Guest Writers / On Writing

Alex Stefansson – Writer

Over a year ago (at least), Alex and I met on Goodreads. I tend to write book reviews there, especially if I love the book. Alex read one of my reviews and made contact. Thus began our blooming cyber-book-loving relationship! Gotta love the world wide web. I soon found out (by being my nosey self) that Alex was a writer as well with one novel self-published under his belt. I invited him to be a guest writer on my blog and he accepted! Yay! Of course, time flies and life happens, and so it’s taken a bit to get this post posted – but we did it! In the interim, Alex and his wife had a baby! Congratulations! *See the darling photo above!!

Alex’s bio reads: Alex Stefansson was born in 1984 in Seattle, Washington. He grew up in the suburbs and later attended Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, where he accumulated a large amount of debt and also met his wife. He enjoys witnessing wardrobe malfunctions, eating hot dogs, and spending quality time with his wife, two young sons, and neurotic cat.

Paradise Squandered is the story of Andrew Banks, a recent graduate of Puget Sound Prep and quite possibly the most directionless member of his graduating class. Andrew returns home from a long-promised graduation trip to Hawaii and re-enters a bland, suburban landscape of privilege and indifference, feeling alone and empty. Talented but uninspired, Andrew knows he wants to pursue his art, but he has no idea how. He resigns himself to going through the motions of his own life, until he overhears the disturbing truth of his father’s death. He instantly decides he has to leave his childhood home forever, and a darkly hilarious odyssey ensues.

The interview – where we talk writing process, ‘birthing’ babies and books and so much more!

1) Can you tell me about your writing history? When did you identify yourself as a writer? What inspired you to begin writing? What genre do you enjoy writing and why?

I read a lot as a kid. I liked fantasy and science fiction, and I wrote a lot of pretty ridiculous short stories that my mom probably has stored in a box somewhere in her garage. In high school, I kept notebooks hidden in my bedroom and wrote down a lot of my thoughts and ideas about life. In college, I spent a lot of time in coffee shops frantically scribbling words in notebooks. Some of those words later evolved into short stories and my novel, Paradise Squandered. Paradise Squandered is a work of realistic fiction, or literary fiction. It is character-driven story, and that is the kind of writing I currently enjoy the most. I think this is because I spend so much time lost in my own head overanalyzing everything, and overcomplicating things that don’t need to be complicated. I get fixated on details.

2)Where do you write? Do you have an office? Do you use a laptop or hand-write your ideas/stories?

I prefer to hand-write my ideas. I do use a laptop as well, but I’m usually more productive and creative if the only thing if front of me is a piece of paper. I don’t have any sort of “normal” workspace; I don’t have an office, and my house is tiny. I write wherever I am when inspiration strikes—I often carry a small notepad in my pocket and write during breaks at work.

3) You’ve recently had a child – congratulations! Can you make comparisons between ‘birthing’ a book and ‘birthday’ a baby? How has becoming a father affected your writing life?

Thanks! You know, both of those experiences have made me reflect a lot on my own life and the choices I have made. I was extremely nervous about both “births,” but for very different reasons. When I published my book, I felt proud, but I also felt very exposed and vulnerable because my book is written in first person and is very realistic. I worried, and I still worry, that people will assume that I am the protagonist I created.

When my son, Holden, was born, I felt overwhelmingly proud and very relieved that he was a normal, healthy baby. I’m not sure I created a normal, healthy novel. There were no conflicting feelings when my son was born; I just felt proud to be Holden’s dad, and proud of my wife for building such an amazing baby.

4) When did you start writing ‘Paradise Squandered’? What was the writing process like? When did you finish writing it? Describe your favourite character in the book – and why?

I started writing it the summer of 2007. I was writing a lot at that time, and I had boxes in my closet of notebooks and random scraps of paper I had jotted down notes and ideas onto, and I was going through all of it, getting all my stuff in order, right before I moved out of my apartment after graduating from college, and it just sort of hit me: I should turn some of this into a book. And then about a year later, I was in Hawaii with my girlfriend (who is now my wife) and best friend, and I was sort of drunk, but the entire beginning of my book just sort of came to me, and I started frantically writing it all down.

As far as my writing process goes, it’s all over the place. I wrote Paradise Squandered over the course of nearly five years. I’d write a lot for a while and then just walk away from it for months at a time. But I’d always be thinking about it, and when I thought of something I thought was good, I’d write it down. But I wouldn’t always try to work it into what I already had completed. Sometimes I’d just let it sit for a while and then come back to it later, not really knowing how or if it would work as a piece of the story. I created a whole story arc soon after I decided I wanted to write a book, but it did end up changing quite a bit throughout the course of writing it.

My favorite character in the book is David. He is the best friend of the protagonist, and he is a very reasonable, level-headed person. He is the best friend I always wished I had. Not that I don’t have good friends or anything, but David has all of the best traits of the people I know that are important to me. He has flaws, but he is a genuinely good person.

4.5) What were you trying to communicate in writing ‘Paradise Squandered’? Why did you want to ‘say’ this to your audience?

When I began writing it, I wanted to write my generation’s ‘Catcher in the Rye‘. I’m not sure that’s what I ended up doing in the end, but that was my intent. I wanted to capture the anxiety that I have felt growing up at this point in history, and to create a realistic portrait of the feelings of hopelessness and meaninglessness that I know a lot of people feel today.

5) At what point did you decide to self-publish ‘Paradise Squandered’? Why did you decide to go this route? Has it been lucrative?

I decided right off the bat to self-publish. I never submitted my book to anyone for any sort of consideration. I wanted to maintain full control of my own intellectual property. Unfortunately, it has not been very lucrative…

6) Who are some of your favourite authors and why?

I’ve always identified with the Beat Generation writers, especially Jack Kerouc and Richard Farina. I like both of their writing styles but also the simple fact that they didn’t care about writing conventional novels. I’m also a fan of Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis, because I am a fan of edgy, over-the-top visions of contemporary American society.

7) What are some of your future writing goals?

I have a lot of ideas for things I want to pursue, but I don’t really have the time these days to pursue any of them. It’s really tough to try to make a serious go of becoming a writer if you also want to try to have any sort of family or social life. At least it’s been tough for me. But as far as future writing goals go, I still feel like my work on my first novel isn’t done. I still want to try to reach a particular audience, and I know I haven’t done that yet. I want to keep working on that before beginning another big project like writing another novel. For the time being at least, I’ve pretty much abandoned all hope of significant monetary gain from writing in favor of working a day job just to provide for my family.

8) If there’s anything else you’d like to say – say it now!

Thank you for taking the time to interview me, Vanessa. And thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read this interview. And to anyone who has read my book, Paradise Squandered, thank you as well, and I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you Alex!! It was a pleasure getting to know you and your writing life!

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