One of the most interesting, and well written, books I've read this spring is Jared Yates Sexton's The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon You Shore: A Story of American Rage, a chronicle of the insanity of the 2016 election. Many of you know may know Sexton for his infiltration of and live tweeting from Trump rallies and for his political essays, but Sexton is also a talented fiction writer and all around brilliant and compassionate human being. He graciously took the time to stop and answer some of my more challenging questions. Read on and then be sure to check out his work. You won't be disappointed, I promise you.
"Sexton’s is a critical and important voice in helping readers understand the cultural and political sea change the election created." ―Booklist
What drew you to the genre you write in?
Honestly, I always wanted to write. When I was little all I wanted in the world was to make stories, even before I could read. I’d sit there while my family read to me and think about how great it was that somebody could put all their thoughts down in a book. I used to sit on the floor with my tablet and draw characters and then make up stories about them – that was my way around not being able to write. I’m currently doing this political thing, which is a side-effect of my family’s focus on the political world, which was always a topic of discussion and dissection, but the fiction I write and want to write is more focused on trying to make sense of the world, which I’ve been trying to do since I knew there was a world to make sense of.
What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?
There’s a novel I wrote called Southpaw that never got published. It’s about a former Tea Party senatorial candidate who gets disgraced and has a chance to make a comeback in the era of Donald Trump. It got me my first agent and then the political thing took off and with Trump’s ascent it felt reactive instead of predictive, which it was in the beginning. I think it’s good, I’ve been told it’s good, and it’s just…yeah.
In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?
I have a hard time with this question. Probably a harder time than with anything. The answer is to feel like you’ve done your best job of articulating your thoughts on the world and getting across your philosophy. It’s about the writing, obviously. The other answer is that I don’t think writers ever actually feel successful. I had a decent-sized book in this last one, got to go to places, engaged with readers, some attention, and that should be considered successful, but like everyone else it feels like it’s not enough. It’s a constant struggle.
What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?
This is such a hard question. I could point to any number of writers who basically taught me how to construct work, how to frame things, who gave me permission to write whatever I wanted however I wanted, but the one that really changed me the most was On The Road by Jack Kerouac. That book takes a lot of grief, but it more or less transformed me as a young man. I came from a very conservative town and when I read that book at the age of 20 I saw that the world was so much different than I ever thought it could be. It challenged everything I knew, made me reconsider the very nature of reality, and ushered me into adulthood.
What do you wish more readers would ask you about?
My fiction. Honest to god, I miss it so bad and I just wish there wasn’t this Trump thing to contend with. I didn’t want to wrestle with Donald Trump and the decline of our democracy. I wanted so much for him to lose in November of 2016 so I could get back to writing, but I feel like as long as this thing is burning I have to try and fight it. My fiction touched on this stuff, the masculine insecurity, the fascist tendencies, the fragility of culture, and I want to fight this war on that front.