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Gabriel Blackwell

Gabriel Blackwell is the author of Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer, Critique of Pure Reason, and Neverland, a chapbook with video/audio/illustrations. He is the reviews editor of The Collagist and a contributor to Big Other.


"Shadow Man is a stylish, metaphysical romp through a noir labyrinth. It manages to do for the hardboiled classics what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead did for Hamlet.”

– Jedediah Berry

"The real detective work involved in in this bright, complex, comic, melancholy critifiction . . . reveals itself in the intriguing chess game the reader is asked to play on every page with the puckish meta-author.”

– Lance Olsen

"Borges warns us of ‘the contamination of reality by dream,’ and with that in mind, Gabriel Blackwell’s infectious book drives us out of our minds, defying quarantine, plum crazy on Plum Island."

– Michael Martone



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Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer

It Was Not Something I Would Do Again, Except that I Probably Would


Shome Dasgupta: Wonderfully, you have two books coming out in 2012 — Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer (CCM, 2012) and Critique of Pure Reason (Noemi, 2012) — what's going on behind the scenes? Is it hectic managing the release of two books?

Gabriel Blackwell: It’s maybe appropriate that these two books are both coming out at roughly the same time; I wrote them more or less in parallel. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with them now that they’re almost here. I really have no one but myself to blame. I make my own work — nothing that I’m doing now is “required,” and I could probably just be taking it easy and letting things play out the way they’re going to anyway. But I can’t bear leaving things entirely up to chance. I don’t know if there is an ideal reader for either book, but if there is, I want the book to find her, somehow. I only know how I find books to read, so I’m trying to do the kind of things that would get my own attention; presumably, I’ll find other readers like myself. You can see the problem — doing things in this myopic kind of way is very limiting. Fortunately, I’ve had a number of really kind, really generous people help me out and offer opportunities that I wouldn’t have thought to ask for, and maybe together we’ll get the books into people’s hands.

SD: Did you find any similar obstacles while working on both of these books? Was one harder to write than the other? What were the differences or similarities in the experiences of working on one book compared to the other?

GB: Critique of Pure Reason seems the easier of the two now because it was mostly done by the time that I realized that it was an it. At that point, I had been working on what it would be for four years, and all but three of the pieces had been published or accepted for publication. My work on it last spring leading up to me sending it to Mike Meginnis at Noemi was a matter of putting the various parts together in a way that made meaning out of the whole. But thinking about it in that way discounts the four years of work that went into its components. It’s deceptive, I mean, but when I think about Critique as a book, that’s usually what I think about — the process of ordering it, rather than the process of composing it.

Shadow Man was very different. It felt difficult throughout because of how complex it ended up being, and because of how concentrated my work on it had been by comparison with Critique. By the end of my revision process, I was reading through the entire book each time I changed a line, just to make sure what I was changing wouldn’t disturb something earlier on. I sat at my desk for ten, eleven hours at a stretch. I gave myself acid reflux. I had to sleep sitting up for weeks. It was not something I would do again, except that I probably would.

SD: While writing, editing, and revising — what did you learn about the process? What stuck out to you that you hadn't thought about before?

GB: I learned as much in the two years I worked on Shadow Man as I did in the two years I spent in graduate school. Maybe more. There’s no substitute for creating and revising something so sustained. It is its own pedagogy. But, because I finished it very early in 2011, and because I’ve since finished another book (The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men), I’m not sure that I can remember specifically what I learned while writing Shadow Man. I learned how to write Shadow Man, and I would guess that all of what I learned is on its pages somehow. Very little of that learning carried over to NDFIM. Even the processes of composition were radically different — I wrote my first draft of Shadow Man in three weeks or so; it took me more than a year to complete a draft of NDFIM.

SD: Just by reading the excerpts of your upcoming works, it looks like there was some heavy research being done (in particular, Shadow Man) — how did this play a role in your works?

GB I’m not a big fan of hermetic stories or novels, honestly. I prefer work that has something to say to the world around it, that acknowledges that it will never really get its readers’ undivided attentions. I try to create parasitic works, building on others’ creations—not just acknowledging the reader’s life outside of the book but (so I hope) pointing in fruitful directions for his or her distraction. Obviously, I have to know something of those other creations if that’s going to be successful, so I do research.

SD: You have so much going on -- your own writing, teaching, being the reviews editor for The Collagist, writing for Big Other, and you do so much more -- how do you manage your time? What is your schedule like when you're writing?

GB: This isn’t a life that I would have wished on my younger self, but it seems fine for now. I learned late how dedicated I needed to be to be a writer I’d want to read, and I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up ever since. There is no substitute for working with language on a daily basis, even if it isn’t your own; honestly, it seems better to me that it isn’t my own, often. I don’t need to be more prolific (though there are plenty of writers who are, and who are fine writers), so, even though my work for The Collagist or Big Other takes away from my typing time, I don’t necessarily think of that as a bad thing. I think I’d prefer that I was different from story to story, and that seems to me to require that time passes. If I can spend that time working with language, all the better.

As for my schedule, it varies a little. When I’m typing something, I usually get up early and write before work so that I can spend the late afternoon / evening taking care of my other responsibilities. If I put those off for too long, they take over my schedule and it becomes difficult to find time to write. So I have to be very disciplined. I very rarely take a day off, but I don’t think that makes me different from most of the writers I know -- like I said, it seems necessary to be working with language in some way every single day. The few times I’ve tried to “do nothing” for a day have been disasters.

SD: What's it like being a reviews editor?

GB: There are substantial rewards -- I get to work with some really smart writers, find out about books and publishers I never would have known about otherwise, and help get the word out about some really great books. I don’t know if it’s perfect for me or if I’ve perfectly adapted myself to it, but either way, it feels completely natural now, two years into it.

SD: Do you have any book recommendations? What have you been reading lately? What are you looking forward to checking out?

GB: I’ve been so pressed for time lately that I read while walking the dog -- I read Christopher Priest’s The Affirmation, Amber Sparks’s May We Shed These Human Bodies, and Brian Carr’s Vampire Conditions walking around my neighborhood—and I’m doing research for a new book, so most of what I read at home isn’t exactly by choice. But I’m trying to make time for Michele Disler’s [Bond, James], Mike Kitchell’s Variations on the Sun, Kellie Wells’s Fat Girl, Terrestrial, Elena Passarello’s Let Me Clear My Throat, and Matthew Vollmer’s Inscriptions for Headstones.

SD: Who are some authors you find yourself admiring? Why? What is it about them or their works that appeal to you?

GB: This seems like a question whose answer would get out of hand in less than a sentence, so I’ll just say that I seem to have totems for each book I write, and for this latest one, those totems are David Markson and Christopher Priest. I’m not sure what that means or if it means anything at all.

SD: What about journals? Which ones do you find yourself reading regularly?

GB: I read Conjunctions cover to cover. I also look forward to new issues of DIAGRAM, [out of nothing], Puerto del Sol, Tin House, Black Clock, and Artifice. And I’m really looking forward to the second issues of two new magazines, Uncanny Valley and Unstuck. I’m sure I’m forgetting dozens of others.

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