Q & A with Our Issue 2 Contributor James Brubaker

1. If you were reviewing your own work, how would you describe its style or point of view?

I once read a review of an issue of Indiana Review, which included one of my stories, that described the issue as perfecting the “poignant bizarre.” I really love that phrase, and think it can apply to a lot of my work, but just since I see all of the moving pieces in what I write, I tend to think of my stories as obsessive explorations of culture and sadness, but that are also kind of funny, sometimes, maybe? It’s hard for me to describe my work because I get in these weird grooves (or skids, depending on who you ask), and I just write into them until I have a book or I run out of steam. I’ve got a small book, called Pilot Season (Sunnyoutside), about television culture, a forthcoming book about music, and a new manuscript, which I just started submitting, that plays with different sci-fi tropes, and which houses the piece that is in The Austin Review #2. Each one started with a flash of excitement then I just kept playing in that initial sandbox until I had what felt like a book, so, I guess that obsessive, playful quality that drove each project is a big part of my overall point of view. I’d like to come up with a better name for it, maybe eclectic experimentation? I don’t know. You know what? Let’s just go with “poignant bizarre.” I really love that phrase.   

2. Who are some of your favorite contemporary authors?

I have an incredibly difficult time picking favorites, but just for the sheer amount of time that I’ve enjoyed their work, I’d have to go with Pynchon, Atwood, Murakami, Vonnegut, and Rushdie. They are the big five I got into in high school and as an undergraduate. Also, Lorri Moore. So that’s six. Also, and I don’t know if we can really classify him as “contemporary” at this point (and I’m so bad with such categorizations, so if we can classify him as such, my apologies), but my absolute favorite is Borges, who has had an immense influence on my work. That said, over the last few years I’ve been reading far more small press books, and work from younger up-and-coming writers (some of whom, I guess, are less up-and-coming, and more fully-arriving at this point), and have been having my mind thoroughly blown by folks like Gabriel Blackwell, Matt Bell, Roxane Gay, Jill Talbot, Tim Horvath, Erin Flanagan, Brandon Hobson, Elizabeth Ellen, Bayard Godsave, and Mike Meginnis. That whole scene is pretty exciting. Look at someone like Meginnis; I’ve barely ready any of his work—a few stories in print and around the web—but one of those stories, “Navigators,” is probably my favorite story of the last five years, or more. So, I don’t know—I guess it’s hard for me to really pick favorites just because we’re in the midst of a really fantastic time for literature because there are so many platforms and avenues that are allowing a ton of fresh and interesting ideas and voices to find an audience. I guess I could take up pages just tossing out a list of writers whose work I love and that I look forward to because there are so, so, so many more, but I’ll wrap it up here. (And already I feel bad as I remember more wonderful authors I didn’t list, but if I kept adding, my answer to this would never end. So if I didn’t name you, I’m sorry!!!!).

3. If you were told you couldn't write anymore, what job would you pursue and why?

This is a tough one. Here’s the thing, as much as writing feels like my job, writing isn’t really my “job” in the most traditional sense. The work that I do to pay my bills is teaching. I love teaching. I got into teaching because it works well with writing, and because the academy still, more or less, appreciates and celebrates its writers, and allows pretty consistent windows of time in which to write. I was lucky that once I started teaching, I really loved the challenges and constant learning that comes with it. But as far as writing as a job, I don’t really think of it that way because I do it more out of a love of the thing. I mean, most of us basically write for free. I think, as of now, I’ve been paid actual money for fewer than five of my published stories. And I’m weirdly okay with that, if that makes sense. I mean, I love getting paid for my writing, and I commend places that pay any amount, but I think writers have to make a lot of concessions just to get their work read. That’s not ideal, and I don’t condone not paying writers, but it is what it is.

So back to the question at hand; if, like, some mean-spirited wizard appeared and cast a spell on me that prevented me from ever writing again, I’d probably end up trying to teach high school—which I decided not to do after earning a degree to do just that because I couldn’t see how I could successfully write, teach, and do all of the other things that come with teaching high school, and even if I’d gone on to teach high school, I’d have probably been fired by now for publishing a story with the word “fuck” in it, or something. Now, if the mean-spirited wizard was willing to send me back in time to 1998 while removing my ability to write, I’d probably have stuck with music performance so I could be making very little money being a musician instead of making very little money being a writer. But really, who am I kidding, I’d probably just end up back in retail because once you can’t write anymore, why not work just go back into retail? With the academic job market being what it is right now, I’ll probably end up doing that anyway, but at least I’ll still be able to write. (Addendum: a couple of months after completing this interview, I was offered a job teaching creative writing (with some lit and comp as needed). The fine folks at The Austin Review gave me the chance to add this addendum to avoid any confusion).

4. When you think of Austin, what comes to mind?

Dan and Eric. That’s weird I know. They’re two friends of mine from high school, one of whom lived in Austin for a bit and moved away, and the other of whom is still there, I think. They are the first thing I think of. After them, I think of SXSW because I’m the worst kind of music nerd. Then I think of the bats. Then I think of Alamo Drafthouse where I’ve always wanted to go, which also makes me think of Badass Digest which is this super-nerdy pop culture blog that is somehow affiliated with the Alamo Drafthouse (though I don’t think they operate out of Austin). Oh, and Austin City Limits. So basically, except for Dan and Eric, I think of all the stuff most people think about when they think about Austin. Now, I’ll also think of The Austin Review and the super-awesome people who run it, who I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging with, a bit, at AWP, but I figured if I just answered with that, I’d come off as some kind of cornball or something.

5. Answer the question you wish we had asked.

Though its characters aren’t as iconic as those on The Original Series, or The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine is easily my favorite Star Trek series. Truthfully, nobody should ever ask me about this because I can go on, and on, and on, and on, and on…