Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Guest Post: Jason Quinn Malott author of The Evolution of Shadows

Jason Quinn Malott, author of the book The Evolution of Shadows, stopped by to share with us a piece he wrote for us.

In the spring of 2000, I was working on a short story called “Curse Softly to Me” and, one morning, I startled myself when I wrote a particular scene. I actually stopped writing and turned around in my chair to look behind me. At the time, I was living in a studio apartment in Boulder, CO so I was able to see everything I owned at the time rather quickly. Turning around like that was comforting not only because it reassured me that I was alone, but also that I was still present in my own world.

I’ve had moments similar to that since then, but never anything quite as gut-punch powerful. It was the moment I knew I had something with legs, something that would occupy my brain for a long while. I had two fabulous, troubled, complex characters with so much demanding to be said.

Not bad for a story that started off as an exercise in emotional baggage shedding. At the time, I had a big crush on a young woman at my day job. She was a Korean-American girl named Callie, and, as is most often the case with attractive women in relation to me, she had no interest in me what-so-ever. So, I sat down one day to write a short story that would get her out of my system, and explain why, even if she were interested in me, a relationship would never work.

Things were going along rather normally for me until the scene that made me stop and look over my shoulder. In that moment, Gray and Lian stopped being proxies for me and Callie and became fully themselves, autonomous, whole, and alive.

It wasn’t clear to me what to do with them right away because I’d never had characters quite like them before. I took the story to my writing workshop and the general consensus was that there was so much more to these characters’ story. My classmates and my instructor, Keith Abbott, encouraged me to explore them. So, I started writing as if the break up itself were the starting point.

I fumbled through a few lame scenes and explorations that went nowhere, but kept at it. I’m not sure how the leap got made from Gray and Lian in Kansas City in 1992-93 to Gray disappearing in Bosnia in July 1995. I may have been standing in front of my bookcase, as I often do when I’m stuck, and saw one of the many books on Bosnia that I’d read, or it might have happened during one of the lucid but transcendent moments on the edge of sleep - not quite awake, not quite dreaming - but once I decided that Gray was a photographer for a newspaper and that he would go to Bosnia to cover the war, everything kind of pinged, like sonar off a sunken ship’s hull.

I never start out with a plan, and I never develop one while I’m writing (revising is another story). The initial draft is kind of like a great purging and exploration of the imagination then I prune it back, clean up the messy, unfocused parts, and try to see what it is I’ve got. In the case of The Evolution of Shadows, I had something I’d never had before: a story I couldn’t let go of.

About The Evolution of Shadows:

In July of 1995, the news photographer Gray Banick disappeared into the Bosnian war zone and doing so took away pieces of the hearts of three people who loved him: Emil Todorović, his interpreter and friend; Jack MacKenzie, his mentor who taught Gray to hold his camera steady between himself and the worst that war presents; and Lian Zhao who didn't have the strength to love him as he wanted her to.

Now, almost five years later, they have gathered in Sarajevo to find out what happened to Gray, the man who had taught them all what love is.

Each driven character in this novel believes fully that there is a love strong enough to sustain them, even in the extreme of circumstances of war. But each time they have uncovered a glimpse of such a thing, they have failed tragically love itself.

Or, to see it another way, this is a novel about how love fails us every time-or almost every time.

About Jason:

Jason Quinn Malott has a BA in Creative Writing from Kansas State University, and an MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University (The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics). He has worked as a dishwasher, a short order cook, a barista, a newspaper stringer, a photographer, a phonebook chucker, a market research associate, an in-bound call center operator, a movie house troll, a bookseller and bookstore inventory manager, a technical writer, and an adjunct composition instructor. He is the publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the occasionally published literary journal "The Project for a New Mythology (pfanm.com)." He is at work on his next novel.

Thank you so much to Jason for joining us today! If you'd like to pick up a copy of his book The Evolution of Shadows click on the cover image below.


Lisa said...

Loved this book!

Bridget said...

Hi! Just blogged about this on Win A Book, too.

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