Owen Egerton, longtime friend of American Short Fiction, is on a crazy book tour. (Crazy awesome!) How so? He’s touring via train with his whole family. He’s in San Francisco tonight (June 20), presenting his Best of God show at the Balboa Theater. Go show him some love, Bay Area. He will make you laugh. More details on his tour on his website.
We conducted this interview right before the conductor shouted “all aboard!” Or whatever it is that they shout these days.
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ASF: Let’s talk about The Book of Harold, just out in paperback from the wonderful Soft Skull Press. You first published this novel two years ago—how do you feel about it now? Are you feeling reinvigorated as you prepare for the second go-round of press? Excited about the book tour?
Owen: Thrilled! I’ve loved jumping back into the chapters for readings, once again engaging the issues and themes of the novel. It’s interesting returning to a book some years after writing it. It’s a window I opened then but can look through now. If I were so inclined to rewrite Harold now, it would be a different book. I’m a different writer, different person. It would not necessarily be a better book.
I take a while to write a novel, over six years on the short end. So every novel ends up being a collaboration between the man who started the work and the man who finishes it. Both me, but years apart.
The tour should be a blast. My wife, Jodi, and I are taking our two kids and taking the train from city to city up the West Coast. I get to take my family from bookstore to bookstore traveling by train? How could I not be excited? And Soft Skull is such a fun press. They’re putting the novel in front of so many new readers.
ASF: In the book, Harold and his followers are making a holy pilgrimage to Austin. Why did you choose Austin in particular, and what role does this city play in the novel? What was it like writing about the place you live in and know so well?
Owen: When I was younger, I did my best to avoid writing about Austin. I thought it would be more creative to describe a world other than my own. But again and again, Austin crept into my books and stories, or my characters crept into Austin. I don’t subscribe to the old adage “write what you know.” But I do believe you should write about what you love. And I love Austin. Love its waterholes, coffee shops, live oaks. Love the hippies, hipsters, and hicks all waiting in the same line for barbecue. Love the front yard art and backyard concerts. Love how we keep making films, plays, songs, books. . . even if we’re hardly making a dime. I love that you can still afford to do that here. Love the lifestyle tinkerers, the food mystics, the grow-your-owns. Love the not-yet-blended-but-getting-there combination of cultures. I love what we’ve been, who we are and all is to come.I really dig this town.
ASF: Tell us about a favorite book or short story, or something great you read recently. What impressed you or stuck with you about the work or author?
Owen: I’m reading Run with the Hunted, a Charles Bukowski Reader. The editor has arranged his stories and poems in the chronological order of his life so that the book reads as a kind of autobiography. He takes you close to some nasty scenes and grabs some true gut beauty. He describes the horrific with such simple elegance, such unassuming sentences, that the work has an electric honesty. An honestly of emotion. And his wit is hard to beat.
ASF: What do you look for when you read a piece of fiction? What makes something resonate with you, or inspire your own writing?
Owen: The fiction that attracts me most is the product of a writer reaching past her knowledge, striving to touch something beyond herself. There are plenty of clever craftsmen writing today, and I respect them. But often those books read like well stacked piles of wood. I like the ones set ablaze. A book that burns is harder to keep in the lines, harder to summarize. I don’t need a book that has a “message” I can take away in my pocket. Save that for inspirational and political Twitters. I want a book discovering itself. A book that’s a little out of control.
ASF: Where is your favorite spot in Austin to delve into a great work of fiction?
Owen: Is there a bad spot? So many! The south shores of Barton Springs, the counter at Bouldin Creek Coffee House, the stacks at the Twin Pine Library. . . but here’s my current favorite spot both for writing and reading. The far south-east corner of the Once Over coffee shop’s back patio. I’ve spent many an hour under a sprawling oak with Bouldin Creek to my side, a near perfect coffee before me and a used paperback in my hand.
That’s the ingredients for a good day.
ASF: What are you up to around Austin these days? Tell me about what you do at the Drafthouse—Master Pancake, your “Best Of” compilations—etc. How long have you been performing stand-up?
Owen: I saw that Soft Skull described me as a stand-up. I don’t really do too much actual stand-up. But I do stand in front of people and occasionally they snicker. I’ve been doing comedy since college. Comedy has been very kind to me. it paid the bills before writing could. While working on first novel, I was living in a VW van and performing random comedy gigs to buys groceries and gas.
The “Best Of” series has been a blast. I’ll actually be doing a number of those shows in the same cities I’ll be visiting for my book tour. We take a theme–sex ed, drugs, God– and put together a slew of outrageous clips from 1930s onward. Then we invite Austin notables, experts, and celebrities to discuss the theme. Plus a local musician like Southpaw Jones to write a song for the night. It’s kind of the bastard love child of comedy, music, interviews, encyclopedic explorations, and frenetic channel surfing. I’ll be on book tour for June and July, but we’ll be doing more “Best Of”‘s starting in August.
Master Pancake is always a blast. I’ve been mocking movies with John Erler for twelve years now. I’m sure I’ll be joining him again come fall.