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In Conveersation With Jay Bushman author of Novel Advice: Practical Wisdom for Your Favorite Literary Characters
From:
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Wednesday, February 10, 2021

 

Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Jay Bushman author of Novel Advice: Practical Wisdomfor Your Favorite Literary Characters.


Jay writes for many kindsof media. Jay works at the intersection of traditional and emergingformats, reinterpreting and reimagining classic stories in new ways.  

He won an Emmy for hiswork as a writer and transmedia producer on the groundbreaking seriesThe Lizzie Bennet Diaries, an interactive adaptation of Prideand Prejudice.

He was the co-creator andco-showrunner of the sequel interactive series, Welcome ToSanditon.

As a writer and producerat Fourth Wall Studios, Jay helped to create the Emmy-winning seriesDirty Work, and wrote and created the show AirshipDracula. 

For his experimental workin social media storytelling—including writing one of the firstTwitter novels—he was dubbed as “The Epic Poet of Twitter” byNew Scientist Magazine, and an “Enterprising Fabulist” by VanityFair.

Norm: Good day Jay andthanks for participating in our interview. Was writing always acareer move for you or did it grow into one?

Jay: My originalbackground is in the theater and then film. When I started out, Ithought of myself as a director, and I started writing to have my ownmaterial to make. But gradually I became more interested in thewriting processing moved my focus to that.


Norm; What doesyour workday actually look like and where do you write?

Jay: I live in LosAngeles, and even before the pandemic, I usually wrote in my homeoffice. I used to write in various coffee shops around town, but overthe past 2 or 3 years, I’ve moved away from that.

My workday is variable,depending on the particular projects I’m working on, but in generalI like to start work around 10 — which usually means sitting downat 10:30 and not really starting until about 11:30.

I’ll usually work with afew breaks straight through until about 5:30 or 6. I try to make sureI call the day to a close around 6 — it’s useful to have a cleardemarcation between work time and home time, especially when you’restuck at home all the time.

Norm;: Do you think about yourreading public when you write? As a follow up, do you feel thatwriters, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, whynot, if so, why and what would that be?

Jay: I’m always thinkingabout “the reader,” but often that reader is an imaginaryconstruct based mostly on me and what I think and feel.

Often times I need to walkaway from something I’ve written and come back later to see it withfresh eyes and try to imagine how the reader would see.

I’m not quite sure howto answer the question about what writers do or do not owe readers —something about the question seems inverted. The reader ultimatelyhas all the power in the relationship — because they can alwayschoose to stop reading. So perhaps I think the writer owes the readertheir best attempt to create something that gets them to keep turningthe page.

Norm: What do you think most characterizes yourwriting?

Jay: I would hope empathyand clarity. But ultimately that’s for the readers to decide

Norm:What advice can you give aspiring writers that you wished you hadreceived, or that you wished you would have listened to?

Jay: I’m arecovering perfectionist. But what nobody could tell me, and what Ihad to figure out on my own is that perfectionism doesn’t look likewhat we thinks it does.

We believe theperfectionist looks at their work and thinks “This is good, but Ican’t stop until it’s perfect.” But what actually happens isthe perfectionist looks at their work at thinks, “everything I dois terrible and I can’t show this to anyone.”

Learn how to cut yourselfsome slack. And once you have, cut yourself even more.   

Norm:Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of thetwo? Please summarize your writing process.

Jay: A couple of yearsago, I was diagnosed with ADHD. The discovery helped me to approachmy process differently that’s led to a whole new way of working.

So now, I have a heavilystructured and very rigid process in place to keep my projects movingforward. But within that process it gives me a ton of room to workintuitively. I find I need both in order to workeffectively.  

Norm: How do you deal withcriticism?

Jay: I try not to. If aproject is done, it’s out of my hands and the experience belongs tothe reader. There’s nothing I can do to change it then. I hopepeople like it, but if not, it’s not really any of my business.Which is what I keep telling myself, anyway.

Norm: What isthe most challenging about your writing?

Jay: Getting my fingers tokeep up with my brain (I’m a terrible typist)

Norm: Pleasetell our readers a little about your book, Novel Advice: PracticalWisdom for Your Favorite Literary Characters.

Jay: Novel Adviceis a collection of advice columns from people writing in to an “agonyaunt” for help with the issues they’re struggling with in theirlives. But it just so happens that the people writing the letters arecharacters from across famous literature, and their problems comefrom their stories.

Ophelia needs helpfiguring out what to do about her boyfriend. Dr. Jekyll is trying tofind work-life balance. Victor Frankenstein is thinking of droppingout of school. Mrs. Bennet can’t get her husband to take theirfamily financial problems seriously.

The person who isanswering their letter isn’t just any agony aunt — she’s AuntAntigone, who gives them the benefit of her long expertise in livinga tragic life. 

The book is grouped into chapters aboutvarious topics — young love, marriage, career, education, health,etc. — and each chapter contains letters by characters from allacross the canon.

Dr. Watson, Boo Radley,and D’Artagnan all ask for help with navigating friendships. AnneShirley, Holden Caulfield, and Candide have school troubles. GregorSamsa, Captain Ahas, and Patrick Bateman all write in looking formedical advice.

Aunt Antigone responses toall of the letters by treating their problems with the utmostseriousness, as if the writers were real people grappling with realissues.  

The book is structured like a low-keyguessing game. None of the characters use their actual names, butsign their letter with pseudonyms, like “Mirthless in Manhattan,”“Hiding in Plain Sight” and “Fourth Wheel.”

You can read the book likethe letters are riddles, and see how long it takes to figure out whois writing. Or you can skip all that — all the characters areclearly labelled in the table of contents. It’s not meant to besuper challenging. (But there is a secret message hidden in one ofthe letters. Let me know if you find it.)

Norm: Whatmotivated you to write the book?

Jay: I’ve always lovedadapting classic literature and retelling classic stories in newways.

One of my pet peeves iswhen we as readers or audience members allow ourselves to think ofclassic characters without empathy or understanding — it’s notHamlet’s fault that we’ve been hearing him trying to answer “tobe or not to be” for 400 years, for him it’s always the firsttime!

I liked the idea ofwriting something that would approach each of the characters as iftheir story problems had the same weight as real worldproblems.

Norm: What were your goals and intentions inthis book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

Jay: I wanted to createsomething that would give book lovers a way to interact with theirfavorite characters in a new and fun way, while also using theirstories as a way to approach universal themes that we all stillgrapple with today.

I also hope that someonemuch pick up the book because they like one character, and then  getintroduced to another character they don’t know very well and getinspired to read  the story they come from. I hope I’veachieved this, but again, that’s up to the readers to tellme

Norm: What kind of research did you do to write thisbook?

Jay: A ton of research —I read, re-read and studied several dozen of the greatest novels,plays and short stories in the western canon. Some I was veryfamiliar with but others I did not know at all. 

Norm:What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing yourbook? How did you overcome these challenges?

Jay: With such a widepalette to choose from, there were challenges to make sure that theselection of characters was broad enough. I could have written theentire book from Shakespeare or Dickens characters. But I felt itneeded to have a wider range and I wanted to try to get some morecontemporary characters in, too.

I also wanted to pushmyself to not just rely on my favorite characters and books. I have alot of strong feelings about characters from Austen and Melville, butless so with Hemingway and Steinbeck. So it just meant reading andresearch a ton, and remembering that there are no weak characters inthe book — for every one of these characters, there’s someone outthere who loves them and I wanted to make sure I didn’t do anythingto make them feel like I was criticizing them for caring.  

Andwhile I was writing this book, the pandemic started, we went intoquarantine. The whole final part of writing the book happened whilemy father was dying from covid. I wrote about it in the afterword,and dedicated the book to him.  

Norm: If someonecan only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?

Jay: There are 73 storiesin one book. So you really get your bang for the buck.

Norm:Where can our readers find out more about you and Novel Advice:Practical Wisdom for Your Favorite Literary Characters?

Jay: You can find out moreabout me at my website, jaybushman.com. I also have anewsletter, Fabulist Rabbit Holes, at jaybushman.substack.com 

Norm:What is next for Jay Bushman?

Jay: I have severalprojects in the works at the moment including another book, whichwill be a radical modernization of a classic story that stars one ofthe characters in Novel Advice…but I’m not saying which oneyet. 

Norm: As this interview comes to an end, if youcould invite three writers, dead or alive, for dinner, who would theybe?

Jay: Herman Melville andNathaniel Hawthorne, just to watch all the uncomfortable sexualtension between them. And Mary Shelley seems like she’d be a goodhang.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all ofyour future endeavors.

Jay: Thanks!

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Norm Goldman
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
Direct Phone: 514-486-8018
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