Interview: Andrew Armacost
1. What inspired you to write The Poor Man’s Guide to Suicide?
A: Well, my parents are divorced and so are my siblings, and so are many of my friends, and these noncustodial parents, they suffer unbelievably. I myself have two young ones, and I’m very happily married, yet subconsciously I wonder if the book was a warning to myself, a cautionary tale to help me understand the high stakes of marriage, the importance of keeping it together, because I could lose my children and therefore everything. After grad school, I worked briefly in a prison while someone very close to me was going through a major depression as a result of his interaction with his own children, and I suppose the novel is largely a byproduct of my work experience and his private hell.
2. Do you have a favorite character in The Poor Man’s Guide to Suicide? Who is it and why?
A: Perhaps the Big Ed character. Historically, the elephant is among the most revered and even worshipped animals in the world. There’s this warmth and kindness, yet this great reserve of strength, which is only unleashed when need be, when provoked. And that’s how I think of the Big Ed character.
3. Did you have a favorite scene in The Poor Man’s Guide to Suicide?
A: Maybe New Year’s Eve? In life, so many great stories begin with alcohol (then end with tragedy or comedy, or both).
4. Of all of your books, do you have a favorite? Which one and why?
A: The one I’m writing, always the one I’m writing.
5. What is your favorite part of your writing process?
A: Probably when I’m able to clunk together a perfect or near-perfect sentence, something that sounds right when read aloud, and something that’s never been said or written. However small the accomplishment might be, to have done something completely fresh and new with language, that can be quite pleasing.
6. What was the hardest part of writing your book(s)?
A: This book was especially painful because of the subject, the themes. While going through the final edits, my personal life was soaring…healthy, happy kids, wonderful wife. And each night I had to slug it out with this book, this albatross. My daily personal life was yellow and orange, and then each night I walked into this blue gray gloomy space. It’s like I spent half the day on a sunny beach in San Diego, then got transported to Glasgow in December.
7. What do you do about writer’s block?
A: Never happens. I only suffer from “reverse writer’s block”; kids, work, grad school, and so on. There’s so much I want to get down on the page, yet it’s so hard to find the time. I feel like every moment spent hovering over the keyboard is a moment I could’ve spent reading a book to my kids, or taking them to the woods, or what not. So basically I make do with very little sleep.
8. What books have influenced your life most?
A: Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Vonnegut, Orwell, Iris Murdoch, Kundera, Ayn Rand, and all of the “big idea” writers have been hugely influential. Selby, Irvine Welsh, and Ferdinand Celine, these folks showed me what it was to really accomplish something on a line-by-line basis, where the prose was nearly vibrating off the page. And I’m a sucker for confessional writing…Bukowksi, Fante and the like. I think what unifies all of this writing is that none of it would be much good on the screen, or anyway, even if it would work ok on the screen, the writing would be significantly degraded in the process. I think film is a legitimate medium. If a book would make a great movie, at least as good as the book, then show me the movie. Usually, I want writing that only works well in that particular medium, something that’s inextricably tied to words, to the text. As for living writers, Scott Phillips, certainly, and John Irving. Oh, and A FRACTION OF THE WHOLE by Steve Toltz. And EVERYTHING RAVAGED, EVERYTHING BURNED by Wells Tower. All right, I’ll shut up now.
9. Any advice for the aspiring writers out there?
A: I guess you always have the opportunity to serve as a bad example, and I’m no exception. Based on my experience, if you’ve never written a novel, I’d recommend these steps:
-Write your first novel. Don’t submit it to anyone.
-Now write your second novel; don’t submit this one either.
-Next, write your third novel, and stick in a shelf next to the other two.
-Now return to the first novel…
Ok, do you now hate your first novel? Or do you still love it, or at least like it? If the latter, then start the revision process; you will be able to see the novel as it truly is for the first time, see it through a reader’s eyes instead of a writer’s. Besides, when your book gets picked up, you’ll have two more ready to go, waiting in the wings.
10. What surprised you about the writing and/or publishing process?
A: Maybe this…That the book will never be good enough. It will never be perfect, or even close. Eventually, you wave the white flag and let it go, out of pure exhaustion; in this sense, agreeing with yourself that the work is finished, well, it feels more like a surrender than a victory.
11. Do you anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
A: Thank you.
” The Poor Man’s Guide to Suicide” synopsis: Wesley Weimer, a twice-divorced prison guard and failed father of two, realizes that his life has grown lifeless. Child support payments suck him dry and so he’ll never finish that degree. Most of his free time is spent tending to his crippled mother or else writhing through painful visits with his children.
So with Christmas right around the corner, Wesley persuades a prisoner to strangle him for ten thousand dollars—this way, at least his kids can cash in on the life insurance. The only problem is, he doesn’t have ten thousand dollars…
THE POOR MAN’S GUIDE TO SUICIDE is a noir why-done-it that shoves a microscope into the guts of a bleak yet fascinating subculture while managing to throw a spiritual life-ring to a drowning demographic: non-custodial fathers.
Looking for other books by Andrew Armacost?
About the Author: “Andrew Armacost studied literature and writing in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh after serving in the U.S. Navy, during which time he worked at sea and overseas, with long-term assignments to both Afghanistan and Singapore. Formerly a Corrections Officer for the State of Indiana, Mr. Armacost has also resided in Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Japan, California and, most recently, Virginia, where he currently lives with his family.”