Jürgen Fauth is a writer, film critic, translator, and co-founder of Fictionaut. He was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and received his doctorate from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. He lives with his wife, writer Marcy Dermansky, and their daughter Nina. His debut novel Kino was just released by Atticus Books. Follow him on Twitter at @muckster.
What is your feeling about having mentors as a writer? Talk about the mentor relationship if you will, its importance to a writer…
The closest I’ve had to a mentor is Frederick Barthelme. He was my teacher for five years of grad school, and we’ve stayed in contact ever since. It’s not the kind of Luke Skywalker/Obi-Wan Kenobi relationship you might picture when you hear the word, but I’ve learned more from him about writing, and about being a writer, than from anyone else.
What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired and does it work to trick the brain into working?
I’m a big fan of Transcendental Meditation. Actually, not exactly TM®, but a low-rent, guru-free alternative that’s being offered by former TM teachers. It’s called NSR and costs $25 to learn. I found it after reading David Lynch’s book Catching the Big Fish. I’ve been doing it twice a day since 2006, and it helps me focus and get distractions out of the way.
Lynch quotes the Maharishi, who said, “See the work. Do the work. Stay out of the misery.” Deceptively simple advice that I’ve been coming back to again and again. First, you need to figure out what it is you should be doing. A lot of times, procrastination or “writer’s block” comes from not wanting to face the truth that, say, you have to go back and rewrite a scene. In that case, “I’m blocked” means “I can’t stand to fix what’s wrong with it.” But once you’re honest with yourself about what you need to do, if you see the work, then the next step is to just do it. There’s no other in-between thing that needs to be done. Just get to work. Anything else just leads to misery, guilt, self-doubt, all that ugly useless stuff. Like I said, simple advice, but I’ve found it very useful when I sit down to write.
Are there favorite writing exercises or prompts which you use regularly & will share?
I used to write shorter pieces based on prompts and so forth, but I found that the high from finishing a flash piece doesn’t last long enough, so I started writing a novel. There, I found it useful to set out with a few basic ideas — three seems to be a good number because a triangle is inherently dramatic — and then keep working those ideas. When I’m stuck, I find something random, unrelated — something from a movie, a song, a piece of art — and I see if I can transpose what’s interesting about it into whatever I’m working on. Everything is ultimately connected to everything else, so if you can make that kind of creative leap, it usually moves you forward. Which is probably just a pretentious way of saying that it’s good to do something unrelated — go to a museum, take pictures, go swimming, see a show — and when you get shaken out of your usual surroundings like that, ideally with a non-verbal experience, then you can get back to work refreshed, and something interesting is going to happen.
Suggestions for making characters live? Do you know who they are before you write or do you find out who they are in the writing? Do you already know these people? What does a novelist hope to achieve before setting out… where does this urgency come from?
I find out who they are while I write. We always talk about setting, plot, character, voice, and so forth, but sometimes it’s worth reminding yourself that in the end, they’re all the same thing. It’s all just those words on the page. Voice is character is plot is setting. An example: in the beginning of my novel Kino, Mina, a newlywed twenty-something, receives one of her grandfather’s long-lost movies. Her husband’s in the hospital with a tropical disease, but she leaves him there to go to Berlin and solve the mystery of the movie. Obviously, that’s plot — it has to happen because otherwise there’s no story — but it’s also character, because we now know that she’s the kind of woman who will leave a sick husband behind for an adventure. It all unfolds simultaneously, and as you write the book, you learn these things about your characters and carry them forward as you figure out what they’re going to do next.
What are some good habits for an entrepreneur, husband, father and writer with many jobs?
I’m still figuring that out. We’re a two-writer family with a toddler to raise, a writing community to run, a blog or three to edit, and very irregular schedules to reconcile. We’re just launching a new site for our fiction editing business, mjedit.com, which I’m plugging whenever I get the chance, like right now. I’m currently putting off a pressing translation job to answer your questions, and babysitting is over in 15 minutes. When it all gets too much, I go to the thermal spa or crank up the music and dance.
What’s the best writer’s advice you ever got?
Write every day. I can’t remember who told me this, but writing really is a kind of muscle, and if you want to get any good at it, you have to work out a lot. Don’t expect to use every word — musicians run scales, artists doodle, so not every sentence you write has to be gold. In fact, let yourself write bad stuff. To me, the real work is in the editing — I spend disproportionally more time tightening, polishing, and reworking than I spend on first drafts — but you have to put down the words in the first place. It gets easier if you do it every single day.
How did your new novel, Kino, find you, and you it?
A few years ago, Marcy and I spent New Year’s in Berlin. It was cold and dark and moody, and we went to the film museum, which is full of unbelievable stories and very much focuses on the heydays of the twenties, which I’d always been fascinated by. New Year’s Eve turned out kind of deranged and a little bit dangerous, and I made a resolution (see the previous question) to write every day for a year. So on January 1, I sat down at the kitchen table of the apartment we were subletting and started to write Kino. The first draft took almost two years to get down.
Talk about Fictionaut – any aspect of it here, if you would like…
It’s been amazing to me to see Fictionaut take off and become the community of writers it is. When you start with an abstract idea and some sketches in a notebook, you have no idea if it’s going to work, if anyone will actually come and use it. So it’s immensely gratifying to me to see what the site has become over the last few years, and how many people have gotten use out of it – so many stories posted, projects launched, books published, friends made. I recently met a couple at one of my readings who had actually met on Fictionaut and just moved in together. It’s a lesson in faith and community, and what I like best about it is how many people — like you and the other blog contributors — have come forward to help and get involved. Like a novel, it’s something that appeared out of nowhere. There was nothing here before, but now it’s something, built together by lots of people, and that makes it incredibly satisfying.
What is next for you?
I’m keeping a tumblr with images, text, and video from the world of Kino called Tulpendiebe – things I found researching the book, things that inspired me. One of the themes of the book is how art inspires more art, and how it wants to be shared in order to be able do that – the idea of the creative commons. So it seemed like an obvious thing to turn Kino and my research over to anybody who’d like to participate.
I just started a group on Fictionaut called Tulpendiebe where anyone is welcome to post writing related to the world of Kino. This could be anything inspired by Weimar-era film, art, or writing, any of the events or characters of the time, or a reworking or remixing of scenes of the book. It’s such a fertile period, and Kino just barely scratches the surface.
For example, I asked Ivan Guerrero, a very talent video artist, to imagine a trailer for the movie-within-the-book, a 1927 silent called The Tulip Thief. I would love to collect more artwork, video, sound, and writing and see if we can extend this world collaboratively. My publisher, Atticus Books, has signaled that they might be interested in producing an enhanced ebook version of the novel with all the related work included.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.