October 17, 2010

The Art of Growing Up

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Saturday afternoon, I found myself huddled in a corner of the ever-noisy Collegetown Bagels armed with the power of Skype and a double-shot soy latte for a little inter-telephonic chat with novelist, John Cotter, the author of Under the Small Lights.

John is currently on tour promoting his book with Adam Golaski, author of Color Plates, and the two will be at Buffalo Street Books on Saturday, Oct. 23 at 4 p.m.

Sun: Hi John! How’s it going?

John Cotter: It’s going really well. How about you?

Sun: Spectacular! Oh, and just for the record, I want you to know that someone stole my tape recorder, so you’ll have to bear with me a little through the awkward pauses, while I write.

J.C.: [Laughs] Okay, no worries. I’ll bear with you.

Sun: So anyway what are you up to today?

J.C.: I was writing a little, but I spent most of the morning trying to get the word out about my book and the book tour.

Sun: How’s the tour going?

J.C.: Terrific! I’m touring with Adam Golaski, who just wrote a book called Color Plates.

Sun: What is it about?

J.C.: Color Plates is a collection of 63 micro fictions, each of which is a tale spun from the story captured in an impressionist painting. It’s a brilliant example of experimental literature. Adam and I have been on the road together, touring and promoting our books, and making lots of quirky friends along the way.

Sun: Quirky in what way? Ithaca definitely has its fair share of kooky.

J.C.: I’ve met so many interesting people. But mostly, everyone I’ve met on the tour has been so friendly, I’ve got to shout-out Milwaukee here which, amazingly, was not “what’s-your-business” Mid-Western friendly, but really, non-phony friendly.

Sun: [Laughs] So how did you get into writing?

J.C.: I come from poetry. I started out with slam poetry in Boston. That’s actually how I met Adam.

Sun: Very cool.

J.C.: If you had heard me, you wouldn’t have thought so…

Sun: Did slam poetry origins influence your writing in any way? What’s unique about your writing style?

J.C.: I like to say things in as few words as possible. I think there’s a real beauty in being concise.

Sun: Agreed. On that note, can you tell me a little bit about your book?

J.C.: Under the Small Lights tells the story of smart college kids, who are lost in the real world. Trying to act like 40-year-old adults without really knowing how, they stumble through life and between lust, sex and drugs their lives ultimately fall apart.

Sun: Growing up is terrifying. I’m a huge fan of collegiate limbo. Where did most of your inspiration come from?

J.C.: I wanted to write a book about identity and the formation of that identity. I spent a lot of time in my twenties trying to figure out who I am. In the end, I found that I was really just a collection of my friends’ habits and hobbies.

Sun: Shaped by surroundings?

J.C.: Exactly. I wanted to write about people who try to act like their heroes. But ultimately fail, because they haven’t found their own path yet. Identity is still very mysterious to me, even after writing this book.

Sun: Can you relate to any of your characters?

J.C.: The main character Jack thinks he has to make a big splash to be noticed in the world. He’s so anxious to find out who he is, that he goes overboard. At one point, he thinks he has to look tough, so he dons some spurs and tries to learn how to swallow fire. Essentially, he just wants to show off and impress people.

Sun: And how does that relate to you?

J.C.: I’m six foot four with the voice of a newscaster. And I like to think of myself as staggeringly handsome.

Sun: Oh, you were that kid.

J.C.: I was that kid.

Sun: But it gave you some good material for the novel, yeah?

J.C.: [Laughs] I thought I could make a romanticized version of myself. Going into the writing process I thought I would write this lush and gorgeous novel. But Jack’s character is just ridiculous.

Sun: So writing the book made you a little more self-aware?

J.C.: Yes. The process of writing the book was the process of me growing up. I recommend this to everyone. If something happens in your life that you don’t understand, write it down as fiction and you’ll figure it out. I use bits of real life in my writing, and I find that I understand it better.

Sun: Yeah, I do the same thing, only in my super dorky diary. So you and Adam will be making your rounds to Ithaca very shortly?

J.C.: Yes. We’ll be reading at Buffalo Street Books on Oct. 23.

Sun: Cool beans. I’ll see you there!

Original Author: Heather McAdams