The Weirdness, the Melville House Books novel released March 4th from Northeastern University writing instructor and game developer Jeremy Bushnell, didn’t strike us as that weird. Sure the devil is trying to find his lucky cat, the local lit-mag is run by occultists, and all the characters have strange stunted love-lives. But that seems par for the course in the world of struggling writers. Then it hit us: The Weirdness is exactly our kind of weird–witty, irreverent, and prone to taking the reader way out and back around again. Ahead of his readings at Brookline Booksmith and Porter Square Books, we caught up with Bushnell to talk writing, drone music, and exploding Porta Potties. Naturally.
Is there an overlap in the process of writing a game and writing a novel?
I think one of my big flaws as a writer in my younger life was really resistant to revising. I didn’t like to revise. When people would give me feedback I was just as likely to shelve it rather than fix it. With a game you have to play it so much to improve anything about it. You have to be really open to tinkering with it, changing it and iterating it a hundred times before it takes the shape that you want. I came away thinking that probably the same was true for writing. So it kind of opened my eyes a bit to the fact that you could take the time to revise something and that would improve the work. It was a small epiphany for me. It was a lot of revisions and a lot help from my [writers] group. Some of the finished chapters are their seventh or eighth draft.
What do you get out of it when you’re going through it the eighth time? How do you not hate it and just set it on fire?
It does get to the point where you’re like, ‘I’m going to change this one sentence” then you change it back, then you change it back to the revised version and back to the original. But other times the revision process is just great–to find a scene that’s just not quite working and going into it and correcting it and seeing the improvement–that was an aspect I found very satisfying. It had a nice scratching-that-itch aspect to it. It was gratifying.
What is your involvement with the record label Reibus Recordings?
Before I moved to Boston I was in Chicago for about a decade. I moved there to be involved in the music scene, which was really robust at the turn of the century. There was a lot of overlap in the rock scene and in the jazz scene, the free-improv and experimental scenes. It all ended up blurring into one another and I thought that was really cool. I started a band with Chris Miller, got really involved in the Chicago drone underground and set up Reibus as a way of to put out recordings of bands that we found interesting. It was a really fun time and I’d like to think I brought that to the book.
I really loved the exploding Porta Potty scene, I think you did some really beautiful work there.
I got into all these weird little arts things that were happening under the radar–it’s always what I sniff around for in my own life. So you’ve got this guy, that is basically this little known writer that dates this little known filmmaker and then you’ve got this roommate making strange Scandinavian electronic dance music. That’s where my interest lies in the cultural picture.
I’m always looking for weird stuff. It was what helped me get the book started, to give myself the liberty to write about people in those scenes. It was something that I had avoided in the past, in favor of writing about different kinds of people, the kinds of people you more commonly see in literature. It took me a while to say ‘it’s okay to write about the sort of people you hang out with and find interesting.’