Welcome to our latest behind-the-scenes Q+A, in which author Garret Schuelke discusses his new novel Anamakee (available now at Amazon).
Anamakee: Behind the Scenes w/ Author Garret Schuelke
Q: This excerpt deals with an unhappy young man on a multi-generational hunting trip that turns a little messy. How did you arrive at this scene as a way to test and showcase this protagonist?
It would be hard for me to go into a full explanation without spoiling the story itself, but here goes: this excerpt is meant to represent the high point of the novel. I honestly don’t know if there is a term for it, but this chapter is one of those moments that, building up from the past, defines/represents a protagonist’s potential future struggles (one cliche example I can think of is Batman’s parents being killed in front of him when he was a kid). Floyd Spicer, the protagonist of this novel, also comes from a hunting family, and was raised to do so as well, so he’s taking part in an activity that is intertwined with the season that Anamakee is based in (fall and early winter, since the novel is divided between the months of October and November)
Anamakee is part of a series I call The Floyd Spicer Stories. Chronologically, it’s the beginning point of Floyd’s time line.
Q: What sort of questions or conflicts were you contemplating as you designed this character? Or, conversely: did you shape the character to fit within the context of the scene/story?
Since Floyd was born and raised in the city that this story takes place in, I didn’t really feel like I was shaping him to fit within this scene, or this novel as a whole. What I did want to do was write a novel that takes place in a small, semi-rural town, such as Alpena, Michigan, and give weight to problems that he could experience in this kind of environment. These problems, when looked at in context with the rest of the problems that plague the world, don’t mean jack. But when pressed upon an “unhappy young man” like Floyd, combined with his troubled past, current family life, and, most of all, living in an environment where’s there’s no outlet for escape—unlike a bigger city where you can just hang out in a different section of town, or indulge in a vast, multidimensional social scene—you could get a story like Anamakee.
Q: How did you handle the early process of composing this novel? Outlines? Lists? Random snippets of scene? I’m always curious about the work that goes on before the first draft.
At first I tried to write the entire thing right off the top of my head, like I do short stories. This didn’t work at all, so I tried outlining the novel by chapter, and everything came out more smoothly. I think the idea to work with an outline came when I realized that, since I was writing a novel, much more had to be done in terms of story, character, and setting; being all spontaneous wouldn’t work.
Q: Do you have a particular place that you prefer to write, or a particular time of day? Does it involve coffee? Were there any unique conditions (externally or internally) in place when you wrote this story?
I usually write at night, but when it’s the weekend or I have the day off, I’m either writing in my room, or I go write at the East Grand Rapids branch of the Kent County Library. I only drink coffee if I’m at work or traveling—my beverages of choice while writing are usually orange juice, water, and various craft beers.
Q: What was the greatest challenge you experienced writing this novel? How do you think this challenge shaped the book? (Use spoilers at your discretion.)
The style of the novel was the greatest challenge. I wrote the entire first draft in my conventional prose style (short two-three sentence paragraphs, minimalist, Hemingway-ish). After editing the second and third draft, and adding in an entire new section for one of the chapters, I still didn’t feel like the style was presenting the situations and emotions I wanted to describe.
I took a short break. During that time, I found an article by Josh Spilker where he described a style he calls “Narrative Concrete Minimalism.” Even though he wasn’t mentioned in the article, it dawned on me that Noah Cicero, one of my favorite living writers—and major literary heroes—writes in this kind of style (I probably knew this beforehand, but conveniently forgot about it up until that moment). While I previously wrote some flash fiction in this manner, I was hesitant to try it in a longer piece, out of fear that it wouldn’t work, or that I was just ripping off another writer’s style. Spilker giving the style a name, along with doing a speed re-reading of Noah’s work (The Insurgent still being my favorite) and even finding a video of Noah describing how he came to write in a NCM-like style for The Human War, gave me the courage to try it for Anamakee.
Q: As the story unfolded and evolved through revision, were you surprised by the ways in which it changed? Did the protagonist or other characters do anything you didn’t expect them to?
After two days of editing, I found that the best thing that NCM did for Anamakee was amplify those “small town” situations and settings—made them more intense and interesting. Floyd’s feelings and thoughts were also turned up—he didn’t just seem like some whiny college student that, throughout writing Anamakee, was one of the fears I had in portraying him. It also made the prose itself tighter.
One of my favorite “rules” for writing comes from Kurt Vonnegut: “Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” I wanted to show what Floyd Spicer was made of at this point in his time line, and the one thing that really surprised me was that I don’t think he ever technically “breaks” due to the bullshit he has to put up with. As you described him, he is an “unhappy young man,” he feels let down a lot, and gets overwhelmed to the point that he temporarily stops functioning, but he just doesn’t give up.
People will probably disagree with me on this part, but I believe that Floyd is a strong character.
Garret Schuelke is a writer and blogger hailing from Alpena, Michigan. He attended Western Michigan University, earning a Bachelor of Arts in December 2011.
His writings have been featured in Revolution John, A Thousand and One Stories, Cultured Vultures, Horror, Sleaze, and Trash, The Heavy Contortionists, UR Chicago, FERROFLUID Journal, 22nd Century Lit, Blogcore House, Dead Snakes, Poets of the Web, Words on Repeat, Public Record Contraband, Dogzplot, Strange Road, These Sage Poets, Black Book Press poetry zine, the Western Herald, Phiendly, The Litribune, Kzoo Music Scene, The CrossCut, THEthePoetry, Purple Pig Lit, and Millennial Garbage. He has self-published two chapbooks of poetry, Blind Grave Robber and Agnostic Eggs, and two eBooks through Gumroad: Blind Grave Robber/Agnostic Eggs and Wotan.
He resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Anamakee book trailer: