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Saturday, February 1, 2014

#63 Joshua Mohr

20 Questions with Mourning Goats
Joshua Mohr

When someone as badass as Gina Frangello says, "By the way, why haven't you ever interviewed Josh Mohr? What are you waiting for -- he's perfect for your series." you don't ask questions, you just do it, and I'm pumped that I did! Check out Joshua's interview below and then go pick up his newest novel, Fight Song!

1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"  

That makes me think of weeping barnyard animals in their most conspicuous funeral attire, veils, flasks, the whole macabre enchilada.

2. Sell your new book, Fight Song, in one sentence. 

FIGHT SONG is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, set in a 21st century American suburb, and my Dorothy is a sad sack computer programmer named Bob Coffen, who's not making super bueno life choices...

3. You were the surprise guest at a pretty big event at The Lost Church on January 22nd, can you tell us a little bit about that?  

It was really fun!  I read a new essay and good times were had by all.  

4. Big fan of your tattoos, when was your first and why did you get it? 

I tried to get my first tattoo when I was seventeen but the shop refused my fake ID.  The owner liked my enthusiasm and offered to give me a discount on my 18th birthday.  I've been hooked ever since.

5. Do you have a writing schedule? What's it look like? 

I had a writing schedule, but my wife and I had a daughter, Ava, in June.  So any semblance of predictable daily life has been dismantled.  I write in stolen moments.  I write in the laundromat.  On subways and buses.  I also have an office down at the SF Writers Grotto and sneak down there whenever I can.

6. You had a pretty badass tour for Fight Song, are you a fan of doing readings? 

I love readings.  Being an author requires you to spend so many hours alone, so getting a chance to travel and share your art with other nerds is a dream.

7. What's it like being married to another novelist? Are you each others first readers?  

We are.  I think it's great, though you'd have to ask Lelo if she digs it.  We can geek out and talk about really nuanced stuff.  I mean, we get how crucial certain discoveries are, whereas a non-writer wouldn't understand how exciting it is to dial in the secondary characterizations in chapter 13.  

8. I heard about you through another MG interviewee, Gina Frangello, how'd you get involved with her, Craig Clevenger, and Rob Roberge in the desert?  

I just go wherever Tod Goldberg tells me to go.  He said, "Come to Palm Desert," and I said, "OK."  

9. How did you get your agent? Did they reach out to you or did you query them? 

I queried ICM.  I like having a mainstream rep, especially because I publish with indie houses.  It's good to have a strong advocate and plus ICM has those pitbull lawyers if things go off the rails.

10. What are your thoughts on MFA's? I see you have yours and teach at the University of San Francisco. 

Graduate programs are fantastic.  It's the place to take a lot of chances on the page and meet a bunch of other heads who dig literature.  The community aspect is something people don't talk about enough: we need to be around other writers, or it's hard to finish our books.  I try and tell my grad students to honor their imaginations.  That's what makes them unique, their idiosyncratic imaginations.  If they play to it, they'll be fine. 

11. Other than writing, what takes up the most of your time (that you enjoy)? 

Ava, my daughter.  I only taught part time in the fall so I could stay home 3 days a week.  It's pretty rad.  We just roll around and drool.

12. The Scout's Honor book trailer is one of my favorite book trailers, ever. How did that come about? Did you write it? 

I did write it.  We wanted to do something ala the promo trailers for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."  Something that is barely related to the novel.  Book trailers usually are just bad advertisements.  I wanted to make something that was its own piece of art.

13. Did I hear that at one point, there was a goat talking to various characters in Fight Song? Did you know this interview was coming?  

Ha.  That goat!  Normally, I have one embarrassing thread in a book that I have to cut out before it's pubbed.  In "Damascus," there was a genie in a whiskey bottle.  Yikes.  Seriously.

14. The first book you ever read was Kurt Vonnegut's, Slaughterhouse Five, do you think that reading that book changed your life? Do you think most writer's have a book like that? 

I hope so.  I hated reading, faked every book report until my senior year in high school, and when that guy put Vonnegut in my hand, my whole life changed.  

15. You just received your 1,000th rating on Goodreads, congratulations! Do you think sites like that are important for an author's success?   

Nah, they're not essential, but like I said earlier, I value community, so I try to make myself available to other people who cherish the written word.

16. What about social media? Is it a necessary evil?  

I don't think it's necessary, and I don't think it's evil.  It's just these things we can either do or not do.  They're resources, but books succeed without them.  Steve Elliott once said that we should market our books with the same integrity with which we wrote them.  That's always stuck with me If you don't like Facebook/Twitter/whatever, then don't do it.  Don't let some marketing asshole talk you into something you're uncomfortable with.

17. It seems as though you embrace insomnia as almost a gift, can you expand on that?  

Well, I don't really have a choice.  I can't sleep.  But I try to use that time to write more.  Most people are calling it a night and I'm still going.  So in a sense, my work day is longer.  My work day is dog years, if that makes any sense.

18. What's the last book you read that knocked you on your ass? 

James Brown's "LA Diaries"

19. Your new book is the first book you're doing some heavy research for, what's making this one different?  

Fortunately/unfortunately, the thread of the new novel that was requiring the research didn't make the cut.  So I'm back to just making stuff up and swigging coffee.

20. What's next for Joshua Mohr?  

I'm just finishing up a new novel called "ALL THIS LIFE."  It's an ensemble story about a mass suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge.  We follow seven or eight people directly or indirectly related to it.  I've had a blast writing it and I hope my enthusiasm rushes off the page!  

Thank you!