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Unwrap Your Candy
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Common Deer Press
Date of Publication: September 10, 2017
Number of pages: 252
Cover Artist: Ellie Sipila of Move to the Write
Tagline: Imagine Woody Allen made a movie about Dilbert and James Joyce wrote the screenplay. That’s what you should expect from Jesse Miller’s Unwrap Your Candy.
Thom’s life has a soundtrack. Unseen glass phalluses—thousands of them—whirring softly along conveyer belts on the other side of the factory wall. The snap and splash of eggs against plaster. The scratch-fizz-tang of cigarette lighters being flipped again and again. A thousand throats swallowing a thousand swigs of beer; a thousand sets of lungs choking on a thousand French inhales. Hard fists sinking into soft flesh; soft chunks dropping onto hard sidewalks. Plop-flush-drain repeat. And moonsong, high above, forever calling and calling, “Stud, rub her with the Stud Rubber.” If only it were so simple.
I am a writer and a teacher.
I tutor and mentor students working on a variety of writing projects.
I'm always looking for new ways to share my work and insights on teaching the craft of writing, and I welcome new teaching and workshop opportunities. Please feel free to contact me to read from Ark, or my forthcoming novel, UYC!
Interview with Jesse Miller
Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
The inspiration originally for Unwrap Your Candy, the germ as it were, came from an article I read many years ago in one of those, (don’t pardon, embrace the pun) scumbag men’s Maxim-y magazines. I was sitting there in the waiting room at the dentist’s office and the cover had a little blurb: The Magical, Mystical Condom Factory Experience! I think the angle was this Willy Wonka-esque tour through the factory. I remember bringing the magazine into dentist’s chair with me trying to finish the article, because during the whole tour of the factory, the writer wasn’t allowed inside certain rooms—I’m sure this is standard procedure, but he made such a huge deal out of it, out of this barrier, out of this kind of off-scene place. And It got me thinking: What was beyond those walls? And then some lyrical part of my brain took over and wondered what that all meant—the barrier, the NO that existed in a space that made barriers. The unknown, the beyond, and not just the actual room in the factory kind of became the quest of the book. From there, I felt like I needed to explore that kind of off-limitsness in some way. It’s not transgressive exactly, but I suppose fittingly barrier-pushing.
How did you do research for your book?
Through some ventriloquism, I believe, from Michael Cunningham, there’s this line attributed to Virginia Woolf: something like “you can’t find peace by avoiding life.”* And so, research for this book came from a life lived. I was once a young, anxious man vibrating with the exotic narcotics of adrenaline and hormones, trying to figure out how to exist inside my own skin. When I first started the book, I was roughly about the age of our dear punchinello, Thomas Evans.
And at the time, as I experienced my life, there seemed to me a particular invisible script, an expectation about what it means to be a man and how things should go—essentially, the expectation to make so many things happen in your mid-twenties. To put one’s life in gear and drive, goddammit! At that age, the first real foretaste of mortality gathers in the head—tangled, of course—with equal parts incipient wisdom. Things start to become chromatic.
What I’ve come to realize, the peace I suppose I found at this place in my life, which is more than just about getting a bit more docile these days…the fucking punchline here, ultimately, is that all of that combustible hormonal battery acid is, of course, fear and really just embarrassment and shame. So often that young male angst thing masquerades as gasoline, driving flesh and bone machine forward as fast as possible. But we don’t see that then. I didn’t.
Do you have another profession besides writing?
Of course! Currently I am a Visiting Assistant Lecturer in English at the University of New England where I teach courses in writing and the humanities. And although nearly all-consuming during the semester, teaching is so vital to my creative life. The very things I ask my students to do—show up each day to attend the “abyss” on the blank screen, treat writing as a recursive process, be vulnerable enough to benefit from a discussion of your work by your peers— this is the same mode of being, the same philosophical approach I take in my own work. Practice what you preach, of course. Helping my students writing in any genre understand that all writers at all levels face some of the very same challenges is a great equalizer and confidence builder. As surely is the case for every writer-teacher, my practice as a writer informs my teaching, and ultimately imbues a kind of authenticity in the classroom.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
No imagining needed here! It feels like my government has invented a time machine and decided that we all need to go back to the 1950s. But as long as we’re talking time travel, I’d go forward. Really, if there is a world to inhabit in 100 years, as Liz Lemon might say, I want to go to there. And I’d like to understand how they might view this time in American history, in the world history. And I’d like to know that the existential threat to our democracy wasn’t as strong as the will, the goodwill really, of my country and the world.
What is your next project?
Well, I’m so pleased that my fabulous publisher has purchased the rights to my first novel and will be re-releasing ARK. You can check out a little sample of the cover art and a blurb about the book here:
Beyond that, I’ve been writing an eschatological novel, a kind of mosaic for years and years now. And it’s just my luck that I’ll likely finish it just in time for the end of the world. I’m calling it the WAX novel at this point, like drip candles that accumulate on prior drippings, because it seems like with this project I keep returning to it, burning over for a while when I can really focus; and then I’m back teaching and that kind of singular focus I need evaporates mostly. The cycle for this project has been going on for a long time, writing in fits and bursts that fall into the book, back again, and then I’m gone again. The process of coming and going in and out of the book, that wax and wane, is having an impact on the style of the prose for sure.
* A note re: the air of bullshit above: I’m not one who can ever carry in my head, and drop into a conversation, any interesting or pithy quotes—many of my colleagues do this kind of thing all day, effortlessly, and it’s like being in the presence of some kind of holy golden wisdom machine. For me, quoting something is so terribly animatronic that I just end up sounding like an asshole. I must confess, I’ve been preparing syllabi and I was looking for a good quote from a writer I admired to use, so that’s where that came from. But let’s keep that between me and you.