Kyle McCord Interviews Himself for “The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing” asks writers to self-interview about their books with 7-8 designated questions, post somewhere in the blog-o-sphere and then “tag” (5) writers for the next week to do the same. We’ve posted Kyle McCord’s, LitBridge’s lead content editor, responses below.  He was tagged by Matt Guenette, whose interview you can check out here:

What is the working title of the book?

Sympathy from the Devil

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wrote the majority of the book in the Sydney and Melbourne art museums.  In 2010, I was offered a residency that I didn’t know much about in New South Wales.  I always prefer to say “yes” to opportunities, so I opted to go because what’s the worst that could happen?

The worst that could happen is that the residency could turn out to just be a woman’s house in the middle of New South Wales with no internet, no phone, and only one other terrified resident.  Once I realized the scam, the other writer and I decided to find a way out.  Eventually, the other writer and I escaped, and we spent the rest of our residency in terrible hostels in Sydney, waiting to go home the next month.  I spent a lot of nights bored in sleezy basement clubs or haunting the gardens and shops above Botany Bay.  At the time, writing seemed like the one good thing that could come from my Aussie disaster.

I had some things to say after that experience, and I refined much of that while attending Bethany Seminary in Richmond, Indiana to learn Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew.  All of these experiences became part of the book and form the core of the narrative.

What genre does your book fall under?


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a
movie rendition?

Oh, wow, this question is officially the most unanswerable question I’ve ever been asked, haha.  Most of the characters in my book have some basis in reality, but most of them are amalgamations or abbreviations of the fantastic people I really know.  That being said, I love to try to answer the unanswerable:

The narrator should probably be played by Johnny Depp, and the only direction he should receive is “More manic” or “More crazed.”  Never less.

Mark Pellegrino didn’t make a dynamite Jacob in my mind (Thinking of you, “Lost”), but he did make a terrific Satan on “Supernatural.”  I think he could fit the part.

Michael Bay could be played by Michael Bay, but only if he agreed to give me back the fifteen dollars he owes me for “Transformers 2” and “Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon.”  I can’t remember if Melissa and I got popcorn, so maybe twenty, just to be sure.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

I’m going to let the amazing Bruce Bond add some incredibly generous words here:

“In Kyle McCord’s mercurial and visionary new book, Sympathy from the Devil, we see a bold refiguring of the moral imagination that, like a Dante without a Beatrice, wanders hell bereft of the traditional compass that would clarify the archetypes.  Here the eye opens wide its compassion in the dark.  Play transgresses and so, in opposition to the self-servitude of sublimity and rapture, sheds light on cruelties and exclusions suffered in the name of the ideal.  Everywhere we look in this book, we find the generosity and precision of paradox.  The pleasure of absurdity may distance heartbreak, but it likewise binds us to it, such that the poet’s lightness of touch and ranginess of sensibility becomes indistinguishable from his vision, the sense that one half of sympathy is always the embrace, the other the letting go.  A stunning collection.”

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I think many people have the impression that I’m a prolific writer, which is true in some ways, but I also throw out a ton of material.  Ralph Angel once gave a talk at UMass where he said that he didn’t experience writer’s block, just times when he threw everything out.  I’m the same way.  For every poem I keep, there’s nearly always two where the narrative didn’t come together, the music was off, or the emotion behind the poem was muddled.

I write every poem by hand before I start revising it.  The process of writing the seventy some poems that I started with took about seven months.  The process of revision took about five.  This was me working at maximum overdrive, though.  There was one point where I was teaching five classes, finishing PhD applications, running a reading series, and revising a poem every day.  That made me very happy.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

You’re just going to have to forgive me for making some sweeping statements here.  Over the past few years, I’ve coordinated two reading series, read daily for a poetry journal, been on tour twice, and interviewed hundreds of writers, publishers, and editors.  I see authors every day struggling to put words on the page that they feel desperately need to be there.  That inspires me.

Wendy Xu writes in “You Are Not Who They Wanted You To Be,” “Your courage changes the world.”  That statement captures how I feel so often.  Or more particularly: to the poets and writers I interact with on a daily basis, to those who submit to iO whether we accept your work or not, to those who travel hundreds of miles to read poems to a handful of friends, to the MFA and PhD faculty who go all way out to the end of the limb for their students, to the publishers who sacrifice to put out the books we love, your courage changes me.

Honestly, when I wrote this book, I was fairly sure that I was going to die.  Crazy, I know.  It wasn’t based on any empirical fact, but I just had a terrible feeling that I would never come back from Australia.  Is this logical: no, but who writes good poetry without impulse?  I took that feeling so seriously that I made multiple copies of my hand-written manuscript and told some of my friends what to do if I died while writing it.  I’m not so pompous to imagine that my book was going to shatter all known poetic boundaries.  It’s that I felt this book uniquely captured my vision of my friends, my family, and some shade of the incredible writers who’d become a part of my life.

John Rosenwald was the first real poet I ever met.  I remember him talking about the day he decided to become a poet (it was on a smoky bus at the age of twenty-two, I believe).  One of the things he highlighted was how difficult it is to survive as a writer.  It takes sacrifice.  As writers, I think we often perceive that sacrifice as wholly personal—I give up my other aspirations.  I put forsake my own chance at a financially secure existence in favor of an uncertain and tumultuous career as writer.  But that sacrifice also carries over to parents, who might have to give up all hope of their son or daughter living a life where the choices are clear and safe.  Part of what inspired this book was my own parent’s willingness to make that sacrifice without ever a word of censure or protest.  That inspires me too.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There’s romance!  Deception!  Schrodinger’s cat!  There are drunk people and dead people and angels and David Bowie all milling around in here.  You must read them!  It would make them so glad!

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My book was released by Gold Wake Press where it was under the ever-steady hand of Jared Michael Wahlgren.  There are so many good books from this press that this interview would explode if I tried to describe them all.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday are: 

Nick Courtright 

Nick Ripatrazone

Nick Sturm