John Young interviewed by CINCINNATI MAGAZINE
- Category: Authors
- Published: Monday, 24 May 2021 17:32
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Cincinnati Magazine's Kelly Blewett interviewed John Young for the upcoming issue.
Cincinnatian John Young has just published Fire in the Field (Golden Antelope Press). Like his novel When the Coin is in the Air, these sixteen stories explore emotional flashpoints with enduring consequences. At once melancholy and heartening, Fire in the Field evokes both the rural Midwest of the late twentieth century and the vulnerability of the human experience.
Can you describe the book cover, which you son designed, and explain how it sets the tone for the collection?
The cover features a pastoral field with a blue-gray sky, interrupted by a large red circle in the middle with one edge erupting into flame. The title Fire in the Field is in the circle, but the type extends just beyond the edges. To me the cover suggests this place is both beautiful and dangerous. And the type extending beyond the circle implies something that can’t quite be contained or easily explained.
You know some bad things are going to happen between these covers, but there’s also going to be beauty and gentleness. After all, we know a field isn’t supposed to have fire in it.
Many of the stories feature middle-aged men reflecting on their lives--looking back on the road not traveled, evaluating how their choices compare to their family members, considering crossing ethical lines. What interests you about middle-age?
For many people, middle age is a time to reflect on choices made. Regrets and successes bubble to the surface. There’s a sense of ennui that they don’t have enough time left in life to restart and reclaim some old dream. It can cause people to take shortcuts to grab for what they feel like they missed. That creates trouble, and trouble creates drama, and drama is the root of a good story. So that interests me.
You earned an MFA in Boston and spent years in the corporate world. What made you want to come back to writing now?
Since I was about 19 I’ve wanted to write fiction, and I wrote stories on and off for many years. In my early 30s I went back to grad school for the MFA. But then I had a family and felt compelled to provide. I once told a writer friend, I’d rather be a great father than a great writer—though, secretly I hoped for a way to be both. Anyway, I had a great career in advertising as a copywriter and creative director, winning a lot of awards, working with some wonderful people, and promoting some of the world’s greatest brands. Some days I miss that work, but now I’m more focused on writing fiction and doing a little marketing consulting.
My favorite story was "Finding the Words." What did you want to explore in that story?
In the story, a single mom struggles to balance mother and father roles. She was a basketball star in a basketball-crazy town. Her son failed to make his high school team. The boy, Cooper, feels like a failure, but then one day, when he shows up at his after-school job at the local newspaper, he gets pushed into reporting on a basketball game the home team is expected to lose. But they win. It’s a huge victory and the whole town will read about it. Although the boy struggles to write the story of the game, he discovers he might be better at writing than basketball. He gains a sense of self-worth. And he and his mother bond over it as she sees value in her son’s talent.
I was interested in it because we often are pushed to do something we may not love or may not be good at. But if we’re open and willing to try new things, we can discover a passion, an interest, or a strength we didn’t know we had. For example, I was a high school football player, and a drama teacher dragged me into theater where I found a whole new way to shine and where I learned to love literature. It changed my life—it’s where I found the words. So I can relate to Cooper.
What are you working on now?
Just last month, I signed a deal with a new publisher, Guernica Editions, to publish my second novel, my third book. It’s a semi-comic novel titled Getting Huge that was inspired by the story “A Pumpkin Summer” in this collection. That is slated to come out in Spring 2023.