41.2 Feature: An Interview with Zach Powers
Zach Powers lives and writes in Savannah, GA. His work has appeared in The Brooklyn Review, Forklift, Ohio, Phoebe, Caketrain, PANK, and elsewhere. He is the founder of the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live (SeersuckerLive.com). He leads the writers’ workshop at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, where he also serves on the board of directors. His writing for television won an Emmy. Get to know him at ZachPowers.com.
Interview by ZACHARY DOSS
Black Warrior Review: Your name is Zach. My name is also Zach. Isn’t that cool? If there were a secret society of people named Zach, we would both be in it. Not that there is any such thing, of course.
Zach Powers: There is a guy named Zach Powers who friended me on Facebook. Later, he changed his display name to Zachary John Powers, which is also my full name. Later, one of his posts mentioned his brother who is named Josh, as is my brother. Later, he mentioned his dad who is named John, as is my dad. Is Single White Female still culturally relevant? Because I feel like that’s what’s going on.
We totally need a secret handshake.
Microsoft Word does not like the word “friended,” and I can’t say that I disagree with it.
BWR: Your piece, “Children in Alaska,” is about a man who marries a human-sized light bulb. How did this idea come to you? Why a light bulb?
ZP: I like big bulbs and I cannot lie
You other brothers can’t deny
That when a light flips on with an itty bitty cap
And a round thing in your lamp
You get lit, wanna pull out your torch
‘Cause you notice that bulb was scorched
Deep in the glass she’s gleamin’
It’s blinding but I can’t stop beamin’
Oh bulby, I wanna get with you
And flip your switch
My homeboys tried to shade me
But that bulb lights my room so heatedly
You say you wanna get in my socket?
Well, light me, light me
‘Cause you ain’t that average Tiffany
I’ve seen them glarin’
To hell with starin’
She’s gas jet, nyet,
Got it goin’ like the headlights of a ‘Vette
I’m tired of magazines
Sayin’ LEDs are the thing
Take the average streetlight and ask him huh
She gotta pack much lux
So, candelas! (Yeah!) Candelas! (Yeah!)
Has your bulb got the lumens? (Hell yeah!)
Tell ’em to shine it! (Shine it!) Shine it! (Shine it!)
Shine that healthy bulb!
Bulby got lux!
To actually answer you question, I wrote the first draft of this story so long ago that I don’t quite remember the origin of the idea. I do recall that it was one of those times when I had the idea and wrote the whole thing in one sitting. The first draft took less time than rewriting Baby Got Back just now. A couple years ago, I came back to the story and revised it 20 or 30 times, and there you have it.
BWR: I was drawn to the way that this piece seems to deal in surrealism and absurdism coupled with moments of real loss and tenderness. How did you navigate the balance between moments of humor and strangeness and moments of sadness and pain?
ZP: To me, absurdity is a lens through which to study reality. If you read any of the great absurdist works, Calvino’s Cosmicomics for example, for all the conceit of those stories, for all their formal cleverness, they’re never clever for cleverness’ sake. The weirdness allows the writer/reader to explore something commonplace and deeply human from an angle that realist fiction can’t. That’s the same thing that goes on in good genre writing.
As far as humor goes, I never try to be funny. When I try for humor, I end up rewriting the lyrics to Baby Got Back, and then I have to apologize. Literary humor, though, is a product of the way a writer/narrator looks at the world, an offbeat or wry attitude. I think you can always tell the difference between the writers who cracked wise from the back of their high school English classes, and those who sat in the front and actually paid attention. I would fall into the former category.
BWR: Your bio says that you won an Emmy for your television writing. Do you find your writing for television relates at all to your fiction writing? Are the processes similar, or do you find each uses different muscles?
ZP: Most of my television writing was of the advertising variety, so it was aimed at manipulating people. Marketing is very, very evil. Those of us in the field are evil. We are the type of people who list The Art of Seduction among our favorite books. We give candy of questionable nutritional value to babies. We have anthropomorphized every food you like to eat.
For me, television and fiction writing are somewhat different. At a language level, there can be similarities, but TV writing always has a specific goal where fiction is open-ended. That said, I’m always influenced by other media, often as much as I am by books. My first novel (available for publication by a reputable press, winkwink) features key plot points taken from comic books and kaiju movies.
Now that we’re talking about it, I’m tempted to write a story that uses the structure of a TV commercial. Has that been done before?
BWR: What is your favorite thing about your own writing?
ZP: I like thoughtful writing that isn’t afraid to have fun, and I think I do that OK. Fun can be in the form of language or concept or character. Over-the-top or madcap novels generally don’t resonate with me, though. There’s some balance that I look for. I want to be forced to think and be entertained at the same time. I’m also not a hugely emotional person, so I tend to respond to detachment better than immersion. I relate to Murakami better than all those dead-Russian-authors-who-write-really-long-books. Don’t get me wrong, those Russians can write. Just a little feely is all.