I first heard of J David Osborne after reading his story in the fantastic Warmed and Boundanthology. Afterwards I tracked down his debut novel, By The Time We Leave Here We’ll Be Friends, and loved it. A fast paced novel set against a furious backdrop, where characters grow under the harshest conditions. It may be early into 2012, but I suspect I’ll be recommending it throughout the year. He was kind enough to join me to answer some questions about the novel.
Interview is as follows:
1.) By The Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends is set in a prison camp in Siberia. Did you do a lot of research for the book and was it important to you to get the location accurate for the novel?
I did a fair amount of research, but I wasn’t too strict with it. Basically I read a few books, namely Anne Applebaum’s “Gulag” and Solzhenitsyn’s “Ivan Denisovitch”, and I internalized the information that I was taking in, then just wrote the book without notes or anything like that. I managed to write it pretty free of anachronisms, but there were a few that Jeremy caught. And I know that basically the setting, the kind of work these men were doing, and the kind of men these guys were, is all pretty true to life. I think.
2.) The novel uses the language of where it is set, since the character’s dialogue was in English, why did you choose to do this and what effect do you think it had on the reader?
Well, there are certain words that only really work in their original language. Suka is a good example. We try to translate it as “bitch”, which I mean, yeah it is. But at the same timesuka also means traitor, someone who is a coward, all of these different things. And the sound of the word itself, the way the “s” slides into the hard “u”, and that Nordic sounding “k”, the “a” a sort of release from the tension of the sounds before it. It’s a great word. Other words were for items of clothing and for stations in the prison camp, and those couldn’t really be changed. They were what they were. I think that it might help the reader get more into the characters. When I was writing it, honestly, a lot of the restraint comes from a fear of taking a false step. So everything is very careful, especially the dialogue. But it comes off in the book as these very spare, silent kinds of exchanges, which I think plays into how we as Americans view Russians (and maybe, a little, how Russians really are).
3.) Karriker, one of the main characters, has an unusual secret that is only fully revealed towards the end and is the most bizarro element to the novel. Was it difficult having the novel follow a realistic thread until the end?
Not really. I mean, there’s clues all throughout the book. I mean, Karriker’s storyline even opens up with the esophagus demon. I frontloaded the book with a lot of violence and weirdness just to get people oriented. So there’s a multiple murder, a guy getting choked to death with a cut piece of flesh, then Karriker’s weird throat problem. Only after those three scenes does the novel go into a kind of “reality” where it’s business as usual in the camp. So people are ready, I think. And then the deer, and the opium, and the cow eye, the ear pulls, the disembodied tattooist hand. It’s frontloaded, then it’s punctuated, and by the end it goes off the deep end.
4.) You’re involved with the Bizarro scene, how do you feel it supports underground writer and literature as a whole?
The Bizarro scene is warm and inviting. Everyone is in it because they love something, and the very nature of Bizarro, that of artistic freedom and being interesting and fun, breeds fans that are neither pretentious nor interested in keeping it to themselves. They love it, and they devour a good chunk of it, and they talk about. It’s great for an underground writer to have a genre-specific fanbase that is eager to get into whatever new Bizarro they can.
5.) You’re currently working on your next novel, Low Down Death Right Easy, what can you tell us about this project?
Low Down Death Right Easy is about a man named Thomas Ames, who is murdered in a small town for a crime he didn’t commit. Thomas is a bad guy, he’s a thief who robs drug dealers, generally a very scary guy. He’s based on a dude I grew up with in Lawton, who would do something called “run licks”, which is where yeah, you basically find the meth dealers and rob them, because who are they going to tell? So anyway, you have this bad guy who is murdered because an old man believes Ames raped and beat his daughter into a coma. After he’s killed, we follow his little brother, Robert. Robert was going to go to college on the money his brother made from crime, but after the cops raided his house in the wake of Thomas’s death, he’s left with nothing, and gradually grows from a young man who wants to be a comics writer, into the man his brother once was. We also follow two brothers who find the body and decide to use it to extort the murderer. And finally, we follow the two men who actually committed the rape, years later, as we find one of them has fallen in love with and started a relationship with the woman, who obviously has no idea what he’s done. So it’s complicated, it’s a crime story, but more than that it’s a story about doing what’s right versus doing what’s easy, and what kind of person those decisions make you.
6.) Your work is available on the kindle and in print, do you have a preference for either?
I like the print version because of the beautiful Pardee cover. But I mean, however you get it is more than fine with me.
7.) Other than the novel, you’ve also been published in Warmed and Bound, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction and other places. Do you still submit to journals or do you just focus on novels?
I haven’t submitted anything in awhile. There are a few anthologies that I’m writing stuff for, but I don’t really go through the whole “send shit out to random places” bit anymore. Frankly, I don’t have a whole lot of time on my hands for writing a bunch of short stories, with all the blogging and furniture moving and novel writing and screenwriting and rapping going on. I like to have novels fully fleshed out. Most of my other ideas go on Facebook in the form of a joke. Which is a great outlet, too.
8.) What books would you describe as a major influence on your writing style?
“Zeroville” by Steve Erickson, The Underworld USA Trilogy by James Ellroy, “2666″ by Roberto Bolano. Daniel Woodrell, Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson.
9.) The novel had a very much dog eat dog world feel to it, with most of the characters featured showing very little kindness and a lot of brutality. Did this backdrop make it harder for you to write the characters or in contrast to the others, was it easier to make them likeable?
I actually had, as one of my major goals with this book, to show evil people that you end up liking by the end of the book. I didn’t want to compromise and show them, I don’t know, doing something nice for someone else, because that wouldn’t hold true, but instead I focused on showing them as human beings with fears and flaws and little routines they do before bed. It added a human element to it that I think works pretty well. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they didn’t know why they liked the characters, because they are, on the surface, so unlikable. It’s because, how would you act if you were in their shoes?
10.) What does the future hold for J David Osbourne?
It’s busy. Between the novels and the film version of Low Down Death that local indie filmmakers and I are working on, and the music stuff, and the interviewing and blogging that I do for Geeks Are Sexy, I’m going to be busy for a long time. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I get jittery when I have to sit still for too long.