Zest interview: Jim Eigo, author of 2020
Q1. What inspires your creativity?
Often, especially for the very short flash fictions that I have been writing lately, just a word or phrase will set me off, a succession of sounds and its pulse, what it means, how it means, how many things it can mean at once. I let that lead me somewhere—to a place, characters, situation. Sometimes instead I begin with a strong image. My novel-in-progress began with an image I had from nowhere, a very small boy colliding with a woman pushing a cart on a city street. I have structured the novel (which is not autobiographic) around a series of strong photographic memories that I retain from my boyhood in the Bronx—which ended when I was 5 and my family moved away—and hence were frozen in time.
The piece I have in the Evolution issue of Zest, “2020,” began with an idea, not a common beginning for me. When I returned to writing after many years of editing two small gay magazines, I was shocked by how, in the wake of the cultural ascendency of the Internet, the rhetoric of agents had changed. Every writer had to build a platform, had to become one’s own brand, the better to sell oneself. In “2020” I follow the trajectory of that imperative—the reduction of self to brand—into the near future and to its (il)logical conclusion.
Q2. What conditions do you like to write in? Standing on your head, sitting on the bus, eaves dropping at a party…
I carry little stubs of pencils and scraps of paper on my person at all times. I frequently scribble notes, mostly no longer than phrases, though it’s not rare for me to write a note that’s several sentences long, a full situation right from the start. On these scraps of paper I doodle too; they arrive home with me a barely legible mess as I am left-handed. Before the end of the day I like to enter the material I have written on those scraps into a Word file on computer. This is raw material for longer pieces.
When I am banging out a longer piece, fiction or essay or article or speech, I am most often lying semi-recumbent on a futon (actually a few futons stacked on top of each other), detachable keyboard on my lap, computer on a long low table next to the futons. I love having the words hanging up on the big screen in front of me, out in the ether. Although I can appreciate the mechanical beauty of the typewriter, I hardly miss the era of writing on one. But I keep a typewriter for one thing: the writing of concrete poetry, which I did a lot of at one time, work dependent on the typewriter’s perfect grid, the result of the machine’s mono-spaced lettering—think tic-tac-toe.
Q3. Are there any writers that you most strive to be like and why?
I try to be as attentive to my material as I believe Samuel Beckett was to his.
Q4. What is your favourite book and why?
Here are four that in some way changed my life: Hiroshima, by John Hersey; Three Novels, by Samuel Beckett; Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, by Noam Chomsky; The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, by Jack Spicer.
Q5. Do you have any tips about the writing process?
Try to listen to the writing itself, particularly at the deep level of language in all its materiality, and then get out of its way. Let the sentence you are writing write itself. Like a toddler, it will need some direction—but not too much. If you give it freedom to go, the unwinding sentence itself will tell you the proper cadence, shape and length it must achieve in order to best tell what it will find it has, from the beginning, been made to tell.