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Heading Home: An Exclusive Q&A With Joshua Ferris, Melissa Febos, and E.J. Koh

Posted Mon, 3/12/2018 - 8:00am by  |  Category: ,

Home: It’s on our minds as we see our new home emerge on Capitol Hill. As we ponder the move to the new Hugo House this summer, we asked authors Joshua Ferris, Melissa Febos, and E.J. Koh what homecoming means to them.

The trio will be taking the stage, along with singer/songwriter Tomo Nakayama, in the latest installment in our Hugo Literary Series on March 23. Read on for what they plan to write, their advice for writer’s block, and what home means to them.

To see them in person, read up on the upcoming event and to help with our homecoming, learn more (and see photos!).

Joshua FerrisJoshua Ferris

 

Q: What, if anything, can you tell us about your Literary Series piece?

I’m not sure even I know what exactly I’ll be reading that night. I do know it comes from a novel-in-progress, but because such a thing is always in flux, who can say? I suspect it will have something to do with my father dying, and the homecoming that his death provoked… the unease, and the grief, and the never-ending business of reconciling — with family, with fate. Doesn’t sound all that fun, does it? But… it could be hopeful. And what is hope, but the most that anyone can ever ask for?

Q: What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough?

“Don’t quit.” To call it quits when the writing gets tough is, among others things, although perhaps most crucially, to mismanage or misestimate time. The will to write is strong at the beginning and weakest when it hits (or seems to hit) that terminal place where all bad writing withers and dies. But to stand above any finished piece of writing is to understand that that terminal place, that one-time dead end, was in fact only the middle, and what stood between the middle and the end was simply still more will. “Don’t quit.”

What is any bad piece of writing if you refuse to quit, then, but a snapshot in time, one notch on an ongoing timeline, and not bad writing at all. It’s writing that simply can’t be judged, because it’s not yet finished. Or, if it must be judged, should be judged with some magical thinking: “What looks bad is really just failed good writing, on its way to failing a little less every day — so long as I never quit.” “Don’t quit.”

This is the advice that makes everything progress. It’s advice that makes everything a puzzle. It reminds us not to level the judgments or release the guillotine, but to carry on until that time that we’re dead and can carry on no more — only then is quitting permissible. Until then: “Don’t quit.”

Q: The theme for your Lit Series is “Homecoming.” Tell us: What’s one thing that always makes you think of home? Alternatively, tell us what you wore to your high school homecoming dance (as applicable; photos encouraged).

Yankee candles, vanilla-scented.

Melissa Febos

 

Q: What, if anything, can you tell us about your Literary Series piece?

My piece is about a corporeal homecoming — arriving at, or more returning to a part of my body from which I was estranged for most of my adult life. It’s something I’ve tried to write about before and failed, because I wasn’t ready. This assignment came at exactly the right time. I sat down to think about it and the door finally opened.

Q: What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough?

The only way out is through.

Q: The theme for your Lit Series is “Homecoming.” Tell us: What’s one thing that always makes you think of home? Alternatively, tell us what you wore to your high school homecoming dance (as applicable; photos encouraged).

I didn’t go to my high school homecoming dance, because I dropped out of high school, but if I had gone, I probably would have worn what I wore most days at 16: a tattered Pixies t-shirt under a pair of Carhartt overalls, steel-toed combat boots and a shaved head.

E.J. Koh

 

Q: What, if anything, can you tell us about your Literary Series piece?

Homecoming, or any subject that points to high school, is an unsavory subject for me. Where others shine, I find myself dimmed in the context of homecoming.

I think, for now, I’m looking at other contexts and definitions for homecoming. For one, there is the description of homecoming as a time when the dead visit the living. This is likely where I’ll go, though I haven’t gone there yet.

Q: What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough?

When writing is tough, I try not to make it about the writing. I turn elsewhere, and most cases, I learn that it’s not the writing. Rather, I’m tired, winding down, and not taking care of the other areas of my life. For me, writing is a complete circle. When I’m not balanced elsewhere, I cannot write, and I cannot expect so much from writing. I treat writing with respect, and it tends to do the same with me. It’s a relationship.

Q: The theme for your Lit Series is “Homecoming.” Tell us: What’s one thing that always makes you think of home?Alternatively, tell us what you wore to your high school homecoming dance (as applicable; photos encouraged).

My high school homecoming dance? That, certainly, was the opposite of home.