Q&A with Nevada City author Josh Weil
Special to The Union
KNOW & GO
Who: Nevada City author Josh Weil
What: Yuba Lit reading series
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: National Hotel, 211 Broad St., Nevada City
Nevada City fiction writer Josh Weil carries himself with a humility that belies his acclaimed writing career.
His novel, “The Great Glass Sea,” won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.
His book of novellas, “The New Valley,” drew much praise, but his new short story collection, “The Age of Perpetual Light,” is attracting even more impassioned accolades.
Kirkus Reviews calls the collection — which features such characters as a 1901 Jewish peddler in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and a little girl fascinated with flight in the age of the first airplanes — “rich, often dazzling.”
Concludes Kirkus: “Weil’s stories are engrossing, persuasively detailed and written with a deep affection for the way language can, in masterful hands, convey us to marvelous new worlds.”
Weil was born in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, lived for a time in Russia, moved around the U.S. serving as visiting writer in various colleges, and in 2012 settled in Nevada City, where he lives with his wife and toddler son.
I met him a few years ago at the MacDowell artists’ colony, before also settling in Nevada City and founding a reading series, Yuba Lit, which will present Josh sharing from his new collection at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, at the National Hotel.
Josh and I sat together on the deck of the Foxhound café recently to discuss his writing life on the eve of “The Age of Perpetual Light’s” release.
What’s your writing routine?
I like to write before it’s light out. I get up usually just before dawn, make my coffee and go down to the little 1959 trailer I have down by Deer Creek and try to start writing while the morning is in that pre-dawn feel.
That helps me slide into that magical space where you don’t feel you’re quite in the real world. That takes longer for me these days.
Why does it take you longer to get going now? Because the duties of fatherhood have to fade from mind?
Yes, fatherhood, familyhood, it’s harder for me to get myself out of the way than it used to be.
I do have meditative methods to help with that. Breathing, imagery. I wear the same writing outfit, I use the same mug.
Whatever I can to get myself into the writing space. It’s a ritual. Then I’ll write, if possible, for eight hours, until I’m tapped out.
If you had to list your top five influences?
Annie Proulx — I feel every aspect of her stories veers away from what I’d expect.
And I’m always trying for that, to take my first inclination about a character, about a place, about a description, about language, to take the next step to farther from what the expected would be. And I feel she does that all the time.
Toni Morrison — there’s just a fearless emotion in her work that she manages to get out without ever being sappy or purple, and combine that with prose that is emotionally driven.
Ron Hansen — he has a poetry in his imagery, and at the same time a cleanness to his prose.
J.M. Coetzee — his insistence on dealing with the hardest things you can deal with thematically.
And for number five, I’d say film. That’s a huge influence on me. Tarkovsky, for his pacing and the depth with which he moves through a moment. That had a huge impact on me at 18, 19, when I discovered his work.
They each took at least a year of development, right?
Some were written quickly, some of the longest ones actually. The ones that are 50 pages were written quickly just because of where I was in my life. But some of them took many drafts and many years.
At lot of the work would be thinking about the story and writing notes. I spend many months, maybe a year, on that phase, writing in my notebook, and then eventually diving in.
That’s just who I am as a writer: I need a sense of the shape of the story before I sit down with it.
It changes, of course, but I need to at least fool myself that I know what I want it to be.
But the story closest to me would have to be “The Point of Roughness.” It’s one of the more recent ones.
I wrote it when I was thinking about being a father for the first time and I was terrified about what having a child with something like autism would do to my life and my relationship.
So it’s about a husband who finds himself in that position and does not cope well.
It gets at personal fears of mine. And because of that I think it’s one of the stories that works best.
Josh Weil reads and signs “The Age of Perpetual Light” along with fiction writers Louis B. Jones and Marilyn Abildskov at Yuba Lit: The Art of the Short Story at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, at the National Hotel. $10 at the door; 50 percent benefits PEN America. http://www.yubalit.org for more information.
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