two interviews with
Paul Evan Hughes

by Becci Noblit Goodall
and Anders Laughton

Paul Evan Hughes is the author of the [silverthought] trilogy. His first novel, Enemy, received the Booksurge Editor's Choice Award in 2002, and his second novel, An End, won the Independent Publisher Book Award for Fantasy/Sci-Fi in 2003. Broken, his third and latest novel, hasn't won anything at all.

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......... ....... ..... ..
by Paul Evan Hughes

Publisher: Silverthought Press

ISBN: 0-9774110-1-X 

340 pages

hardcover: $17.47 + S/H

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Interview conducted via email, 30 March 2006:

Becci Noblit Goodall: Was there anything you wrote in Broken that you later looked back on and wondered "how did that get there?"

Paul Evan Hughes: There's a scene near the beginning of the final chapter. Without spoiling the end of the book, I'll just call it the "kitchen scene." I was re-reading the chapter while finishing the book, and that scene just jumped out at me like a punch to the chest; I don't remember writing it. I can tie most scenes to a particular event in my real life, and although the kitchen scene mirrors my reality most closely, I can't remember typing it out, and that might be why that particular scene carries with it a deeper emotional resonance. Nothing happened to generate that scene; I just woke up.

There are other sequences that surprised me while editing, or just lines that stuck out and made me take notice. I know that I had to be in a specific frame of mind to write this book, so sometimes that generated some late-night pills- and alcohol-driven material that I didn't remember.

BNG: Do you write best in the morning or late at night?

PEH: I can't remember ever sitting down to write during the day. When there's sunlight, I can't focus on my own writing. You can psychoanalyze that all you want.

BNG: Some writers edit as they go, others at the end of things... Which do you prefer and why?

PEH: As an editor, I wish more writers would edit as they go, but I can't say that I prefer that process. For me, any substantial writing project becomes a constant process of revision. People who read AE or Broken in serial form on might be surprised just how different the end products are.

BNG: Tell me where you felt your way into the rape scene (group rape with the soldiers) in your body as you were writing it? Did you get in the head of a rapist? What was going through your head as you wrote this?

PEH: I wanted to create a sequence that would finally give the readers some sense of justification for Maire's war. I'd danced around her childhood with hints at cannibalism and incest and horrible, horrible things, but I knew I needed one scene that would "humanize" this character that I'd set up as a monster. The scene was heavily influenced by the shit-eating, rape-for-hire pornotopias of Samuel Delany's The Mad Man and Hogg, both of which are gorgeous, sensual books that relate disgusting, brutal events with the most beautiful voice. With this scene, I wanted to present a transgression beyond any I'd written before, something clinical and matter-of-fact yet lyrical. The rape scene has generated the most negative feedback of anything in the ST trilogy, and to me, that means it works. Maire is the antagonist, but the scene forces people to care about her and maybe confront the fact that her actions were justified. There are no good guys/bad guys.

BNG: Did you ever feel as though the world of Broken was more real than this world? If so, how did you get back to reality?

PEH: There is more reality written into Broken than anyone who isn't me will ever know. Some will be able to read themselves into characters, will be able to recount events or things I've said or statements I've stolen. For a good six months, finishing and editing the work, the realities of Broken and my everyday life merged to a dangerous point. There's a point where you can lose yourself in the work, talk to yourself and try to change the outside world by writing another line of dialogue, another scene where things work out for the better. There's the danger of letting a character bleed into a real person and interacting with the character instead of confronting reality. In many ways, I used Broken to at least attempt closure for the events that generated the book, whether those events were the suicide of a best friend or the loss of a partner or the dissolution of a childhood home. What you read in this book is a public meditation on the reconciliation of reality with desire. The final chapter suggests a resolution to that conflict.

BNG: Do you agree/disagree with this statement?: Writing requires a certain level of selfishness. Expound.

PEH: You could interpret a substantial writing practice as the ultimate selfishness; presuming that anyone would want to read what you've created demands a healthy ego. My writing practices requires that I shut myself off from the world for periods of time; whether that's selfish, that depends on whether anyone cares to interact with me. I suppose I could work in a soup kitchen or knit socks for the elderly with all that time I use to write, but I don't like people. So I'm selfish.

BNG: Do you tend to write in gluts or in daily dribbles?

PEH: For the last four months, I haven't written at all, neither gluts nor dribbles. When I'm regularly writing, though, the writing tends to come in gluts. I finished writing the last two chapters of Broken in a handful of weeks, as opposed to the two-plus years the other chapters took. I wrote most of the final chapter of An End in one sitting.

BNG: What is the one emotion you'd say best propelled the passion of Broken?

PEH: It would be easy to say hate. It would also be easy to say love. Both answers work, but I think that writing Broken required both, or at least played with the intersections of those emotions. If anything, writing the book taught me how many times the emotions of love and hate merge. I'm reminded of the first line of Written on the Body: "Why is the measure of love loss?" If loss can be considered an emotion, one that successfully blends hate and love, then that is the underlying passion of Broken, the loss of a friend, the loss of a partner, the loss of childhood concepts of safety and home and forever.

BNG: Is there a minor character in this work that you'd have liked to expand more on or perhaps have be the main character in another story?

PEH: I think the potential existed at one point for entire books about minor-major characters like Jean Reynald or James Richter, but now I think I've effectively killed any chance of that happening. I'd also considered writing a book about the friendship between Whistler and Hank, maybe bring in Honeybear Brown—but it would have to be a comedy, and I'm not sure I could pull off a comedy at this point in my life.

Thinking about the question further, most people would have no idea that the decision to tie An End into Enemy and generate Broken can be traced back to the inclusion of Jean Reynald in AE. Until that point, AE stood alone and I'd never really considered the silver as the machine sea from Enemy.

I've kicked around the idea of having some sort of collaborative project in which authors would take characters from the ST trilogy and write their own books about them, but that seems big-headed; most people haven't read the books and wouldn't want to use my characters. That and there's the danger of the project reading like fan-fiction for a universe that has very few fans.

BNG: What character in Broken do you least like, and is it based on one person or a compilation thereof?

PEH: If a character has a name, there's a good chance I like them. I reserve my negative emotions for those characters without names: the drummer, the painter, the poet. These are real people, although they bleed together, become hybrids. Anyone who knows me can put names to characters, and some have asked me why I've not named names in Broken—since I did in AE. The people who need to know already know.

BNG: What are your thoughts on truth in fiction? In other words, I feel that great fiction must be based on certain truths or experiences of the author, otherwise the fiction doesn't feel authentic. Do you agree? Disagree?

PEH: I think it's impossible [or difficult to successfully] write something that is completely devoid of personal truth. I can't imagine a writer not blurring into a creative piece. I'm relatively confident that I could write a repair manual for forced-air furnaces that didn't contain too much of my voice or experience, but in terms of fiction, I can't subtract myself from characters who are essentially pieces of me.

BNG: Following up on that one... An American judge stated that once something is claimed fact it can't be determined private property. Fiction, however can be. Agree? Disagree?

PEH: I'd be more interested in James Frey's answer to this question than my own. Scratch thatI'd like to hear from Fred Exley, author of A Fan's Notes, a brilliant disavowed memoir.

BNG: What do you most love about your writing? Why?

PEH: I don't know if there's anything I love about my writing, but I can appreciate that it's often brutal and funny and heartbreaking and bleak and rich and intricate and simple at once. I was an art major; I don't know creative writing terms. I've just tried to develop a writing practice that speaks from experience and punches the chest and cuts through to the heart. I want to offer readers a look into my brain and maybe a glimpse into who I am, and I hope I've succeeded. Broken is a hard book to read, and it was a hard book to write, because of the events that generated it, the dead people who inhabit it, the losses bound by the pages. I love that many readers have taken something away from it, see themselves somewhere in there somewhere, and are forgiving enough not to bitch about the storylines I never tied up and the characters I've never developed fully, because this book isn't about answers or tidy resolutions.

BNG: What do you most hate about your writing? Why?

PEH: Words are weapons, and I've used them as such more times than I care to admit. Especially with this book, I hate that I've used my writing practice to enact closures instead of confronting those people directly. I also hate that my writing sometimes makes people cry. But then again, I also love that. A lot of me hates my writing because I try to do too much at once, often leave characters hanging, let complete storylines dissolve without development. My writing style, as frantic and non-linear as it is, is far too contorted and confusing for the casual reader, but it's a good reflection of how my mind works and how I live my life.

BNG: What is the one thing in your life that must remain consistent for your writing practice to thrive?

PEH: Being a recluse who tends to have friends who die and partners who leave him for no good reason helps. Short answer: loss.

BNG: Do you ever get the fear that Broken may be your last great work?

PEH: I don't think it's great. But I think it more than likely that Broken will be my last work for a long time; it's difficult to devote twelve years to a universe and then turn to something else. And I can't imagine writing another book that so directly reflects who I am; I won't be including myself as a character in another book. This is the last call.

BNG: Do you ever write naked?

PEH: That's a question that no one should want to know the answer to. Good old fashioned nightmare fuel.

Becci Noblit Goodall is working on her MA in Transfomative Language Arts at Goddard College. She writes for Adbusters Magazine, where she bitches about consumerism and politics.

* * *

Interview conducted via email, 31 March 2006:

Anders Laughton: Why "Broken"?

Paul Evan Hughes: The original title was And All Broken Tomorrows. Too long. For a while, the book became Broken Tomorrows. Still too long. Halved it to Broken. That word sums up the state of the person who wrote it and the state of the two colliding realities depicted in the book. You can read into it whatever you like: broken heart, broken mind, broken record.

AL: What is your favorite line from Broken? Least favorite?

PEH: One sticks out: "No matter how much you were to me, I'll use the us we were to pay the rent if I can't use you as a pillow." That's my favorite and least favorite line, all in one. It says everything anyone needs to know about my writing practice and relationship prospects.

AL: Favorite/least favorite scene?

PEH: The "kitchen scene" from the end of the book is a favorite, although I don't remember writing it. And the final sequence, which I won't detail here because I don't want to spoil the book for anyone. It's a stark, lonely unraveling.

There are too many least favorite scenes to list, but the one that is personally most heartbreaking for me is the final chapter opener, the "Are you leaving?" scene. Although I think I wrote it well, it's a least favorite scene because it happened, and life would be better if it hadn't.

AL: Favorite/least favorite character?

PEH: Alina is probably my favorite character. She started pure, but then reality started to bleed in, a process I detail in the text. People who know me will know the basis for the character. I don't really have least favorites, except for the unnamed characters and those I barely developed. With over eighty characters in the book, I probably should have developed some better: Berg, Leif, and Roman, Cork. The "Autumn's Scion" chapter is filled with untapped potentials, and it's somewhat embarrassing to read it now and realize how I just pounded through the plot dumps. I should have done better.

AL: In his review of your work, Mark Brand said you more successfully incorporated yourself as a character in Broken than Stephen King did in The Dark Tower. Agree? Disagree?

PEH: I don't think Stephen King started writing the Dark Tower series intending to write himself in at some point, so it was an awkward inclusion. It didn't ruin the series for me; that honor goes to EEEEEEEEEE! and the magical tongueless kid who couldn't draw himself a new tongue. I started writing myself in by name in AE, and by the time Broken rolled around, I knew it would be about me. I hope that was a more natural [and acceptable] development than Roland wandering around Maine.

AL: It takes a lot of balls to publish a book that lifts characters and dialogue and events from real life, especially given recent conflicts regarding the concept of memoir/fiction. Did you consult with any of the people involved during your writing process, or seek their permission?

PEH: I didn't name names in this book, although anyone familiar with me will know exactly who some of the unnamed characters are. That's about as much consideration for the real people involved as I can give. There are real, named people in the book, but I didn't seek permission from anyone to use their names or depictions. That may come back to bite me in the ass, but it's a risk I'm willing to take. I did ask Samuel Delany for permission to use his writing as an epigraph. I didn't ask the drummer for his permission to say I hate him.

AL: From my understanding of the writing process for the Silverthought trilogy, each book represents a certain stage of romantic development, and each book can be read as a metaphor for a failed relationship. To your knowledge, has any of the three women depicted in these books ever actually read "their" book?

PEH: No.

AL: At the center of Broken is a chapter called "Heiligenschein," which stands apart from the rest of the book with different formatting. Although there are some cross-references to the rest of the book, it reads almost as a completely different project. Why did you choose to include this section?

PEH: The "Heiligenschein" chapter comes directly from my graduate portfolio, which was actually much larger than the chapter itself. I wrote it as a report from the year 2064 after the events of the Silverthought trilogy. Anyone interested in reading the whole thing can drive to Goddard College in VT and read it in the archives. I included segments of it here because it speaks to the hope that things eventually heal and humanity continues after the silver plague.

AL: You've said before that an editor asked you to remove two poems from Enemy. In Broken, you include an entire chapter that is an extended poem, and even make reference to the editor's request. "Among the Living" gives the readers a better understanding of you, but like "Heiligenschein" it doesn't seem to tie into the rest of the book. Why did you include it?

PEH: I included it as a gift to a former partner, a brilliant poet. I could just as easily have removed the chapter, but she's an integral part of the book, a part of Alina and Hope and Maire. "Among the Living" stands as a tribute to the part of my life she shared.

AL: Music is an important part of your life. What songs or artists did you listen to the most while writing Broken?

PEH: iTunes tells me: Cat Power: "I Found a Reason", Sense Field: "Are You Okay?", GMR: "Almost There (OK)", George Strait: "Run", Damien Rice: "I Remember", Lou Barlow: "Imagined Life", Leonard Cohen: "Famous Blue Raincoat", Desert City Soundtrack: "Batteries", Interpol: "The New", Cursive: "Excerpts from Various Notes", Joseph Arthur: "Honey and the Moon", Jonatha Brooke: "If I Told You So", Alison Krauss: "New Favorite", Stuart: "2:1", Beth Gibbons: "Resolve", Colin Hay: "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You", and about a million other songs I listen to obsessively.

AL: What Sci-Fi books are you reading right now?

PEH: Besides the upcoming Silverthought Press books, I haven't read a sf book in a while, except "academic" sf essays, On SF by Thomas Disch and Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction by James Gunn.

AL: Certain scenes from Broken are very cinematic. You've written screenplays before. Do you have any intention of turning Silverthought into a screenplay?

PEH: I finished two-thirds of a screenplay for Enemy in 1999 or 2000. I don't intend to finish that or write screenplays for the other two.

AL: There is a stunning scene that opens and ends the final chapter. How closely does that sudden dose of "reality" match your day to day life?

PEH: It's nonfiction.

AL: Broken deals quite openly with issues such as mental illness and suicide. Readers unfamiliar (and familiar) with your life may feel uncomfortable with such an open discussion of the darker side of the human experience. What would you say, if anything, to those readers? Should we be concerned for you?

PEH: I write about a lot of things that most people don't like to think about. Writing is a way for me to confront those issues and encourage a dialogue. I've dealt with suicide and clinical depression and watched mental illness and suffered the aftermath. It makes no sense to me to deny that part of myself or of the human experience—it's there. Some people won't appreciate Broken or books like it, and I understand that; it's not easy. Broken isn't an easy book, but if someone out there reads it and sees a part of himself in it and chooses not to take his life, I can live with that. If anything, I want people to take this from the book: we can keep going.

AL: To say that Broken is a dark book would be an understatement. There are however moments in the book that hint at a different side of you. What has been the happiest moment of your life so far?

PEH: Loaded, impossible question. The closest thing to happiest that comes to mind right now is a moment when I walked into Heathrow and heard my partner's voice over the crowd: "Mr. Hughes!" Saw her waiting. It was a moment of unable to speak, tears threatening, heart pounding, this is what love is. Got luggage, stood outside and smoked, wrapped together, the blue dress, the box of matches with a flower on it. The cynics won't appreciate the sap, but it was a perfect moment, and that's what this is all about, a collection of beautiful, fragile moments. Because I assume a happiest moment would be one we'd want to experience again forever, I'll pick that moment in London, the scents of smoke and her, the texture of a dress and warmth of skin and the relief that I'd made it across an ocean to be with her, and life was possibilities and us. Not many people can point out a specific happiest moment, but I'm one of the luckiest because I can. Everything has changed now, but I'll always have that moment.

AL: Of the three books of the Silverthought trilogy which do you feel is the best?

PEH: I love and hate each of them for different reasons, but I am most satisfied with Broken.

AL: Do you think there are any more Silverthought books in your head to write? What's up next for your writing practice?

PEH: I'm done with the silver. I can't imagine anywhere else that I could take that universe, so it's over. I haven't written anything in months, but eventually I'll finish The Grange. Beyond that, I don't have any more novels waiting to get out.

AL: One of my favorite "characters" is the (apparently) last minute addition of your anonymous cat. Does he still resent you?

PEH: My cat is still an asshole.

Anders Laughton is a web developer from Burlington, VT. His previous work includes Metasemiotics: Codes within Code and Ruins.


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