Karisma J. Tobin interviews Texas Review Press author David Armand
David Armand was born and raised in Louisiana. He has worked as a drywall hanger, a draftsman, and as a press operator in a flag printing factory. He is currently Writer-in-Residence at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he also serves as associate editor for Louisiana Literature Press. In 2010, he won the George Garrett Fiction Prize for his first novel, The Pugilist’s Wife, and has since published two more novels, two poetry chapbooks, and a memoir.
What books are you reading now?
Lately, I’ve been returning to books that I read years ago. I’m really interested in the long novel right now, those sweeping epic stories that you can get completely lost in. I just finished reading Stephen King’s The Stand for the third time, and I’m currently re-reading John Irving’s The Cider House Rules.
How are you keeping yourself busy during social distancing?
Well, it’s been tough working from home and having to entertain and teach both of my kids as well. So I’ve been plenty busy! But we’ve been trying to create diversions to keep us all occupied and enjoy this extra time we have together. We built a couple of vegetable gardens and a flower garden. We also got a dozen chickens and are working on a chicken coop. The weather’s perfect to be outside right now. I like to put on music, have some beers, and grill. We go for a lot of bike rides and walks around the neighborhood, too.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
The novel I’m currently reading, The Cider House Rules, takes place primarily in an orphanage. I was adopted as a kid, so I can relate to a lot of the feelings the young protagonist, Homer, has. It’s been interesting to see so many of my feelings reflected on the page and in print like that: the orphan’s need for structure and predictability, his need to be of use to others. As an adoptee, I’ve always been able to relate to those sentiments. I guess it’s just been interesting to read them articulated in that way. Maybe what I’ve learned is that my feelings aren’t that unique or weird, after all.
What are some of your ‘comfort food’ books, the books you keep coming back to when you need encouragement or escape?
Well, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of Stephen King. I read his books as a teenager and came back to them after college. My favorites of his are The Stand, It, and 11.22.63. They’re all long novels, and I’ve read each of them several times. A lot of people discredit King as a writer, but I think he’s pretty incredible. You can really get lost in one of his books, which we all need to do sometimes, especially now.
What does your typical writing process look like?
I don’t write every day. I write when I can, and I try not to beat myself up about that. I’ve managed to be pretty productive and have a pretty consistent output over the years, so it works for me. But I do read every day. And I think about writing constantly. When I come across a word or an image that inspires me, I either write it down or just commit it to my memory for later use. I don’t believe in writer’s block, so as long as I feel inspired, I’ll keep working.
As far as process, I don’t really adhere to a routine. I do like to write everything in long-hand before typing it up on the computer. There’s something very intimate and tactile about doing it that way. But it does create a lot of extra work when you have to go back and type everything up. I just use that as an opportunity for revision, though.
Did you like to read as a child? Were there any childhood books and authors that were your favorites?
It was weird because there weren’t really any books in my house where I grew up. But I was always attracted to them. I would read things like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Jules Verne, Mark Twain. I read somewhat indiscriminately as a kid. I just couldn’t get enough. Years later, when I met my biological mother—then my father some years after that—I learned that they were both voracious readers, so now I know where I got it from!
Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?
This is a great question! One of my favorite quotes about that is from a poem by e.e. cummings, which says, “since feeling is first / who pays any attention / to the syntax of things / will never wholly kiss you”; I know a lot of artists who are technically proficient at their craft, whether it’s playing the guitar or painting or making a poem, but there’s no feeling behind it. I prefer to encounter art that hits me in the gut over work that is technically proficient or that is too cleverly designed. I think the intellectual stuff can be there, but that shouldn’t be the first thing you notice.
When reading for pleasure, what do you read?
For me, almost all reading is pleasurable. And I can learn from it, even the bad stuff. But I particularly like long novels where I can spend weeks or even months with the characters—thinking about them throughout the day and looking forward to the next morning when I can spend time with them again.
Do you watch television? What is the last thing you binge watched?
I don’t really watch much TV at all. When I do, I’m very picky about what I choose, though. For my money, one of the best shows out there is True Detective. I liked it so much that I bought the DVD of Season 1 and watched it a second time. I didn’t really care for Season 2, but the third season was pretty good. Great dialogue and setting and plot. I love the way the show moves from past to present and back in all kinds of interesting ways. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the show’s main writer, Nic Pizzolatto, is also a novelist.
Where is your favorite place to read? To write?
I like to sit outside and write in a yellow legal pad when I can. If it’s nice, I’ll sit out there in my backyard and read or write. But, really, I can write just about anywhere. I don’t think I’d like to have an office just for writing. It would put too much pressure on me to create something worthy of the space. I like being more spontaneous. I think the work is ultimately better for it, too.
Karisma J. Tobin grew up in the mountains of New Mexico and Alaska. She is an MFA and MA candidate at Sam Houston State University. Her work appears in Plainsongs, THAT Literary Review, Beacon, and Leonardo, and she is currently Assistant to the Managing Editor at Texas Review Press.