In Drew Perry’s new novel, Kids These Days, an expectant father is paralyzed by the idea of taking responsibility for another human life when he can’t seem to manage his own. While Perry, the father of two young boys, drew from real life while writing the book, he also finds inspiration in less conventional sources.
“I end up getting inspiration from stray detail more than almost anything else—that and strange obsession. I’m attracted to the odd bits of American life, like parking lot ice machines and painfully named landscaping companies (The Lawn Ranger) and putt-putt courses and things of that nature. There’s a store down near a beach we go to called Worms and Coffee. I get attached to things that offer up, on the face of them, a string of questions. Worms? you think. And coffee?”
What is the best (or worst) piece of writing advice you’ve gotten?
Write every day. Best and worst piece of advice all at once. I should, but I can’t. Or I don’t. Or I shouldn’t, but I do. And then I feel badly about myself, or foolish. Or both.
What tricks do you use to get yourself unstuck in your writing?
It takes me weeks to realize I’ve gone down a blind alley. Then I discover my mistake in a hail of crushing self-loathing. However, by then, I’ve as often as not happened onto something else of possible value by accident, and all I have to do is go back and burn down the offending middle part.
If I’m absolutely stuck, what I generally do is rock back and forth in my chair at the desk for a week or a month until I remember that the only way to get unstuck is to go ahead and write the very bad middle part so that I might get to some unexpected thing that’s half-working.
Coffee, in heavy quantity, before and during. Revising by hand, or just tinkering, in a kind of low-stakes, word-by-word way, after. I work on rhythm when I can. If it’s winter, I like to split wood and kindling for the writing shed woodstove, which makes the whole enterprise sound a lot more something than it actually is. If it’s any sort of growing season, I will obsess over the lettuce garden.
How does a writer know when his book is ready to submit?
I don’t. Luckily, I always show them to my wife first, who treats me very kindly but suggests I rewrite chapter two or the entire ending or flesh out a character a little more fully. I get very mad about this, behave poorly for a few days until I realize she’s right, and then revise. After that, at least so far, the books have been fairly ready.
How does a writer know when to listen to feedback and when to be true to his own vision?
I tend to know in my gut when somebody’s right, even if I have to fight myself about it for a day or two or thirty. And I’ve been lucky to have some very, very good editors and readers in my life so far. That’s what’s key: Finding people you trust to tell you the truth, and then learning to hear it.
What’s something you always try to teach your students about writing?
One thing I always try to teach young writers is to be sure, in stories, to be able to answer both parts of this question: “Why these people, and why this day?”
Kids These Days was named by KirkusReviews.com as one of “This Winter’s Best Bets.” Drew Perry’s first book, This Is Just Exactly Like You, was a finalist for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, a SIBA Okra Pick, and an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Best Book of 2010 pick. He has published fiction in Black Warrior Review, Atlanta Magazine, Alaskan Quarterly Review, and New Stories from the South. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, and teaches at Elon University.