3 Jun 2013

Author Interview: Robert Jacoby

Robert Jacoby is a poet, novelist, memoirist, and diarist. His poetry and short works have appeared in nearly 20 literary magazines, most recently The 2River View, Sleet Magazine, and Slow Trains. He is the author of two books, a novel, There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes (2012), and a memoir (by interview), Escaping from Reality Without Really Trying: 40 Years of High Seas Travels and Lowbrow Tales (2011).

1.  If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?

This is a funny question for me. The first book I published, in 2011, was a memoir-by-interview (Escaping from Reality Without Really Trying: 40 Years of High Seas Travels and Lowbrow Tales). [link to http://www.amazon.com/Escaping-Reality-Without-Really-Trying/dp/0615434894] In that book I did “work with” the merchant sailor during the interviews and afterwards, cleaning up the transcribed text. Then I did another book similar to it, and that’s still in progress. This one is interesting because it’s the first book of its type (that I know of): it’s based on interviews that took place over the year after John Robinette’s wife, Amy Polk, was killed in a pedestrian traffic accident in Washington, D.C., on April 29, 2010. The book records the journey of John’s new life with his two young sons after Amy’s death, as it was unfolding. John blogs at Hole in the Sun. [link to http://www.hole-in-the-sun.com/]

Of authors, living or past, I’d like to work with, some come immediately to mind: William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy. Each one, in his or her own way, does very special things with the English language. What an experience it would be to sit down with any of these writers and talk with them about what they do and how they do it!

2.  What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?

If I’m working on a novel, I like to rise early, say 5 AM, and work straight through for 2 or 3 hours. I have a home office so I work there. The house is quiet at that hour, so it’s just me and the cat. When I’m done and it’s time to go to the job that pays the bills, I’ll take with me in my writing bag whatever section I’m working on (10 or 20 or 50 pages of manuscript), and work on the train ride in, and work through lunch, and on the train ride home. If I write at night it’s usually just cleaning up. By the end of the work day I’m usually pretty spent. Weekends I can go full blast. For example, there were times I was clocking 12 hours each day, revising the pre-publication text for There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes.

Working on my poetry is different. That comes in pieces, words, phrases, thoughts, maybe small sections. When I want I can then sit down and work on specific poems. I keep a folder of current poems in my writing bag so that I can work on them whenever I want, too.

And I carry my writing bag practically everywhere I go. If not my bag, then my small notebook. When I buy a new coat it has to have a pocket large enough for my small notebook; if it doesn’t, I don’t buy the coat.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to pull over to the side of the road to write something down. An idea for a scene. Some words for a new poem, or a poem I’ve been working on. Some dialogue. I’m working on different things at the same time, so when something bubbles up during the day I want to be able to capture it. If I don’t have my notebook I’ll get a scrap piece of paper and write it down. I’ve had ideas when I’m working out at the gym and will go to the front desk and ask for a bit of paper and pen and write it down. So, in a sense, the switch is always set to “on”.

3.  What is the hardest part of the writing for you?

Getting it right.

4.  When and why did you first start writing?

I started keeping a dairy when I was very young (probably like many people). But I abandoned it after I looked back and saw that it was filled with mundane and embarrassing things. I didn’t know that this was the purpose of keeping a journal: just write it down, get it out. Now, I keep the journal, and I don’t typically “look back”. It’s all forward motion now. Since 1985 I’ve written about 900,000 words in my journals.

5.  How did you come up with the idea for your book?

The idea for There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes [link to http://www.amazon.com/There-Reasons-Noah-Packed-Clothes/dp/0983969701] had been with me for years before I sat down to write it. Some events transpired in real life, and I thought for a very long time about how best to structure a longer piece of fiction (a novel) around it. (I’d written only short stories up to that time.) This is my first novel, and I thought the subject matter deserved the larger space that the novel provides.

6.  Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?

Avid reader. Every writer needs to be. I have a wide range of interests so I read in many different fields: theology, philosophy, biblical studies, sacred texts, archeology, astronomy/cosmology, evolution theory, the social and political sciences, fiction and poetry, and website governance and information management. I watch lectures and debates online. I scan news and journal sites, too.

Right now I’m reading two books: The novel The Echo Maker by Richard Powers; and a non-fiction book (paleontology), Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of the Human Fossils by Marvin Lubenow.

7.  Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?

Set goals. Break them up into smaller goals. Make them realistic and achievable. Then complete them.

When I first started writing my first novel, There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes, I had two refrigerator magnets that I put front and center, so every morning, every night, I could see them, so that I could not avoid them. I’d found them months earlier, and each one spoke to me as I was preparing myself for the work ahead. Because I was afraid I would not be able to complete what I was about to start.

The first is:

“Dream your dreams with open eyes and make them come true.” T.E. Lawrence

The second is:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Goethe

The words of Solomon came to me, too, many times:

“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning…” Ecclesiastes 7:8

Be careful who you yoke yourself to. Marriage should be a port from the storm, not the storm itself.

Be careful how you spend your time; once it’s gone, it’s gone.


Author’s homepage: http://robert-jacoby.com/

Author’s Goodreads page, blog, and book reviews: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14571.Robert_Jacoby