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Interview: Q&A with Joseph M. Reynolds, author of Make Dust Our Paper

During the Fall, I received a copy of a book that has had surprising staying power in my mind. Initially, I had mixed feelings, some ambiguity regarding the work. When it clicked with me, it really fell right into place.

Make Dust Our Paper has reserved a permanent place in my collection.

Like the nosy reader I am, after reading I emailed the author with a few followup questions about the plot. Ultimately, he answered my questions then he agreed to be interviewed about his novel and other topics. The holiday season is terribly busy for people, so I really appreciate that he was able and willing to take the time.

With that, much thanks to Joseph M. Reynolds!

Synopsis of Make Dust Our Paper:
"Carrigan approaches the millennium New Year craving climax and culmination. What he finds instead is constant anti-climax, and lack of definitional consequence for his failures and failings and genius. A conceptual heir to Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, this novel explores everything from Carrigan's past in the spelling bee as a contemptuous 12-year-old, to his father's death in Ireland years before, to the depth of mystery, violence, and secrecy that he returns to, both existentially, and literally, as he becomes 21, and then 22, without proper fanfare or notice."

Q and A time-

Scroll to the bottom for a link to my review if this book

Toast Toasted: The dust cover Blurb for Make Dust our Paper lists it as “A conceptual heir to Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise”. Was this lineage something that you set out to do/correlate with, or did it just organically occur? What draws the comparison in your view or gravitated you towards it?

Joseph M. Reynolds: This Side of Paradise has been a dominant influence in my life as a writer (and a philosopher) because of the existential grandeur and vagueness it creates. It's an over-written book with a sloppy plot that would almost definitely get rejected if it were submitted today, but when its brilliant, its magic, and that is all that matters in literature... it's imperfect but redemptive. I wanted to be part of that legacy by creating things that couldn't be touched or characterized, but struck the reader on a visceral level.

To me, all worthwhile books are about their ideas, their sensibility, and their language, and plot is just a function to explore those things. I love Fitzgerald's depiction of Princeton as this boundless place without corporeality (the chanting at midnight indistinguishable between the senior class coming up the walk or ghosts of a hundred years before), but nothing about its plot influences me directly. It is the rejection of plot and an emphasis on great sentences and the exploration of ideas so penetrating that one can't feel comfortable while reading (it is for this reason that Virginia Woolf is my other the chief influence).

So, ironically, I sort of despise the dust jacket description on my book, as it specifically defines this continuance rather than leaving it as a vague abstraction that the writer needs to be good enough to reveal. But This Side of Paradise never bores me, and books about their own plot by nature can't achieve that.

ToastX2: John Carrigan ( the protagonist) is a complex young man. He is stereotypical angst but wrapped in a nice package. It is hard to use the term "Young man", "Kid" is a better description as he is just enough detached from adulthood to not be entirely culpable for his actions. Was Carrigan based off any person you know in life? If so, how close is the approximation?

Reynolds: Great fiction is about honest lying. All writers should write about what and where they know for the sake of atmospheric authenticity, but truth is the enemy of fiction--fiction should never be as limiting as life. We have the ability to remaster real events for the sake of drama and pathos and manipulation; it's incredible really. No regrets--no do overs--no "I wish I had said something different" type frustrations that we have in life. But the writer must be also using this license to make his characters worse or more dreadful or more disappointing at times too, or else it won't be art, but instead just a desperate, insecure vanity project.

So in short, Carrigan's experiences are born from at least a vague notion of things I know or have thought about knowing, and the rest is a self-challenging honest lie.

ToastX2: Make Dust Our Paper has strong ties to classic literature and the characters themselves evoke the desire to be living in generations past, I feel it is pertinent to get some perspective from you about technology. I noticed that your book is available on Amazon in both paperback and hardcover formats. Is there a digital version coming soon?

Reynolds: I don't like technology. We're overly exposed, overly explained, overly ripped apart, and still yet never in context (which displays a real, disgusting weakness of these "communication" technologies). There is no romance in crowding each other or needing everything explained, especially in art--the writer needs to be good enough to have the work stand for itself--in fact, to have any random section of the book stand for itself. People should leave each other alone more; we'd all like each other better--and that is actually romantic despite how miserly it sounds.

In terms of the forms of my book, I suppose I'm an agnostic about whether there will be a digital version; as long as hard copies still exist and have independent value, digital books can serve a function--but I'm not marching down the publisher's door demanding it either.

ToastX2: As a reader, I am in love with the texture and smell of books. While I can appreciate and depend on the convenience of digital media, nothing beats a dead tree book and they will always have a place in the world. As an author and reader, what is your take on the widespread use of digital media and devices?

Reynolds: My answer to the previous question mostly covers my thoughts on this question, but yes, there is a tangible eventfulness to books that [are] unique, and must never be lost. I honestly don't know if I could've even finished my novel had that been lost already.

ToastX2: I got a feel for this when your character Carrigan is witnessing the expansion of laptop technology on campus. When writing, do you follow suit? Are you long hand with a computer for spit/polish/ and shine?

Reynolds: I used to write all long hand but essentially stopped out of laziness ( double work). Also my penmanship is wretched and I actually lose ideas because I can’t decode them. I still make all my random notes long hand.

ToastX2: I believe it was in the foreword of Makers that Cory Doctorow stated: “My problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity”. He stated this in reference to giving free access to several of his books. This is probably one of my favorite quotes in the last decade. Lay down on my couch and tell me how it makes you feel.

Reynolds: It’s a cute quote but it has more pathos than it even intends I think. Because, actually, obscurity is the thing that writers always try to be contented with; it’s what we say to each other in workshop-even if no one reads it, even if it wins no awards, even if it sells nothing, the project still has independent value. But none of us are ever really that enlightened. And we'd be boring Ned Flanders types if we were. It does matter--we're just people. It’s only debilitating if it matters so much to us that we drop in a bunch of bullshit explosions or kidnappings or sex scenes just to sell more books. Otherwise it's just regular human frailty.

My book was just nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and what you tell people is, oh, its just good because it'll make it easier to print the next one. And that's true, but you're an asshole if you believe that--we're all arrogant and we all believe our passages are the best, and damnit, I want to win it (and any others that come along) because I think I deserve it.

ToastX2: Congratulations on the Pushcart nomination, I hope you are successful and make the cut!

Reynolds: Thank you very much. It’s been submitted for 3-4 other awards as well, and I do honestly [hope] it gets listed for practical reasons... I’m not a social media or a marketing type guy; so reviews and awards are really the avenues to more people reading the book, and the avenue to my ultimate desire for the book, which is that it be taught in schools.

ToastX2: Two quotes from your book that really stuck with me
  • John Carrigan, hearing about a production of Hamlet being disrupted for a moment of silence toward the deceased JFK, introspects "Will they interrupt Hamlet when I die?"
  • Referencing John Carrigan's grandfather. "He never drank because he was in love with his wit. And his love was loyal and unwavering."
Being that you used a quote as the title reference in your novel, what is one excerpt or quote from your book that you hope withstands time.

Reynolds: I tried to write every line as a quasi-poetic, thought-provoking abstraction, so I hope everyone finds one from the book and that they come from all over the book. I know that this a douchey reply, but in fairness, I had to work that way in order to justify the lack of plot event emphasis. For instance, I hadn't really thought much about the Prof. Keating chapter until you noted it as exceptional and even worthy of its own book. So I believe what D.H. Lawrence believed about literature (independent truth), and it's not for me to steer people towards more or less important ideas. Its for people to open a dialogue about what struck them, and I love participating in that dialogue.

ToastX2: What living author would make you most nervous and proud to know has read your book (It can be the same person)? If they have a Twitter presence, I will embarrass you by making sure they are aware.

Reynolds: Well Da Chen would be one, but he already has read it, blurbed for it, and is a mentor and friend of immeasurable worth. So for living writers, I would say Seamus Deane. I revere his novel Reading in the Dark; its heartbreaking and beautiful and I aspire to its wonder and charm and despair in everything I write. And I teach it every semester.. to celebrate it.

ToastX2: I will have to add Seamus Deane to my reading list. I am unfamiliar with him.

ToastX2: What book do you keep on your bookshelf at home and embarrassedly hope nobody calls you out on it? I am going to help you come to terms with owning it by discussing it publicly.

Reynolds: Well I'm very aware of the feeling you're pointing to here, and I'm also very poor, and arrogant enough to be vigilant about this.. and all of those things lead me to be able to honestly say that I have nothing on the shelf that embarrasses me (and I have many many many books), because you have to make it on to the shelf. It’s me enshrining the book in a kind of hall of fame (though one where its cool if you took steroids or gambled, or fixed the World Series).

ToastX2: I have a book on my shelf by Julie Kenner titled Cats Fancy where a woman invites a stray cat into her home and finds it metamorphs into a man every night. I have absolutely no room to judge. I do however share your general view on bookshelves. 
What is the next book you plan to add to your shelf?
Reynolds: I have [some of] everything (it’s the only thing I’m possession rich in). But now that I’ve published a book, I really want to make an effort to get to know my contemporaries and fellow living writers (trade books with them, add them to my shelf), instead of just conversing with ghosts. It’s actually very important to me.

Buying books through this link will cost you no additional money but helps support this site.
Consider buying a copy for yourself or your local library.

About the author:

Joseph M. Reynolds teaches college in New England ( and Washington, D.C.); In addition, Reynolds is the Founder and Director of the Sancho Panza Literary Society. The society meets at Trinity College Dublin each June, where he also teaches during Summer terms.

Reynolds did his graduate work in Creative Fiction, guided by acclaimed novelist and memoirist Da Chen.
He will be publishing a magazine starting fall 2018.

Contact Reynolds at: ajoreynolds @ fordham . edu


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