Interview: Evan Roskos, YA Author

Evan-RoskosEvan Roskos lives in New Jersey, a state often maligned for its air and politics but rightly praised for its produce. One of Narrative’s Best New Writers, Roskos’s short fiction has appeared in Granta’s New Voices online feature, as well as in journals such as Story Quarterly, The Hummingbird Review, and BestFiction.org. A graduate of Rowan University, he has an MA in Literature from Rutgers Camden and an MFA in Fiction from Rutgers Newark.

His debut novel is Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

He directs all questions about future projects to Dr. Bird. Visit him on Facebook, Twitter and his website!

Let’s see how Evan answers the Proust Questionnaire!

What is your idea of happiness?
I love my wife and son. They make me laugh a bunch. If that’s not enough, then I’ll probably be in serious trouble. I also need easy access to music and time to write.

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it? 
I don’t really have a #1 favorite song or album. But one of the songs that’s been with me the longest (i.e., I never got sick of it) is Battery by Metallica. In 4th grade, my friend Scott introduced me to the album MASTER OF PUPPETS. In school, we split his headphones and each snaked one headphone wire up our sleeves, then cupped the earbud to hide it as our teacher went on about social studies or something important like that. I also remember borrowing the tape, reading the lyrics as I listened on my dad’s old school 70s headphones that were probably pretty good though I had no idea.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could play guitar a little better. Always wished I could solo like a heavy metal guitarist but never had the finger dexterity or devotion to practice.

DoctorBirdCoverLargeOn what occasion do you lie?
Before I was treated for anxiety and depression, I lied all the time to avoid social gatherings and relationships. Mainly I would tell lies that allowed me to stay home but would say that I was sick or busy so I didn’t have to explain that I had a severe fear of the event I was being invited to.

Nowadays I lie to my son and say there’s no more candy left.

What is your present state of mind?
I am usually buzzing with some level of anxiety. April is the cruelest month, as the poem goes, and as an adjunct and writer and father I find myself jostled all over, just trying to push to the finish line of May 1st (the end of the semester).

What is your motto?
It’s all material.

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
I don’t know if my friends share a particular trait. Some are highly intelligent, some are hilarious, some are honest, some have a deep appreciation and knowledge of music, others art. I guess I appreciate the friends who are capable of socializing consistently without battling anxiety and a lifelong trait of preferring solitude. That sounds a bit depressing, but I’ve always been a bit of a “stay on the outskirts” kid. Probably why I’m a writer.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Word: “Interesting”
Phrase: “My head hurts.”

Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) by Jackson Pollock, 1950

Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) by Jackson Pollock, 1950

Your favorite painting?
I love Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.

What is your favorite journey?
I’ll do a literal journey: My sister and I took a road trip from NJ to Lincoln Nebraska back in 1997. It was the longest we’d spent together in our lives. (At least not with other people, family, friends). We managed to learn a ton about each other and had a fantastic time, even when a huge March blizzard slammed the midwest and caused us to fear for our lives.

What is your favorite time of day?
Late night. Like 9pm––1am. I’ve always been a late night person.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
Living: Don DeLillo (though I’d probably just gawk like a fool)
Dead: F. Scott Fitzgerald (since I don’t drink I could be his designated driver!)

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
I’d need to discover a cure for whatever disease is killing me! Otherwise I don’t know what it means to die happy. Dying seems like a bummer. If I live long enough to see my son living a stable, happy life as an adult, whatever that entails for him, then that would likely be a way for me to die happily.

Who or what is your first love?
My first love is writing. Most of my best memories from elementary school involve writing stories. Then in high school I wrote lots of poetry and the thrill of language became a comfort and gave me confidence when I was cruddy at other things like sports and video games.

I also really loved my dog, Bailey, who we got when I was about nine I guess. She was great. I love my current dog, Sable, too. I really love animals. But that’s not really what this question was asking. I’ll move on now….

What’s the last dream you remember?
I remember driving on a confusing set of highways, going in circles. This is a rather typical dream, though this last time I don’t remember a broken bridge that I had to cross (usually that’s how it ends).

What’s your madeleine?
This is so hard to answer. The essence of a madeleine is its involuntary nature, so everything I think of seems forced and thus not appropriate. Plus, I have a scary memory. I remember things in very complete, visual and emotional ways. Some of them hit me randomly, some are easily recalled.

I do have a particular association with a mediocre album by Life of Agony that I listened to a lot back in the winter of 1993-4. And whenever I think of that band or listen to a song that remotely sounds like it, I then remember a day where my sister’s boyfriend drove me to the comic book store to get comics. I had just started reading comics (maybe 2 months prior?) thanks to X-Men Unlimited #2, featuring Magneto on the cover. A ton of slushy snow was on the ground. It was cold. It might’ve been December. Anyway, I bought a bunch of comics and stepped in a grey slush-puddle when getting back into the car. My shoe was soaked; I was freezing. I got back to my house, went to my room, removed my wet socks, and listened to Life of Agony while reading some comics. The experience of reading comics from 94-96 was profound and wonderful because I was suffering from depression but didn’t fully recognize it. I spent tons of money on them but they were great because I could obsessively re-read them and it brought some joy.

Without thinking, in one word: what is life?
Anxiety.