October 2021 The 4th Circle: Interview with Jeff Wood
DESI D: What is your favorite first line in a book/movie? And why?
JEFF WOOD: I don’t know that I have a favorite, but let’s go with Richard Nixon, who begins his autobiography with, “I was born in the house my father built.” I think that is such an evocative line that speaks to the shadow Nixon’s father had cast over his life. His father built the world that he was born into, and that influenced him. This opening line implies an almost God-like power that Nixon’s father had over him, to shape him. It shows the tremendous pressure on Nixon.
Runner up would be the famous three opening lines to Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Finally, I won’t quote the very long virtuoso opening sentence to Daniel Woodrell’s TOMATO RED, but it’s worth looking up.
DESI D: As a writer, how would you describe your muse? And your process?
JEFF WOOD: My muse is simply the blank page; I don’t personify it or think in terms of muses guiding me. But I am taken with the idea of returning to the blank page every morning and creating meaning to fill that blankness. I think I use writing as a lens through which to view the world. It allows me to give form and meaning to the events around me.
In terms of process, I’m pretty regular. I write around 1,000 words a day, four or five days a week. I think of writer’s block as my normal waking state, which reduces its power. I can usually find a way around it; often, that involves writing poorly until I write well again, then deleting the bad words. Once a week or so, I’ll edit my previous writing.
I’ve been writing short stories for the last couple of years and recently began a novel. I enjoyed jumping from story to story, switching worlds, but I’m really looking forward to staying inside the same world, working with the same characters, for the next year or so.
DESI D: What author has been your biggest inspiration to write? And why?
JEFF WOOD: There are quite a few, and they shift with the passage of time. I think the first time I ever realized that writing was a thing, and was different than the story being told, was when I read the description of the tyrannosaurus in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.” Some guy sat down and thought up these exact words and was really good at figuring out the exact right words to use. I guess that’s when I discovered style.
I also remember coming home from school and my sister handing me Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” (she’d just read it in class) and telling me to read it right now. So I sat down on her bed and read straight through and was blown away. Afterward, I began to listen to the whisper deep inside that I, too, wanted to be a writer of stories.
DESI D: What is it about the art of storytelling that excites you? And of course, what is the next story we can look forward to reading from you?
JEFF WOOD: I think fiction is more honest than non-fiction. If you sit two people down, tell one person to honestly describe who they are and what they are like, and tell the second person to just make up a story, you’ll get a deeper, more truthful sense of the person who makes up the story than the person who tells you the “truth.” Story-telling discards all the filters and the baggage and even the morality; the blank page gives you the freedom to create a world out of nothing, and the world you end up creating is all yours, for better or worse (sort of like Richard Nixon’s father’s house). It’s a Rorschach test. I love the simplicity of that.
Currently, I’m working on CHEW, is a sci-fi/horror novel that drops the reader into a ravaged, post-apocalyptic America, yearning to rediscover its hope and humanity.