This Friday, March 7, Punchnel’s and Second Story are hosting A Mythic Indy reading featuring Indianapolis author and Butler English teacher Bryan Furuness. (Want to join us? Tell us on Facebook.) We asked Bryan to tell us a little about his life as a writer and his debut novel The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson. He graciously took time away from his busy schedule at the annual conference for Associated Writing Programs to send us the following.
I grew up in Northwest Indiana, about six blocks away from the intersection of highways 30 and 41, the old crossroads of America. My parents were both teachers, and I grew up reading books and riding bikes and watching IU basketball with my mom, and Bears football with my dad. In short, my parents completely handicapped my writing career with a happy childhood.
In third grade, I had a teacher who was really into stories. Her name was Miss Wagonblast (no joke), she was fresh out of college, and I just wanted to look at her all day long. If she had been into frogs, there’s a good chance I’d be a herpetologist today.
We wrote stories, we made them into books with covers made of cardboard and wallpaper, we entered them into the Young Authors contest.
I could tell you what I wrote, or how I did in the contest, but those things don’t matter. What matters is the afternoon that Miss Wagonblast helped me make my book. Sitting on the floor with me, pasting on the wallpaper cover, she told me how much she liked my stories. My heart felt like it was blasting out sunshine.
When I was around sixteen-years old, my friend and I were floating around his pool, talking about what we were going to be when we grew up. It wasn’t the kind of grandiose, self-important talk you sometimes have at that age; it was just lazy bullshit, which is how you know we were telling the truth.
We coasted, we talked. On the pool deck, my friend’s mom read a magazine. At one point I said I wanted to be an English professor, because “they don’t have to do anything, man.”
My friend’s mom laughed herself into a coughing fit.
At the time, my feelings were hurt. I thought it was the idea of me as a professor that struck her as preposterous, like a monkey in a tuxedo. Later, I knew she was laughing at my laziness and ignorance of the world. But now, when I think about that day, I see something else entirely.
Now I tune out all the talk and laughter and what I see is a skinny kid lazing around a pool. That’s his future right there–floating, daydreaming, turning it into words.
I went to IU, where I was not a particularly good student. I had a vague notion that I wanted to “be a writer,” but I wasn’t actually doing any writing.
I blew through about ten jobs in three years, ending up in sales, somehow. I wasn’t happy. I still wasn’t writing much.
In 2001, my wife and I moved to Massachusetts so I could start in the M.F.A. program at UMass. I lasted all of a semester out there. Some of the reasons were good–after years of trying, my wife had finally gotten pregnant, and it was hard to imagine raising a child without any family nearby–and some reasons were bad. I wasn’t ready for the program. I was too insecure, and I still wasn’t reading or writing enough.
So I dropped out and we came back to Indiana. My son was born, my wife wanted to try staying home, and I went back into sales. Health insurance, commission-only. If I didn’t sell, we didn’t eat. I have never felt so much pressure in my life; I have never worked so hard in my life.
It would have been the easiest (and maybe smartest) thing in the world to put writing aside at that point. But I knew I was at a crossroads: if I put it down then, I would never pick it back up. So I started getting up super-early, driving into work and praying that the boss wouldn’t be around so I could get in an hour of writing in the empty conference room.
I didn’t let it go. I showed up early, day after day. I sold enough insurance to support my family, and then to send my wife through grad school, and eventually, to send myself through the Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program for Writers.
The characters in The Lost Episodes were created in that conference room. So was I.
Writing can be a solitary business, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m always looking for ways to play with other writers. Sometimes it’s with a small project, and sometimes it’s a bigger project. Andrew Scott and I recently co-wrote a script for a graphic novel, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had with a writing project. Now we’re working with an artist to draw the pages–a different form of collaboration–and seeing these characters come to life is an incredible pleasure.
On his debut novel The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson:
Sometimes stories come from other stories. There’s a story by Lewis Nordan called “The Sears and Roebuck Catalog Game” that I really love. It’s about a mother who looks at a catalog with her son and makes up stories about the people in the pictures. At first, it seems charming and whimsical, but it quickly becomes clear that this mother is lonely and instable. It’s a deep, dark, wonderful story. I must have read it twenty times.
Then one day I was driving along 465, just daydreaming, when a mother’s voice came to me. I could hear it in my head as clearly as though she were talking. “Growing up, Jesus and Lucifer were best friends.”
I whipped the car over to the side of the road and wrote down as much as I could on a crumpled receipt. I had no idea what kind of person would tell such a story (or who she was telling it to), but I wanted to find out. That mother turned out to be Rosalyn Bryson, and the audience was her son, Revie.
On his current project:
What I’m working on now: a novel about a family in the witness protection program.
They’ve just moved to Morocco, Indiana, and they’re falling apart. The father is so paranoid he’s climbed up a tree with a rifle, the mother has left the family, and it’s up to the seventeen-year old daughter to hold everything together. Then a hitman discovers where they are, and starts making his way across the country toward Morocco.
It’s a crime novel, and it’s also about the way we invent (and re-invent) ourselves.
Please come visit us this Friday we we host A Mythic Indy Reading to benefit Second Story. Admission is free, and refreshments are available. All proceeds benefit the efforts of Second Story to help kids learn to love creative writing. You’re doing First Friday anyway, right?
Friday, March 7th, at 7:00.
Well Done Marketing
1043 Virginia Avenue
Murphy Arts Center
in Beautiful Fountains Square