How many drafts did you go through until you were satisfied with A Jellyfish for Every Name?
This collection has been through many drafts. It started as my Master’s thesis at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I’ve been writing what became these stories since 2006. There are other stories that take place in this same jelly-verse that did not make it into this collection, but you can find most of them if you look around. The first draft of this collection was a total mess of about 200 pages. I was trying everything. There was a long treatise about Paradise Lost written by a mother on Mars who abandoned her daughter to study jellyfish. There were gods battling and end of the world kind of stuff going on. Two stories in this collection, “Touch Me” and “Whatever You Like” began as parts of the same story, and through a lot of revision, became more focused. This collection as it is now is me at my most restrained. I was working from a lot of disparate influences, so it took me a bit to find the voice I was looking for. As I revised for this collection, I began to realize my character Moses Friedman is the catalyst, so I began to frame everything around him. The stories “Touch Me,” “Whatever You Like” and the title story “A Jellyfish for Every Name” track Moses’ relationship with his overbearing mother, his absent father, Annie Oakley (the girl of his dreams, quite literally) and his shifting understanding of the supernatural. The other two stories, “Taking Home the Queen” and “Alligator Wine,” introduce new characters seemingly removed from Moses, but I am going to refrain from commenting too much on those stories and allow the reader to come up with his or her own ideas of exactly what is happening.
Give us a 140 character synopsis of A Jellyfish for Every Name. What would you tweet to sell us on it?
“Jellyfish are filling the oceans. God is sleeping on the moon. Moses is in love with Annie Oakley. Or something like love.”
I am terrible at Twitter. It scares me. I think by the time I became aware of Twitter, there was already a set of understood rules that I will never understand.
How do you go about creating characters?
I like to do a lot of research on a topic before I even get to character. I start with events and images and then work from there. I also subscribe to the Kurt Vonnegut / Chuck Palahniuk / Dan Harmon idea that there are no true villains. Anyone can be a villain, but there must first be an empathy and understanding of where a character comes from.
Who is your favorite character in A Jellyfish for Every Name? Is the character based on anyone in particular? Why is this character your favorite? What drove you to create him/her?
I have always resented an autobiographical reading of my work, so I’m going to stop myself from talking too much about that. But Moses’ mother and the narrator of “Taking Home the Queen” stand out to me. They’re both very frustrating characters with a lot of blind spots. I am drawn to characters that understand they have faults, but struggle to change.
If A Jellyfish for Every Name was a cereal, what would it be and why?
Lucky Charms with honey poured over it. You’ve got all these seemingly disparate things together – hearts, stars, horseshoes, clovers, and blue moons, pots of golden rainbows, and me red balloons—but they’re all held together with just enough honey.
What’s your idea of the perfect prank of all time?
(Fighting the urge to be political)
I am not a fan of pranks at all. But when I was about 12, I created an elaborate pulley / rope system. When my brother opened the sliding door into our kitchen, a deck of playing cards fell on his head, and a Snoopy figuring was released to knock him in the chest. It was pretty great.
Who do you envision is the perfect audience for A Jellyfish for Every Name?
People who have trouble connecting to other people? People who resent their parents? That’s a good place to start.
Which cartoon character best represents your personal philosophy and why?
I have to go with Linus from Peanuts. He carries a security blanket, can quote long passages from the Bible at will, and has a complicated relationship with his overbearing sister. He’s full of contradictions, and I feel like he gets Snoopy in a way others don’t. Linus is attempting to understand the world around him and seems to read a lot, but ultimately he finds his solace in a blue blanket.
Your first book, Fuckhead, is an example of experimental, cross-genre madness. How did you start writing it? How do you think it helped you shape A Jellyfish for Every Name?
Fuckhead came out of my frustration of how I heard people talking about disability. Eileen Joy at Punctum Books is incredible and really helped me find what I was trying to do. That book would not have happened without her guidance. The book really started in re-reading Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson and seeing what I interpreted as references to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I started revisiting famous books and movies that feature characters with disabilities, and I kept finding the same frustrating tropes. Right around the time I started to outline my book, I read Sex and Disability, edited by Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow. Fuckhead was actually written after A Jellyfish for Every Name, although it was published first, so I can’t say either one really influences the other too much. The books are very different in subject and tone, although I always find myself returning to themes of faith and family.
How is social media influencing your writing career?
I am a terrible blogger. And again, how the heck do I properly use Twitter? I don’t get it. I was late to social media. My friend Kelly actually created a Facebook for me. I didn’t own a phone until I was 20. I made it through most of undergrad and grad school without my own computer or the internet. I maintain a web site (http://davidallenrawson.tumblr.com), but it’s not very pretty.
All that being said, interacting with editors and writers online has had a huge impact on my writing. I have had the opportunity to chat with some writers I greatly admire that I’ve never met in person and to work closely with editors. I review books too, so I really enjoy emailing with an author about their work. I have to say that working with Sou’wester while I was a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville really prepared me for how much of my collaboration with others is online.
For all of September 2014, I will be writing a poem a day for Tupelo Press’ 30/30 Project. I think that will really push me further into social media since anyone will be able to track my progress and respond to my poems during that time. And I welcome it! We’re all part of this great reading / writing community. So let’s be computer friends! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s a mix I made for the book:
Lunchbox – Jellyfish Roll
Echo and the Bunnymen – Holy Moses
Queens of the Stone Age – I Sat by the Ocean
Miniature Tigers – Annie Oakley
!!! – Even When the Water’s Cold
Cloud Cult – Complicated Creation
The Duhk’s – Moses Don’t Get Lost
alt-J – Tesselate
Tally Hall – Spring and a Storm
Blue October – Into the Ocean
MewithoutYou – The Sun and the Moon
Murder by Death – No Oath, No Spell
Joe Strummer – Get Down Moses
Billy Idol – Eyes Without a Face