A Ten Question Interview With The Artist… John Brantingham

Why do you write?

Writing is what I do. It’s how I understand the world. I see it as my profession, but it’s more than that. I have always felt that there are essentially two mes. There is the me that I show the world and the private person I keep for myself, the person who is simply trying to figure everything out. I don’t know if I am alone in this, but my guess is that I am not.

It is the private person who I am protecting from the rest of the world who needs writing, really needs it. It’s the way I understand what this place is and where I am. It’s the way that I allow myself long thoughts. In those few moments in my life when I haven’t written, I have found myself contemplating less and reacting more. I have found myself becoming depressed and even listless. Writing gives me purpose and focus.

Aside from that, writing allows me to connect with the rest of the world. I hope that people read my poems, stories, and books and understand what I mean. I hope that I can connect with them.

What books do you read?

I try to read as broadly as possible, and I try to read as much current work as possible. I’m reading a number of poetry collections from 2015 right now. I think I have four of those going. I teach fiction writing too, and I have had to make an effort to read as much of the kind of work that my students write as possible and that’s opened new worlds of writing to me including young adult fiction and romance. What shocked me was how much I really enjoy romance writing. It shouldn’t have surprised me however. We are talking about a fiction that is inspired by true passion. I’ve really gotten into it lately and have seen how far it goes my preconceived notions about what romance writing will be.

I am truly, however, a lover of literary fiction. Right now, I’m reading the work of William Gay and I have another book by Robert Olen Butler waiting around for me. The work that’s been written over the last ten years or so is my favorite. To me, this has been a golden age for fiction, but if you read closely and well, every age is.

What inspires you?

I am very much a nature writer, but I’m also inspired by art. My last full collection is Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art, which I wrote with my friend Jeffrey Graessley. We used paintings as a kind of jumping off point and continued the conversation begun by the artist there.

I write, however, every day for a few hours. When you do that, the world is filtered through your writing consciousness and everything you do inspires your writing. This is what some people call the Muse. Another way of saying it, is that whatever you think about a lot will tend to dominate your thoughts. I try not to focus, therefore, on pain or misery or money or violence, but on writing, which is joyful to me.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?

As a kid, I was hard of hearing, and I retreated into books because I didn’t have much of a social life. Without knowing it, I had found a way to communicate with people, that is with the writers who were writing directly to me and informing my life.

Becoming a writer was a natural outgrowth of that experience. I’m gregarious by nature, and I needed to feel that I was talking to other people. I began to write as a way to communicate with others. I started with letters but very soon I was writing stories, which to me is the most direct form of communication. I was doing this naturally, but some time before college, I said to myself that this was my life goal.

My brother was and is a writer as well. I looked up to him, and he gave me the notion that this was a possibility for me. He writes brilliant fantasy novels, and that’s where I started as well. I don’t write them any longer. I’ve lost the thread, but they remain a part of who I am and how I see myself.

How do you deal with rejection?

After having worked at a magazine, The Chiron Review, I realize how meaningless a rejection is. They don’t bother me at all, and I’m grateful for many that I have gotten. Years later, I have looked back on some of the work that’s been rejected and I realize how terrible it was, so I am grateful for making sure no one ever thought of it. The thing about it is that I generally love my work when it touches my life in some way, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good work.

Who are some writers you admire?

There are so many. I love the work of Bonnie Hearn Hill, Christopher Allan Poe, Donna Hilbert, Gerald Locklin, William Gay, Robert Olen Butler, Grant Hier, Jim Harrison, Percival Everett, T.C. Boyle, and others. I love Graham Greene and Thomas Lux. Tony Barnstone is a favorite. There are just so many great people working right now. This is a short list of writers I’ve read lately.

Is writing the only artistic medium you do?

I do a little sketching and watercolor, but this is for me alone. Sometimes I’ll do a poster for my college or something like that, but writing is the only medium that I really use with other people.

What would be some advice you would give to your younger self?

Go backpacking more. Write all the time.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write all the time. Read all the time. Don’t listen to the people who tell you in subtle and unsubtle ways that your work is not precious. Those people are the scum of humanity propping themselves up by knocking others down. Fuck them and their pointless opinions.

What is your writing process?

I made sure that I teach at night so I have mornings to write. I will generally work for a few hours in the morning either writing or revising or both as I am doing right now. I work like that until I have to go into work. I think of reading as part of the process too. I generally do that at night. I’ve never been able to sleep much, so I’ll often read or watch a movie well into the night. This is really what feeds the writing.

John Brantingham

John Brantingham is the writer-in-residence at the dA Center for the Arts and a professor of English at Mt. San Antonio College. His most recent poetry collection is Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art.

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