Drew James, whose poem ‘Apocalypse and Camels’ is published in issue 6 of Lucent Dreaming, graduated from UNC Greensboro with a degree in English. This is his first publication.
So, what inspired your piece ‘Apocalypse and Camels’? Can you tell us a little more about what it’s about?
It actually started out as a story I wrote my junior year in college. It barely resembled what you see today—it was mostly just a dream sequence and then something needlessly confusing about a guy trying to buy groceries. The few people who read that version told me that it was pretty funny but also said that it kind of sucked. I knew it didn’t have much substance so I gave up on it. A few years later I was looking through my old stories and found a new angle. I’ve always been interested in characters who are trying to desperately hang on to something. In this case, it’s a narrator trying to remember the dream that his deceased partner told him about. Through this mechanism, I tried to really capture the chaos and absurdity of dreams, and then use that as a sort of fog through which the reader gets to glimpse the narrator’s true emotions.
What are some of your favourite books and art (including shows, videos, music) – of all time or more recently. Why are they favourites?
The Brothers K by David James Duncan is my favorite book. The sheer ambition of it blows me away. It’s a coming of age family saga that tackles the toxicity of fundamentalist Christianity, the Vietnam war, and how people deal with trauma. Everything Duncan writes is filled with such life. Some other books at the very top of my list are Tears of the Trufflepig by Fernando A. Flores, Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut, and Half-Blood Blues by Esi Eduygan.
Music is a huge part of my life. I listen to a wide variety, but Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction is the best thing I’ve ever heard. I’m not musically sophisticated enough to say why, but the album sounds the way that my brain feels. There are so many others, though. I’m a huge Dylan fan. I generally listen to a lot of jazz, hip-hop, folk, latin folk, reggae, and 60’s psychedelic rock. I teach Kendrick Lamar’s “How Much a Dollar Cost?” to my English classes and it’s the most complex literary text we go over all year.
What, if anything, are you looking forward to right now and what writing/creative projects are you currently working on?
I’m writing a novel about a guy who works in advertising and writes an “honest commercial” that criticizes the product he’s supposed to be promoting. The ad goes viral and sales go through the roof. So other companies start trying to duplicate that and the entire advertising business gets turned on its head. There’s a lot of humor in it, but the protagonist is a pretty fucked up person. It’s largely about his actions and the things he hides from people, and how that connects with American commercialism.
I’m also–and this sounds a little strange–working on a comic book series called Baseball Man with co-writers Hector Reyes and David Castillo. At first appearance, it’s a sort of absurdist comedy about a Cuban-American superhero who attempts to fight crime with a baseball bat and baseballs. But it gets political. We tie it into the long-going history of U.S’s imperialism in Latin America. We talk about Bautista. We talk about Trujillo. And then you have this character who is somewhat deluded into thinking he can make the world’s problems (and his own) go away by being a vigilante. We’re being very ambitious with it, but we don’t even have an artist yet. We’re just writing scripts.
Can you tell us about how you got into writing and art? Is there anyone whose support or encouragement really inspired or motivated you?
I’ve written since I was a kid. I really started taking it seriously my senior year of high school, when I self-published a novel for a big project. It was well-received as a school project, but it’s definitely the worst book ever written. Just a 300 page total shitfest that, according to one unfortunate Amazon reviewer, “Seemed like it would never end.” Usually people talk about how you make a piece of art and only your family and friends will tell you it’s good. In this case, my friends and family were like: “Well at least it looks like a real book on the outside.” But I worked so hard at writing over the next few years that by the time I got into my first college workshop, my prose was pretty decent. I gradually realized I could write these psychological tragi-comedies, and that kind of became my style.
I’ve never really needed encouragement, but I have a long way to go as a writer and there are plenty of people who deserve thanks for their reading, editing, and/or feedback. For one, I was lucky to have Michael Parker (author of If You Want Me to Stay, another favourite novel) as one of my creative writing teachers. I was at a pivotal point in my development when I was in his class, and to this day I lean on his teachings more than anything else. Holly Goddard Jones, my last teacher and author of “The Salt Line”, was willing to sit down with me and have very serious and critical discussions about my writing. Her main piece of advice to me was that I could afford to be a little more sentimental and less cynical. That advice directly led to “Apocalypse and Camels”, which was my first publication.
Where can people see more of you and your work?
There isn’t much yet, but I’m working on it. I have a story called “The Most Important Discovery in Human History” in Jokes Review. It’s about two aliens arguing over whether they want to eat Earth for dinner. It’s just pure comedy fiction so it might not be of interest to everyone. It’s a great publication, though—they put a lot of heart and soul into their comedy and most of it is a lot better than what I have in there. I also have a humor piece coming out in McSweeney’s soon. It might be online by the time you publish this, but I don’t want to give away the headline since that’s at least 1/3rd of the joke. I’m on Twitter as @missingwallet, and I’ll share any further writing on there.
Lucent Dreaming is an independent creative writing magazine publishing beautiful, imaginative and surreal short stories, poetry and artwork from emerging authors and artists worldwide. Our aim is to encourage creativity and to help writers reach publication! Subscribe to Lucent Dreaming now, support us on Patreon and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.