WELLS TOWER is the author of the short story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. We'll spare you the glowing review, since the book, which came out in 2009, has already garnered more glowing reviews than any other debut short story collection in recent memory. (But yes: It's very good.) We spoke with Tower on the eve of his current book tour.
MERCURY: You're touring for the paperback release of the book, after the hardcover release last year. How is the second lap different than the first?
WELLS TOWER: Well, it's been a long year of promo stuff. I had the hardcover tour, and then I said yes to a bunch of literary festivals and things overseas, just because it seemed at the time kind of amazing that anyone would pick up plane fare to bring me over to Australia or wherever. I'd had a pretty solitary little life up until now. I was doing some magazine work, and traveling a fair amount for that, but I wasn't in the position of product spokesperson until this year. Doing all that stuff is a little strange.
I've read that you're working on a novel—can you talk about the novel, or is it a secret?
It's not that it's secret, it's just that it's probably senseless to talk about it [at this point]. I'm really a zany reviser. I go back and do large violences to my first drafts. The short story collection, everything in there had been published in a magazine previously, but even after they'd come out in a decent magazine I would come back and pretty much destroy them.
What are you thinking about when you revise?
For me, the revision is really all about trying to find the most efficient and good-faith route to the story's central emotional problem. Generally in the first draft, or the first three or four drafts, I have no idea what that problem is. It's sort of interesting going back, looking at a story that might've come out in a magazine awhile ago, and saying, now I understand, this story is really about this person's relationship with this other person. It's not about the glib language, or the clever structural stunts I'm trying to pull off—and so then I'll go back and try to revise toward that emotional thing. And sometimes when I'm revising, the revisions are way too earnest—one of my big pleasures as a writer is using language in ways that I find interesting, but often when I go back to revise, I think, oh, these are just a bunch of cheap language tricks, and I need to make sure the language is put to some really heartfelt purpose. So often, actually, I'll need to back away even from that super earnest revision, and try to mingle a little bit of irony and cruelty from the early drafts in with the treacle of the later stuff.
Unlike a lot of contemporary authors, you don't have a website or much of a web presence. Why is that?
I just find the internet to be so troublesome. I really wish that I could work longhand, but at this point, I grew up being able to cut and paste stuff, and swap things around on a computer. But to me there's something wrong and regrettable about having the writing machine also be a television and a jukebox and a shopping mall.