Bryan Hurt - a soup pot of the funniest dry sentences plus unusual facts that he unearthed from who knows where, and an understated humanity tucked inside those facts, and a constant eye on the oddness of culture and the lilt of a well-placed phrase and a carrot

Everyone Wants to Be Ambassador to France

Bryan Hurt , Everyone Wants to Be Ambassador to France, Starcherone, 2015.
Spooky Action at a Distance
Vicissitudes, CA
My Other Car Drives Itself

An astronaut quits NASA to paint pictures of the moon; a man builds a star in his basement; an astronomer falls in love with a moose and loses his nose in a sword fight; and an aristocrat adopts two teenage girls in the hopes of raising one to become his perfect wife. Bryan Hurt’s stories depict a world of wonder, magic, humor, sadness, and compassion. Wildly imaginative and meticulously researched, Everyone Wants to Be Ambassador to France is the debut of a new and exciting talent.
Aspen Matis, "Everyone Wants to Be Ambassador to France is swift and spare, a collection to devour and admire. Spectacular!" - Aspen Matis

"The breadth of this collection is a phenomenal celebration, and catalog of possibility, for the infinite versatility of short-form writing. Hurt's fabulist imagination, wickedly dry humor, and core emotional truths challenge, dazzle, and ignite." - Alissa Nutting

"I have been a longtime fan of Bryan Hurt's stories and what a joy to have them all together now in this book! They are a soup pot of the funniest dry sentences plus unusual facts that he unearthed from who knows where, and an understated humanity tucked inside those facts, and a constant eye on the oddness of culture and the lilt of a well-placed phrase and a carrot. In our endlessly data-packed world, Hurt's keen spareness is a welcome addition to the bookshelves." - Aimee Bender

"The fictional love child of Miranda July, George Saunders, and A.M Holmes, Hurt's debut collection combines farfetchedness and dark humor with just enough tenderness to make everything feel true." - Courtney Maum

"These stories are so bright and fresh and strange--they really will make you laugh and cry. And I’ve never read a voice like Bryan Hurt’s--in places totally uncategorizable, and brilliantly unexpected at every turn." - Bonnie Nadzam

Bryan Hurt, the 2014 winner of the Starcherone Prize for innovative fiction, is an up and coming author who has been published in several journals including Kenyon Review, The American Reader, and Tin House. Bryan has also narrowly avoided winning several other awards—he was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and was named a finalist for the Calvino Prize.  His first book, Everyone Wants to Be Ambassador to France, is slated for publication next year.
Bryan currently teaches at Colorado College, and I had the privilege of taking a class with him.  After the class ended, the two of us sat down and discussed his unique prose, whether or not creative writing can be taught, his relation to his characters, and more.
If you would like to listen to the interview in its entirety, check out the Youtube video below. Otherwise, feel free to read the transcribed highlights.
It's interesting that you won an award for innovative fiction—after reading The Fourth Man and The Sadness of Tycho Brahe's Moose, I noticed some of your stories blur the lines between prose and poetry.  Is this something you're looking to explore?
I am not a poet, nor would I ever claim to be a poet, though I think it's nice you would label me as such.  In those stories, I'm more interested in exploring the verticality of the page.  Prose is typically a very horizontal-looking type of endeavor.  We write sentences all across the page—across, across, across. That affects how we read the piece; it affects the speed with which we read and it affects the emphasis we put on individual lines.
And so, in those pieces, I was just playing around with what if instead of making it horizontal, I changed how it looked and felt and read by making it vertical. 
One thing I like about your prose is that it feels very clean and, at times, almost idiosyncratic.  Have you worked on deliberately developing your prose in this direction?
When I was in graduate school, I had a big crisis because I felt like I was creating stories that were Bryan Hurt attempting to write other people's stories. My crisis was that I felt like I needed to have a voice.  So I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Bryan Hurt's voice was.  Listen to me, talking in the third person...but I was just trying to figure out what my voice was by experimenting a lot with voice.
I'm the kind of writer who needs to hear a voice before I have a story.  So a lot of times I need a first line—or a line that rings true to me in whatever arbitrary way [that is]—or nothing else follows. 

From The Sadness of Tycho Brahe's Moose

But to answer your question, yes.  I thought very deliberately and for a long time about what I might sound like and how I might go about sounding that way.

My next question is one that gets posed to writers with alarming frequency, really, but I'm nonetheless interested in your response.  What is your relation to your characters?  I'm most interested in your connection to the protagonist of My Other Car Drives Itself—he’s a seemingly apathetic engineer who cheats on his wife.
The question, in a sense, is "am I writing about myself?"  Yes, absolutely.  Every character is me and every parent is my parents—no, no, no.  I think we are always going to enter into the story with our experiences, our obsessions and our concerns. These things always enter the story whether we intend them to or not.
In My Other Car Drives Itself, it's about a Google engineer who is on the chase team that follows around self-driving cars.  He picks up the pieces when these cars eventually crash themselves. What I was deliberately thinking about in that story was the metaphor of a character who is happy to be driven around, who is happy not taking control of his life. He is happy to follow a self-driving car, as it were, which is leading him wherever it might go.  And, inevitably, the car goes in bad directions and crashes itself.  The affair in that story, as I recall, is not initiated by him.  He's not a character with a whole lot of agency—he's a character who feels his life is out of control.

From My Other Car Drives Itself
But is he me?  No.  Do parts of me slip onto the page?  Absolutely, and I like that blurriness.  I like playing with that blurriness, and if you think it's me, well, that's cool.
Like many writers, you supplement your income by teaching creative writing.  Do you believe that writing can be taught?

Yes, absolutely. I have a friend who doesn't like teaching creative writing at all. It's not that she doesn't think it can't be taught, but rather she thinks it's a tremendous responsibility to teach it to people.  She doesn't particularly want to carry the weight of that responsibility.
I think it's incredibly fun.  What we teach in the creative writing classroom—well, you encounter students of different abilities and different talent levels all the time.  You can't teach talent, obviously, and some students are going to be more talented than other students and that's all fine and good.
But you can teach this thing we call 'craft.'  You can teach students to be better readers, and I think you can teach students to become more diligent workers and to sort of push themselves through their own sloth or laziness in order to continue writing every day.

One last question: what advice would you give to a young writer starting out in today's hyper-competitive world?
That's a good question. I've heard many answers to this and I've gotten plenty of advice about this. I think it's good advice to say that, if you're serious about this, write every day and make this into a habit.  It doesn't particularly matter how much you do it every day,  so much as you sit down and build the time [to write.]
That's all well and good if you can afford the time and luxury.  What's important, though, when you sit down to write—whether or not you're doing it every day—is that you're only working on what you want to work on.  You have no obligations except to your own pleasure and your own interests.
Write what you want, all the time.  And write only what you want.


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