Fiction Points: Joshua Mohr

mohrJoshua Mohr lives and writes in San Francisco, where he teaches fiction at The Writing Salon and the University of San Francisco, from which he also received his MFA. He is the author of four novels – Some Things that Meant the World to Me (2009), Termite Parade (2010), Damascus (2011), and Fight Song (2013) – and is already at work on a fifth. O, The Oprah Magazine named Mohr’s debut among its Ten Terrific Reads of 2009, and The New York Times Book Review listed Termite Parade as an Editor’s Choice in 2010. His reviews and writing have been featured in publications including The New York Times and The San Francisco Bay Chronicle.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

This has actually already happened to me, and it’s one of the reasons I got sober. The bottom is never far away when a penguin tugs on your jeans and says, “Hey, mister, are you holding?” Thank god there were no nuns around.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

As a recovering addict/alcoholic, all my books turn over some concentric preoccupations.  Namely, I’m really curious about self destruction. Why do some of us love to hurt ourselves? I’ve been sober four years and I’m fascinated with what led me to treat myself in all those miserable ways. Authors have the capacity to sculpt psychology, really plumb someone’s psyche, and for me, it’s been a cathartic process, forcing myself to analyze toxic rationalizations.

What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

Well, they do say write what you know. I was not only a black-out drinker, I was a black-out author. I’d start writing about midnight with some whiskey and pills and suddenly it would be seven in the morning and I’d come to sleeping at my desk. Then I’d drink some Gatorade and reread last night’s pages, having no memory of putting that batch together. Both my first two novels, Some Things that Meant the World to Me and Termite Parade, were written that way. Damascus was the first narrative I put together with a clear head.

Mohr's second clear-headed novel (also his latest), Fight Song.
Mohr’s second clear-headed novel (also his latest), Fight Song.

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a story? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

Most of my characters drink like I used to: as some sort of punishment. I was always after oblivion or a fist fight or the next bad decision and so my characters, most of them anyway, behave in much the same way. Obviously, that’s not a coincidence. I’m drawn to chaos both in reality and on the page.

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

I’ve never seen a literary novel take on a relapse in a memorable way. We see drunkard characters; we see sober characters in novels. But as we all know, those aren’t binary assignments.  You’re never only a zero or one, especially in recovery. You can move between these categories, depending on where you’re at in your life. So I’m trying to render someone on the cusp of throwing away a couple years of sobriety. It’s been a very rewarding project—made me do a lot of soul searching—and I can’t wait until I’m through with it and can share with all of you!

damascus

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that one of your novels gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

I’d like to have my novel Damascus turned into a film, directed by Robert Altman.  Yes, I know that he’s dead, but I don’t care.  As for the song to play while the credits roll, it would have to be Tom Waits and Keith Richards’ duet “That Feel.”  If you’ve never heard it, it’s the saddest/happiest song in the world.