Unwrap the Brain of Jesse Miller
It's here! It's here! Jesse Miller's UNWRAP YOUR CANDY officially releases today and is NOW available for your reading enjoyment.
In honour of the release of UNWRAP YOUR CANDY, we are going to unwrap the brain of Jesse Miller.
*WARNING* This interview contains some occasional salty language. Writers. You just can't control them... If you're easily offended (or under a certain age), imagine a field of daisies with kittens frolicking through it rather than reading any further. Consider yourself warned.
Where did the idea for Unwrap Your Candy come from?
The germ of UYC came from an article I read many, many years ago in one of those douchebag men’s Maxim-y magazines. I was sitting there in the waiting room at the dentist’s office and the cover had a little blurb: “The Magical, Mystical Condom Factory Experience!”—some such nonsense. I think the angle was like this Willy Wonka-esque tour through the factory as told by a kind of unflinching Hunter S. narrator-type driving the story. What struck me most was how during the tour, the writer wasn’t allowed inside certain rooms—I’m sure this is standard procedure, but he made such a huge deal out of it, out of this barrier, this kind obscene place. It all hung up many question marks in my mind: What was beyond those walls? And then some lyrical part of my brain took over and wondered what that all meant—the barrier, the NO, that existed in a space that made barriers. The unknown, the beyond, and not just the actual room in the factory, became the quest. From there, the mood, the undercurrents of the book started to take shape.
What is your writing process?
Yikes. To answer that question, maybe I’ll walk back through a little history of my process? About 15 years or so ago when I first started on the book, I had this interesting night gig at a bank processing checks. I’d work all night and then come home to write until the sun came up. Then around noon, I’d go back in and try to shape to whatever had discharged the night before at the edge of my consciousness. It wasn’t exactly “write drunk, edit sober,” it was more about feeling for the edges, appreciating the modes of a headspace, and pushing ideas through the lens of the psychic space I was in. “Writing is nothing more than a guided dream”—that’s something from Jorge Luis Borges, and that is just it. During those writing at the cusp-of-dawn years, at least, it felt that way completely.
So much has changed for me professionally since that time—now I teach. It’s more wake up/walk dog/write in short bursts with more carved out blocks of time in the summer when I’m not teaching as much. I’ll spend the rest of the year sorting through the wreckage and wondering what I was thinking about months ago. I suppose ultimately I’m always trying to get back to that feeling of weightlessness while sliding through the guided dream of creation.
How do your ideas come to you?
Well, sometimes ideas sort of fall like manna form the sky showing up conveniently packaged and tucked into some questionable periodical on the coffee table at your dentist.
But mostly writing long projects means thinking long and hard, and just showing up each day to think, though, there are different and important ways to think, you know? Driving, pardon the pun, is a great vehicle for writers I think. It has been the best form of meditation for me, day after day. I solve so many of my problems, writing and otherwise, when one part of my brain attends to real needs of manoeuvring from A to B. All the while, the other part of my brain is left alone to do what it wants. What would your brain do, the creative parts anyway, if no one was watching it? For me, the “shower principle” of driving kind of allows one part of my brain to find the speakeasy there in the other more interesting part. And whatever comes home from that speakeasy is kind of where ideas come from.
What do you most want the reader to know about Unwrap Your Candy?
That it’s a book of chapters, and perhaps the non-linearity of the narrative might be a barrier for someone to push through. But if you can get past some of the construct mechanics, it’s really a book of songs, with recurring phrases, with recurring lyrical motifs, many of which are introduced in a kind of overture at the beginning, stretched and unpacked as the book spins on, and then brought around in the close. I suppose that sounds kind of absurd, and perhaps worse, pretentious AF, as the kids might say. How about this: it’s a concept album in the form of a novel.
Do you have any author inspirations?
I have a couple of poet friends from grad school and we get together each year. I love being around poets—the kind of talent jealousy that strikes me when I’m in the company of a novelist never seems to happen with poets. And so, these two poets, and I’m name-checking because I think they are worth their salt (David M. Harris and Michael Foran), we get together and talk craft and workshop some poems and smoke some cigars in the summer.
They’re older than me, and I’ve known them a while. What is remarkable to me is that the work they’ve been doing as older men—it gets better and better—and I draw a great source of inspiration from them both. It’s spooky, but I think I’m almost the same age now as when I first met Michael years ago.
Do you listen to a playlist or music that helps the creative process? And if so, what songs, artists, etc.
This falls under inspiration as well. I used really enjoy writing to rap, almost anything Jay-Z, who I think in 2017 is still a top shelf linguaphile, and offers as much poetic nutrients as James Joyce. And then there’s the first Biggie album and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic—these records were my whole thing for a while. The kinetics of rap, the stream of language moving the narrative forward against the rhyme schemes, and then through the architecture of practically any of those songs—it is pure fucking art. Of course, it’s problematic on some levels, but I suppose without a great deal of pretense, I often feel like chasing that same kind of omnidirectional kinesis in my work.
But now, I’m too distractible, so it has to be non-verbal music. I listen to a lot of jazz when I work and it’s always on vinyl—maybe I can get though side one of Bitches Brew and have something in the tank for side two? Maybe I can get through the whole album? Maybe there’s time for Jack Johnson. I’ve listened to the same 20-30 records it seems a thousand times, but generally I love to play anything Coltrane; the most potent stuff for me has been Miles Davis’ jazz-rock fusion albums. That long phantasmagoric ear-opium is what I need to cook.
How long have you been writing?
I supposed I’ve been writing seriously for about 20 years now, give or take.
What started you on the path to writing?
Ulysses—no question. I took a seminar in college on Joyce and U was on the reading list. The preposterousness of it—who is prepared for that? I had never imagined that language could be everything, could be, in essence, a (the!) main character in a book (if it really is a book, and not a way of being). I realized very early on in the class that I showed up to dance word ballet with shitkickers on. Ultimately, it was probably the best writing class in my life, even though it wasn’t actually a writing class at all. Yes, indeedy, yes!
Where do you see yourself going from here as a writer?
If I’m lucky, I’ll turn 40 in a few weeks. Really, as a novelist, I should just be getting going.
Like most working writers, especially some of my colleagues doing the adjunct teaching hustle, your actual work and your ability to keep working can take away so much time and energy that could be used creatively. I suppose at this point, I know my own personal black star is always potentially lurking around the corner, and I’m trying to minimize my deathbed regret list. What it comes down to for me then, as the clock ticks a little louder this year, is to work less and write more. That’s were I’d like to see myself going.