"Teenage years are tough as it is — you have limited freedom, yet you have growing responsibilities, and you know just enough to be dangerous"

from a conversation with Kevin Waltman
 

Q: Gary's hometown is an essential part of NOWHERE FAST—it's as if his whole sense of self is marked by being in the same place all his life. Where did you grow up? How did it affect you?
A:
I was born in Bedford, Pennsylvania, but moved to Indiana in 4th grade. I went to high school in Greencastle, Indiana, a very small town. Greencastle was the fundamental model for NOWHERE FAST. I love the town, and I respect many people I know there; but there's no place quite so frustrating for an adolescent as a small town. Teenage years are tough as it is—you have limited freedom, yet you have growing responsibilities, and you know just enough to be dangerous. I think a small town only inflames that sense of confinement. For myself and many of my friends, there was a sense that we somehow needed to "escape" the town, yet many of us weren't sure if we ever would. I tried to make that feeling apparent in Gary.

Q: The voice you write in is so completely in character that I'm sure a lot of readers are going to assume that the book is entirely autobiographical. How much of this is based on your own experience and how much is it about feelings (but not specific instances) you've experienced?
A:
The sense of confinement in a small town is autobiographical, as I detailed above, and there are certain landmarks in the book—the bridge, Gary's work—that spring directly from my personal memory. Still, the events in the book are NOT autobiographical. I tried to create Gary and Wilson out of a combination of people I knew in high school. There's probably a little bit of me in Gary (I was always on the precipice of real trouble, but—thankfully—never fell over the edge). Wilson kind of symbolizes what I saw, sometimes respected and sometimes feared in my most rebellious friends.

Q: A lot of readers have felt that Gary's conflicting emotions about Lauryn is very, very real. What do you think it is about teenage boys that makes love so hard to deal with?
A:
I think it's that sense of confinement and frustration that is almost inherent in teenagers. Certainly, the pent up sexual frustration isn't helping matters for guys like Gary. But instead of dealing with it in some constructive way, they place all those frustrations on someone else's shoulders. This is, of course, terribly unhealthy—but I think a lot of teenage (and, too often, older) boys don't know how else to deal with their frustrations. Gary genuinely cares about Lauryn, but his impatience and frustration always get the better of him. Of course, his situation is complicated further because of the behavior he sees in his father, who consistently sets a horrible example.

Q: There are so many relationships that are drawn in this book—from Gary and Wilson's friendship to the strange rapport between Gary and Roverson. How as a writer did you explore these different relationships? Which of your own relationships informed what you wrote?
A:
We've all met people that know how to push our buttons, right? They prey on our anxieties, and find those little spots of worry in our opinions of ourselves. Well, those people can be really damaging if they misuse that power.

Gary's a smart kid, but he can't see how much Wilson and Roverson both misuse him. Wilson's use of Gary might be somewhat unconscious, but Roverson's is entirely conscious. Still, Gary so desparately wants their approval, or wants them to view him as a "man" (justifications he can't get from his father), that he falls for them every time.

Sadly, the one person who doesn't try to use Gary is Lauryn—yet she's the one he listens to least.

Q: One of the most tortured relationships in the book is between Gary and his father. Now, I know that this is not the kind of relationship you have with your own father. What was it like to write these scenes?
A:
I have a great relationship with my father, so, frankly, it was a bit awkward to write these scenes. Where I'm lucky, though, some of my friends were not: I remember friends that had poor (and sometimes abusive) relationships with their fathers. There are few things that can be as damaging to a young boy, and when I saw the frustrations and anger they felt from it, I realized how deep it ran. While I thankfully never experienced anything like that first-hand, on the page I tried to re-create the frustrations I saw in others.

Q: You are currently going for your MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) in creative writing, which I sense is something a lot of the PUSH readers are interested in doing themselves. What's that like? How has it helped your writing?
A:
The graduate school experience helps my writing tremendously. From word choice within a sentence, to details and nuances of a theme throughout a larger work, it forces me to think critically about the choices I make as a writer. And I must say that the program at Alabama exceeds all expectations; it's truly a supportive and productive environment.

Of course, it can be quite fun, too. All that confinement I mentioned earlier? Well, I'm still in a relatively small town, but have a TON of freedom.

Q: What are your literary influences?
A:
My first big influence was Raymond Carver, and I must say I kept thinking back to him during the writing of NOEWHERE FAST. Currently, Don DeLillo and Hanif Kureishi are carving formidable spaces on my literary landscape. James Baldwin, Annie Proulx, Ralph Ellison, Milan Kundera and Joan Didion are never far from my thoughts, all for different reasons. I've recently been introduced to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and am thrilled by his every word. But I will always—always—return to Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Robert Penn Warren's ALL THE KING'S MEN. (another benefit to living in the South: I sometimes go watch football games at a place on Harper Lee Drive)

Q: What are your musical influences?
My default answers are:
favorite artist, Bob Dylan; favorite group, The Rolling Stones. But it's not that simple. Today, my answer would be Dead Prez, The Star Room Boys, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Beth Orton and The Makers (is that enough?). But if I'm writing, I can't listen to music with lyrics, so jazz has become essential for me: Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus—they seem to be in the headphones a lot when I'm at the keyboard. Or maybe R.E.M., because I've never understood a word Michael Stipe has said, but I enjoy the sounds he makes.

Q: How soon is now?
A:
Yes.