Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Q&A with Steve Adams




Steve Adams is the author of the new novel Remember This. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Glimmer Train and Chicago Review. He is based in Memphis, Tennessee.


Q: What inspired you to write Remember This, and how did you create your character John Martin?


A: One of the things I share with John is my intense love and connection to New York City, almost at a bone level. Like him, I was raised in a smallish Texas town, and I went to college in Austin where I wrote poetry and short plays and hung around the music scene.


And then at a certain point I screwed up all my courage, shoved all my belongings I could fit into an airplane, and took off for New York, having never even seen the place.


Like John, I came into myself there, and though I would leave it twice, I wouldn’t be able to stay away and would spend a total of 16 years over three decades in the city, including the late ‘80s, the period in which my novel is set.


In 2008 when the US economy collapsed, I lost my job and knew I would have to leave New York.


I had several months of unemployment before my lease was up, and so for those months I wandered the city, visited every corner, every building, every tree, coffeeshop, bar, and restaurant that had meaning for me, because I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to find my way back again.


And my imagination turned toward a written expression of my love for this city and the steady clock that was ticking on my life there.


Since I knew I could never sustain a narrative from just some sad guy wandering the city, I got the idea of creating a character who has two months to spend with the love of his life there—a married woman he’s having an affair with—and that’s the ticking clock on the story.


And there you also get his character flaw; he has a history of being “the other man” in his relationships with women.


My entire first draft followed this narrative alone—John trying to manage this affair he’s fallen into, while on off-nights he’s wandering New York City, unable to sleep, memorizing every detail.


When I returned to Texas I realized what I had still wasn’t enough. I was discussing my failed first draft with my sister when she casually tossed out that she’d heard Jack Nicholson was the baby brother in a family of women, and how he got all this attention from them. And maybe there was something there.


A week later I was on a plane using the last of my frequent flyer miles to visit New York City when, as if dropped from above, I saw an image of John’s three older sisters. This trio of powerful feminine energy.


And that provided my answer, set up the second story line nested in the first, a whole other story in John’s childhood that tracks him through the dramas and traumas of his particular familial relationships, until we understand why John is the way he is, which is something he can only learn through his experience with Alena, the woman he’s in love with.


This created the third focal point, the why to go with the what of John.


Q: The writer Jennifer S. Davis said of the book, “Remember This is a love letter to a gritty New York long surrendered to upscale coffee shops and apartment high rises, to the reckless passions of fading youth, to art and all its possibilities, and to beauty itself.” What do you think of that description?


A: Well, not only is it amazingly generous, but what was most personally affecting about her response is she saw deep into and connected so directly to the heart of the book. Her comment made me feel seen, and made my book feel seen. There’s hardly anything better that happens to a writer than a reader truly “getting it.”


She called my novel a love letter to another New York, and it is, though I believe that rougher, more beautiful and edgy New York still lies under the surface of what we see there now, as do other, older layers of the city as well. This is a reason I’m so drawn to it.


It’s taken the entire writing of the novel for me to understand I was writing a book about desire and loss and beauty, as well as that time and place—New York City in 1988—that AIDS-haunted landscape, which was thrilling and harsh and so tragic. I’ve never recovered from it, nor would I want to.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between John and your characters Alena and Jeremy?

A: This is an area of my book I was excited to work with, though when I try and describe it, my words seem to slide off the path. I struggle to find accuracy. Yet I think that slipperiness is part of the energy that drives these characters and the book.


But in a nutshell, all three are roughly the same age, and all three are extremely esthetically driven individuals. So John, who is straight, and Jeremy, who is gay, are infatuated (in their different ways) with Alena and subtly competing for her attention.


I’ve always found the close, intimate relationships one often sees between gay men and straight women fascinating, and in my own life I’ve found it interesting, being a straight man, how close and emotionally intimate my relationships have been with gay men, as well as how much I connect to that culture. (Full disclosure: I was a theater major.)


I know things have changed rapidly in this area, but in 1988 across much of the country, acceptance of varying sexual preferences was nothing like it is now.


For me it felt thrilling and dangerous to land in the middle of this wild city, where you could do, and be, anything, and where “anything” always seemed on the cusp of suddenly confronting you. It challenged you and your sense of who you were.


I know we’re supposed to be blasé about such issues now, but I don’t believe there’s anything blasé about confronting your sexual identity, even if you’re straight. And I don’t think the heartland is nearly as casual about such matters yet as we’d like to think. This issue remains a live wire.


So what we have with this threesome is a sort of nontraditional love triangle. Over the three years they work together before the affair begins (this is in backstory), John and Jeremy turn toward each other. Jeremy is the only one in the office who can read John’s attraction to Alena and the energy that passes between them, and he takes pleasure in teasing John about her, and no doubt Alena as well, propelling them all forward toward one another.


Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: In all honesty, I submitted my manuscript with a not very good title, and my editor at my press spent a good amount of time helping me work through it. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but we hit on this.


I like it a lot. It’s short. It pushes the idea of memory to the forefront, which connects to John and his loves and losses and hauntings, and those key points in one’s life where a significant event occurs that changes you forever.


You don’t want to sleepwalk through such moments. You don’t want to drown them in alcohol or drugs or compulsions; you want to live them and remember them and take them deep inside.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Trying to get this book into the world has so absorbed and distracted me that I’ve been totally off balance for much too long a time. I’ve been writing short pieces and essays about writing in an attempt to support the book, but I don’t think I was aware of the negative effect of not regularly dropping into my more purely creative process.


As it turns out I’ve been visiting New York City while answering these great, stimulating questions, and just the other day I sat at one of my favorite old coffee shops here and began a new novel, and it felt like I was gulping pure oxygen. On some level the storyline feels like a fool’s errand, but the voice has taken wing. So I don’t know.


I’m a writing coach, and if a client told me this I’d tell them it was a very positive sign and to follow it, even if they’re not sure where it will lead. So I think I will try and take my own advice and keep writing.


I think there might be a novel here, and I’m living in Memphis, and the south is dug deep into my concept. What better landscape could I ask for? And if in the end it doesn’t work out, it’s gotten me writing again.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes. We’re setting up public reading events (Dallas at Interabang Books is on for Sunday 10/16 at 3:00) in five or six cities, Covid willing. Otherwise we’ll do the Zoom thing, but I don’t imagine I’m the only reader/writer who is starving for public readings with live bodies. I’ll be so glad when this damn thing is over.


For the record, I’m very interested in connecting with book clubs and think this could be a good “book club book.” My website is, and I’d love it if your readers would drop by.


As I mentioned earlier, I’m also a writing coach and write regular pieces on the creative process for JMWW and link to them through the blog page of my website. The creative process is kind of my thing.


Thank you so much for your time and your wonderful questions, and also for your continued support of writers and literature.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment