with Jason M. Thornberry
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Jason: My earliest influence was my grandmother, Nancy. She taught me to read as a little boy. I grew up in Southern California, but I lived with my grandparents in Newport, Oregon, during the summertime. I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was with them. I was about ten.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Jason: Today? Probably still Dostoevsky. Definitely Rilke. Verlyn Klinkenborg, John Gardner, and William H. Gass’s works (both fiction and nonfiction) taught me so much about writing. I love Joy Williams, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and James Salter too. Gwendolyn Brooks, Rebecca Solnit, Billy Collins, Marlon James, John Ashbery, Kent Haruf, Tobias Wolff. I could keep going.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Jason: Not really. I couldn’t say I had a “moment.” But, as I said, I became conscious of wanting to write as a boy. I started my first novel when I was in high school. But at sixteen, I joined a garage band, and music became my focus for quite a long time. I studied jazz, and I performed with various bands. But I still wrote. Do you remember fanzines? Before the Internet? I had a fanzine, and I mostly wrote about music—music reviews, music essays, and so forth.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Jason: My professors were hugely influential—not only because I got to sit and discuss books and writing with them, but because I realized they were my tribe. They were my people. That was what I wanted to do—not just write. I also wanted to teach. To teach writing. Doug Thorpe, Suzanne Wolfe, Jim Blaylock, Mildred Lewis, Richard Bausch, Anna Leahy—I owe so much to them. Joining an MFA program was extremely helpful because it forced me to write every single day. I was expected to produce fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. To produce work for my classmates to discuss—in front of me. In class. To tell me what worked about a particular story or poem. To tell me what didn’t work. I can’t overemphasize the significance of my professors’ role, helping me hone my voice as a writer.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from home influence your work?
Jason: I grew up in San Bernardino, California. It’s about an hour south of Los Angeles. My hometown informs my work because I want to write about people and human nature’s contradictory, conflicting qualities. I’m not at all interested in genre-bound work. I want to write about the real world—the world we navigate every day. I want to write about things that people can relate to because they’ve experienced them. I particularly want to write about the erosion of the American family—from divorce, drug addiction, and violence. And yes, traveling also informs my work. When I was twenty-three, I went to London for music. I returned to San Bernardino. But the wheels were in motion for me to escape, and I left my hometown for good the following year. Now I live in Seattle with my wife. But I still have family back in my hometown. It pulls me back down there from time to time. My first novel takes place there.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Jason: Probably the novel I’m currently working on. It began as my MFA thesis, and while it isn’t my first book (it’s my third), I feel like the others were a rehearsal for it.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Jason: Reading, listening to music.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Jason: I’m attracted to poems with a strong narrative quality—poems that could easily be stories—like Li-Young Lee’s “The Gift” or James Wright’s “St. Judas.” I carry “St. Judas” in my wallet. I really loved Victoria Chang’s recent book, Obit, for that very reason. Obit feels like a collection of stories living inside a book of poetry.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Jason: My personal essay, “The New Gary,” will appear in the Broadkill Review in October, and my poem “Drive Safe” will appear soon in the North Dakota Quarterly. I’ve also got two poems set to appear in Abstract: Creative Expressions.
Bio & more:
BIO: Jason M. Thornberry’s work appears in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Soundings East, Harbor Review, and elsewhere. Jason spent twelve years playing the drums in various post-punk and alternative bands before suffering a traumatic brain injury. He returned to school, getting his MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University.