The Preservationist by Kramon

Kramon Develops Personalities for His Characters

November 2013 — An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Justin Kramon
author of The Preservationist

Columnist Doreen Akiyo Yomoah

The Preservationist
by Justin Kramon

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“It’s like being in AA or something–you don’t think of yourself as “a writer,” . . . “

AUTHORLINK: When did the writing bug get you?

KRAMON: I’ve been writing for a while, I went to an MFA program in Iowa after college. I’ve been writing seriously since I graduated from the programme in 2004. I published my first book in 2010. It’s like being in AA or something-you don’t think of yourself as “a writer,” it’s more like, “I think I can get up and write tomorrow.” I don’t know if there’s a point where you become a writer.

AUTHORLINK: What was your inspiration for The Preservationist?

KRAMON: It was reading a lot of classic thrillers. I spent a year where I really immersed myself in the genre reading a lot of thrillers and crime novels, like [Patricia Highsmith’s] The Talented Mr. Ripley, and John Dowd’s The Collector. I was really interested in the psychological aspects of thriller and crime; that type of writing is really interesting to me.

AUTHORLINK: How do you write from the point of view of both an 18-year old girl and a 40-year old man when you are neither of those things?

KRAMON: You know, internally I’m more like them than I am on the surface. That’s the thing about writing fiction. Everything comes from you. To me, your experience is like your backyard. Everything you’ve experienced is in that space. Fiction is like jumping over the fence into someone else’s yard. It makes it easier when the person has something in common with you; it’s like their yard is adjacent to yours. It’s actually a lot harder to write about someone who’s exactly like me because then I have to think about what to include and what to exclude. You want to tell everyone everything, and it’s too much.

“I spent a lot of time reading stories that focus on or orbit around violence . . .”

AUTHORLINK: So you like creating characters that are to an extent quite different from yourself, even though they share some traits with you. How did you research these characters to make them fully formed human beings?

KRAMON: I spent a lot of time reading stories that focus on or orbit around violence in some way, although that’s not only thing going on. That’s one thing that drives the story. When I’m writing a character I’m never trying to capture a “type of person.” If I’m writing a female character, she’s not necessarily a character that’s intended to speak for women. I have another character who works in different cafeterias across the country but I’m not speaking for all cafeteria workers.

The thing that makes it appealing to me from a literary standpoint is creating a personality. I write a lot before I write the novel: Character monologues, lists of things you might find in their house, songs they like, anything like that. When I have a character go to the refrigerator, for example, I know there will be 15 rows of protein shakes and nothing else, because I spent that time writing, even though it’s one line in the book. So much of writing is knowing that there are much greater things beneath the surface that the reader never finds out.

“There’s no “supposed to” or not. Part of the equation in any book is the reader.”

AUTHORLINK: I do not like the character Sam at all! Are we meant to be sympathetic to him?

KRAMON: That’s the interesting thing. There’s no “supposed to” or not. Part of the equation in any book is the reader. Someone might get the book online, while someone else picks it up in a Barnes & Noble. It’s a different book for each person, reflected through the prism of your own personality.

You take someone who is not generally likable, at least on the surface and, you’re presenting a world that is strange and unfamiliar, and you’re making that strangeness more familiar to the reader. I would never say that you are “supposed to or not,” but I would agree with the fact that most people would not find him a likable person.

AUTHORLINK: What other projects do you have coming up?

KRAMON: Well, I’m working on a new novel.

AUTHORLINK: What’s this new novel about?

KRAMON: It’s too early to commit to more than that. Sometimes authors say too much about a book at the beginning stages, and five years down the line when the book comes out you think “Is that the same book they were talking about before?”

About Justin Kramon:

Kramon is the author of the novel Finny (Random House, 2010). A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has published stories in Glimmer Train, Story Quarterly, Boulevard, Fence, TriQuarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, and others. He has received honors from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, Best American Short Stories, the Hawthornden International Writers’ Fellowship, and the Bogliasco Foundation. He has taught undergraduate and graduate fiction writing courses at Gotham Writers’ Workshop, Haverford College, the University of Iowa, Arcadia University, and elsewhere. He lives in Philadelphia.

Doreen Akiyo YomoahAbout Doreen Akiyo Yomoah:

Doreen Akiyo Yomoah is a nomadic freelance writer, currently living in London, England.