Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Garin Cycholl, from Atmosphere Press, for an author interview with The Reading Bud.
About The Author
Garin Cycholl grew up in south-eastern Illinois and has lived in Miami, southern Minnesota, and Chicago, where he has lived for the past two decades. His series of Illinois poems (including Blue Mound to 161, Hostile Witness, The Bonegatherer, and the forthcoming Prairied) explore violence, displacement, and changing ecologies across the state throughout the twentieth century. His recent work also includes the screenplays, The Indianan and The Hippodrome, an adaptation of Cyrus Colter’s novel. Rx is Cycholl’s first novel.
You can find author Cycholl here:
“A deeply American story in the guise of a road trip novel. Elegiac, original and compelling.”-Ling Ma, author of Severance
“With wit, sticky situations, one-of-a-kind characters, and a captivating mystery, Cycholl probes the idiopathic American psyche. His diagnosis, Rx, is a potent prescription for literary joy.”-Alex Shakar, author of Luminarium
Welcome to TRB! Please give our readers a brief introduction about yourself before we begin.
I’m kind of a chameleon, having lived in a range of places. Urban spaces, including Chicago, Miami, and New Haven. Rural spaces, where my nearest neighbors were a half-mile or more away. It’s a fortunate trait in some ways. I can work with a wide range of people, as I have in teaching and pastoral ministry. It’s also kind of a curse—the shape-shifting that Rx’s main character goes through as he tries to locate a center to himself.
I’ve taught in Chicago and Gary over the past 25 years at schools including UIC, the University of Chicago, and Indiana University Northwest. Prior to that, I pastored churches in Southeastern Illinois and on Chicago’s Northwest side.
Please tell us something about your book other than what we have read in the blurb?
My father was a family doctor in Southeastern Illinois for just short of four decades before his death in 2007. My brother currently works as a family doctor in the same town. Their experiences are a great part of Rx, the kinds of joys and frustrations of medical practice in a small town (i.e., getting to know generations of family members, but also seeing them in their own moments of breakdown and loss).
What is that one message that you’re trying to get across to the readers in this book?
Not so much a message as a reappraisal of the fault lines that exist in American culture at present. Through the narrator’s experience and flight, I’m rethinking the distinct American violences that we recall (and hopefully acknowledge) as history, process, and anticipate. Where are those violences’ roots? The book builds a fundamental awareness on how we, personally and culturally, encounter those fault lines—whether they become bridgeable spaces or swallow us.
Who is your favorite character in this book and why?
I’m close to the narrator, a half-assed psychiatrist who can’t decide what to do with himself. I also love Daniel Blackwater, a Native American physician. I’ve tried to engage him as a character with a lot of historical insight and sensitivity to the legacies that define him as well as the wider “country.”
What inspired you to write this book? An idea, some anecdote, a dream or something else?
A joke that I always made with my dad—that when he died, I was going to take on his identity and practice medicine without a license. Of course, there’s also a kind of joke on the mythic figure of Oedipus. What happens when you put him down some place in the rural United States?
Of course, as noted above, there’s also a post-9/11 impulse. How does one measure, sequence, or narrate American violence and the historical terrors perpetrated in “progress?” It seems like capital itself just swallowed the 9/11 bombings as an act and belched up the conflicts in which we reside in this moment. Through the chapters titled by states, Rx explores the violences beneath American geography. Whose blood was spilled on your plot of ground or street corner?
How long did it take you to write this particular book?
Rx was written over the course of several summers. The short chapter structure helped provide individual moments of intense focus within the short bursts of time I had to write the novel. Each of the plotlines developed along a string of chapters that I then reassembled into the final shape of the book.
What are your writing ambitions? Where do you see yourself 5 years from today?
I really enjoy working within and across genres. I recently finished Prairied, the fourth in a series of book-length poems on prairie geographies and family history in Illinois. These poems cover wetlands, stretches of highway, and a range of L stops in Chicago. Completing that feels like the end of a project. I also work in screenplay, a form I wish I had more time and opportunity to work within.
Are you working on any other story presently?
A detective novel set in Chicago that plays within spaces set up by Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, and Daniel Borzutzky.
Why have you chosen this genre? Or do you write in multiple genres?
As noted above, I work in a range of genres, including poetry, screenplay, and essay. I have always found that working across genres provides spaces to explore when something in a novel feels stuck or insoluble. Going into a poem can reset my narrative imagination. Working through scripts has been of inestimable importance in the development of characters on the fictional page.
I’ve also felt a great affinity between geographical and literary spaces. Memoir, poem, narrative, and maps blur in my head. This tendency has encouraged me to think about the more obsessive aspects of literary genre to the point where obsession is on par with conflict as a narrative impulse. How do I tell this “place?” My mind is always moving along what Gaston Bachelard called the “intimate immensities” of memory and poetic experience.
When did you decide to become a writer? Was it easy for you follow your passion or did you have to make some sacrifices along the way?
The lure of writing was a big part of working within ministry, a vocation that allows one to explore a range of capacities (counseling and managing, with the added bonus of getting to stand up once a week and speak what’s on your mind). Sermons were an enjoyable form, but I didn’t get serious about writing’s discipline until I was well into my thirties. I have had the benefit of some great colleagues and mentors, plus the opportunity to cross paths with some highly insightful writers along the way.
What is your writing ritual? How do you do it?
I write on a lot of small scraps of paper. The writing task becomes one of making something coherent out of them.
How do you prefer to write – computer/laptop, typewriter, dictation or longhand with a pen?
Transcribing bits of thought from paper to a laptop, develop them, then print them out and paste them on the walls.
What are your 5 favourite books? (You can share 5 favourite authors too.)
These shift and change, but I’ve been most influenced fictionally by Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man, Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage, Michael Anania’s The Red Menace, Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive, and Barry Hannah’s Ray. Among Chicago and Great Lakes books most recently, I’ve been hanging around Eve Ewing’s Ghosts in the Schoolyard and Dan Egan’s The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. Other works that have shaped my perspective in a sustained way are Sterling Plumpp’s blues lyrics and Robert Schenkkan’s The Kentucky Cycle.
How do you deal with Writer’s Block?
Fortunately, I have never had to fight it. My fits and starts of ideas will probably outlive me.
What advice would you give to aspiring non-fiction writers?
Michael Anania always reminded us that great writers rarely appear in isolation, so build on conversations and friendships with other writers. Don’t see them as competitors. Move into your voice. Love the process.
Thank you, author Cycholl, for your insightful answers!
About the Book
Rx: A Novel
First, do no harm…
A patient comes to you with vague but troubling symptoms. He seems to know a little too much about the odd sickness you’ve seen in other patients lately. You start to wonder what he’s been up to in his chicken coop. Is he growing the next plague? Should you call the FBI? The only problem is that you’re not really a doctor.
Taking on his dead father’s identity, a man becomes intent on practicing medicine in an out of the way town. He watches the nation bubble into a new kind of civil war around him. A con man amidst rumors, homemade bombs, and a developing sense that he has been “made,” Rx wrestles with a distinct American identity—slippery and always in flight. Between a violent “here” and an anxious “there,” a wider, remapped “America” emerges.
You can find Rx: A Novel here:
Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble
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