Welcome to our new interview series, “Contributors’ Corner,” where we open the floor each week to one of our contributors to the journal. This week, we hear from Trent England, whose story “Patience Is the Most Passive Discipline” appears in 2.2.
Trent England lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts. He is currently working on both a play and a novel. He can be found online at tengland.com.
Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?
When I was growing up, my escape was going to the library. The seemingly endless number of books mesmerized me; my memory today of the size of these libraries probably eclipses their actual size. But the wealth of books fascinated me, and one reason why I write is likely an unconscious attempt to make a contribution to a library or a bookstore, to write a novel that someone else will take home from the library or purchase for their collection. To this day, I still adore going to the public library, even though I’m a grown-up with my own growing library. But to inject myself back into the world of books is probably the main reason I’m still writing today, and why I will always write, even when it’s been a long time between acceptances. My mother deserves a large deal of credit because she read to me at a young age and regularly took me to the library. It’s because of her that reading was so important to me so early on.
What are you reading?
One of my favorite authors is JG Ballard. The simplicity of his storytelling is so sophisticated it’s easy to miss sometimes. His novels are very easy to warm up to, and then he performs this terrific magic trick of slowly letting the story grow stranger and stranger until you’re too involved in the story to be turned off by the element of the grotesque. Right now I’m reading Cocaine Nights. Ah, it’s terrific. The international canvas of his books is also intriguing—he led such a fascinating, well-traveled life—and it makes his bibliography additionally pleasurable to read. You develop certain fantasies. In another life, I was a French diplomat who grew up in the UAE, that sort of thing. Isn’t that great? It’s all Morocco, the French Riviera, Shanghai, and so forth. I want to live in that exclusive enclave in Super-Cannes. It’s like a David Hockney painting that came to life, and suddenly there are dead heiresses, bizarre attaches, and moony cults on green lawns under a blue sky. I love it.
Can you tell us what prompted “Patience Is the Most Passive Discipline”?
Jason was kind enough to reach out and ask me if I had any work for HFR. Thankfully, I had a story for him to read called “Patience Is the Most Passive Discipline.” This was a story originally titled “Olympia,” and I wrote the first line a few years ago when I was quitting a job I didn’t like. It went: “It should be something taught in schools: that if you don’t like your job, you quit.” The story changed, and that first line was changed, but the story was—and is still—about coming to terms with something that is ending. In “Patience,” a husband and wife perform a pre-planned trip that no longer means the same to one of them, a trip that leads them up a mountain. While they are up there, one partner manages to come to terms with the fact that once they both come down from the mountain, nothing will ever be the same. It’s one of my favorite stories, and I’m so happy it found a home in HFR.
What’s next? What are you working on?
I’m writing a new play, and there will tentatively be a public reading for it in May in Boston. It’s a big, ambitious play called Come Down to Us, and it concerns both time travel and literary authorship. It’ll either be a spectacular success or I’ll embarrass myself grandly. I’m ready for either outcome. There are days when I absolutely love it and there are days when I feel like it is punishing me, but the story has lodged itself under my skin, and I can’t not write it. I love writing dialogue for characters on stage. It’s like jazz. Characters on stage say things they can’t otherwise say in fiction, or—in my opinion—shouldn’t. On stage, plot is harder, and in fiction, plot is easier; on stage, dialogue is easier, and in fiction, dialogue is harder. I think a great deal of this is owed to how we acquaint ourselves with the way words appears on the page. Because there are hundreds of pages of it, fiction readers can forgive prose that takes time to find a plotted foot, but surrealist dialogue is harder to forgive when you have to be faced with it. It just looks silly sitting there on the page. It’s almost embarrassing. Conversely, because it’s spoken and you’re likely not reading along, listening to strange dialogue on stage is a different experience. On stage, you have a limited time with your audience, so what the play is about better not take too long to appear. It doesn’t have to be a whodunit or a farce, but a play has to reveal early on what it really is. There are different intimacies when you are looking at the dialogue as opposed to hearing it. Playwrights have a license—and encouragement—to compress dialogue into concentrated bon mots, because time is a scarcity. Additionally, theatre allows for spontaneous laughing and yelling, for characters to erupt in fits of rage with broken plates and people screaming at the top of their lungs—you just can’t do that in a talky passage of fiction. Writing lines that will soon be spoken by real human beings in front of other human beings is thrilling. When I’m working on a play, I’m in love with playwriting, and when I’m working on a novel, I’m in love with fiction writing. They’re two separate muscles, which can sometimes lead me to feel like two different authors. But I hope that people attending one of my plays who know my fiction will hear a familiar voice. That sort of thing is supposed to happen.
What else I’m working on—I have a list in my mind that I’m not sharing with anyone (I’m superstitious) that contains a spate of projects I’d like to complete in 2014. We’ll see. I left social media and made attempts lately to pare down my life so that there are fewer distractions. Let’s hope it works. Wish me luck.