NaNoWriMo Feature: Jon Chopan

Welcome to National Novel Writing Month, 2015! We’re celebrating all month long with a gangbuster sale on some of our favorite novels, a consultation program for those of you with in-progress manuscripts, and this–a daily feature profiling a Black Lawrence Press author who has done the unthinkable: completed a novel.

Today’s featured writer is Jon Chopan, author of the novel-memoir-short story collection hybrid Pulled From the River.


Pulled From the RiverExcerpt
My father moved into the old syrup factory on East Main Street with a futon and his photography equipment. My mother told him to leave and never come back.

Craft Notes
Well, given that it’s a short excerpt, I guess I would say that the key craft component one might take from this is to get that conflict on the page as quickly as possible.
1) What is the hardest part of writing a novel? What are your techniques for dealing with this aspect of the process?

Because I was not writing a traditional novel, I’m assuming the challenges were a bit different, in so much as I had to sort of mind the gaps, whereas in the traditional narrative novel, you maybe don’t want there to be any gaps or you don’t want those gaps to be as wide. So maybe here, it’s sort of that old thing they say about music: “it’s the notes that you don’t play,” and that’s a bit tough for a young writer, and I imagine writing a traditional novel is equally as tough because really there is no road map for it. You’re sort of learning with each page you write what the story is and what it is that you want to say or what the story itself wants to say. When I found myself getting stuck, I got up and walked, smoked, drank coffee, but mostly, I listened to the stories and my characters. Waited for them to tell me something I didn’t know yet. I tried to be patient, which was never easy, but is, of course, the only way to be if you want to get it right.

 2) What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

The best writing advice I’ve ever received is really two pieces of extremely different advice, that when put together really describes the whole process of writing for me. Stephen Kuusisto told me that writing should be like painting a Jackson Pollock painting, splashing paint all over the place and having fun. I take this to be the way one should approach a first draft. Lee Martin described the writing process to me as meticulously laying bricks, which I take to be the work the writer does during revision.

3) How long did it take you to complete your novel? Please talk a little bit about your journey from first word to final draft.

Two and half years, or sometimes I say three. Or sometimes two.

Again, because this is not, strictly speaking, a traditional novel, the process, much like the book, is really a series of fragments. And so I started compiling the fragments and sifting though them before I could even begin to see the larger picture. Once I saw the larger picture, I needed to go back and find more fragments, and then I needed to see how they started to fit together. So the process was a lot like the process of creating a collage except that I had to create the text that would be cut up and pasted back together, which meant that I ended up throwing out a lot more than I kept. Which, isn’t all that different from what the traditional novelist goes through, but requires a different kind of sensibility, because narrative is not the most important component.
4)   What is your favorite writing time beverage?
Cup after cup of black coffee.
Suggested Reading
Sherman Alexie – Reservation Blues
Rebecca Barry – Later, at the Bar
Bryan Furuness – The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson
Nami Mun – Miles From Nowhere
Tim O’Brien – Going After Cacciato

Chopan PhotoJon Chopan teaches Creative Writing at Eckerd College. He received his MFA from The Ohio State University. His first book, Pulled From the River, was published by Black Lawrence Press (2012). His work has been published or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, The Southampton Review, Epiphany, Post Road, Hobart, and elsewhere.