and whatever else. History, too. Music and art always there, but they are background, generally.

4) Who are some influential writers? A question I saw asked to George Saunders was: Who would be over your shoulder telling you no; who would be over your shoulder giving you encouragement; who would you like to write a blurb for you?

My influences change a lot. They’ve changed as my writing has changed, for sure. Cormac McCarthy is still a big one. My influences right now — the people that I really admire and whose work I go back to constantly, even when drafting – are Amber Sparks, Delaney Nolan, Robert Kloss, Matt Bell, Jenny Boully, Charles D’Ambrosio, and David Means. There’s so much stuff out there that I think influences my stuff that it’s hard to pin something down. I read A LOT and anytime there’s a piece of anything that really inspires me, I go back to it a lot and let it soak in.

I like this Saunders question. I’d have McCarthy there over my shoulder because he’d be brutal, I hope. Matthew Gavin Frank and Jennifer Howard – my thesis advisers in grad school – were great for that, too. Encouragement from them both as well. They were and are a couple of my biggest supporters. I send them work a lot, even after graduation. I’m putting out a book soon, so is it okay to answer the book blurb question? Okay, fine. I will. Cormac would be ideal – I know, everyone says that – but let’s be realistic. Amber Sparks would be huge. Robert Kloss. Amber for our similarities in the ways we both rely on myth and legends (and because Amber’s really great and wonderful). Robert because he’s great as well and all of his work inspires me to try harder, to work harder. CM Punk? Yeah, I’ll throw him in there. Paul Thomas Anderson.

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5) Where did the idea for “Mermaids” come from?

It’s odd, but so many of the “ideas” for much of my work come from real things. I steal stuff all the time. There was actually a millionaire a while back who offered a large sum of money to anyone that could provide proof of a mermaid. The rest — the couple, their child that would be born with some abnormality — came to me right away once I decided to do something with the mermaid thing. I knew I wanted a couple of people to have something that they wanted to be real so badly because of their circumstance that they would nearly fall apart over it. That’s where it all came from. The tsunami stuff is of course, real, and gets back to the science I talked of earlier. It was clear, early on, that the islands of debris had to be central somehow.

6) Sundog Lit is a pretty new, exciting journal for fiction. How did Sundog Lit come to be? What kind of work goes into it?

Sundog Lit arrived in August of 2012. Remember, we publish creative nonfiction and poetry as well.

I’ve written about it’s formations pretty extensively at The Next Best Book Blog, on the Passages North blog, and elsewhere. But, basically, I wanted a magazine that was focused on active lit, stuff that really explodes on the page. There is plenty of the realist fiction out there. Plenty of stuff where nothing really happens. I was tired of that. We really seek to publish — as the tag line reads — earth-scorching prose and poetry. It’s all about that. That was the impetus for it and that’s our guiding principle. It’s funny because my editors and I always write in our comments on pieces that something’s not “earth-scorching enough” or that it is. We really take it to heart. Issue Two is huge. We’re excited about the great work we’ve been lucky enough to get.

We’re huge on cross-promotion, too. So, in addition to what we publish, I’m always seeking out new work that’s on other lit mags and books by people I love and we try to promote that stuff. We did a month-long promotional “Texts Inspired by Robert Kloss’ The Alligators of Abraham” that was really great to do. We’re doing something with Matthew Salesses’ book in February. I try to recommend great new online lit in Friday Rex (nearly) every week. Working on something coming in April (hopefully) with Leesa and Loran of WhiskeyPaper. Don’t want to talk too much on that, yet.

7) You’re very active on twitter and other social networks. Is it beneficial as a writer and editor? Does it help you connect with your peers in a meaningful way? (This is sort of a crap question, probably, but I’m really interested in how you use social networking as part of your writing/editing/work/life process.)

I think it’s very beneficial, but can also be detrimental. You have to schedule your time. I’m on Twitter far too much. Trying to scale that back. It’s great for networking and self-promotion. The world is so much more available to a writer now than ever. But, maybe it’s too available. I’m pretty active on there, it’s true. I have to remind myself that in order to be able to promote anything, I have to write first. So, I have to constantly remind myself to work and not play as much. It’s very beneficial, though. For instance, much of my early interaction with the awesome Ryan Werner (of Passenger Side Books) came about because of Twitter. We live-tweeted Monday Night Raw a lot and sort of got to know each other that way. Then, the book came about, I think, because Twitter helped make that connection possible. It’s good and bad in ways. Moderation, of course, is key.

It’s key for finding new writers I’d like to have in Sundog, too. I’ve solicited a lot of work because of finding out about new folks on Twitter and Facebook. Of course, Sundog Lit would be nowhere without the power of promotion through Twitter. It’s amazing for that reason.

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