Originally published 2006. Rebecca Bowden interviews author Joshua Braff, brother of popular actor Zach Braff.
For those who don’t already know, could you please tell us a little about yourself and your occupation?
My name is Joshua Braff and I’m a 38 year old novelist with two small kids, a wife and a home in the San Francisco Bay Area. About ten years ago I decided to pursue a career in writing which led me to an MFA in creative writing/fiction. From there I published a few short stories in national literary journals which led me to write my first novel. I got a literary agent from that first novel but when the manuscript kept coming back to us, I decided to write a second book, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green. The book has been received quite well.
What inspired you to write the book “ The unthinkable thoughts of Jacob Green “ ?
I wanted to write a story about two brothers, three years apart, that have a special relationship in the midst of a family life that is more than slightly dysfunctional. I also wanted to write a character study of a raving narcissist. He’s the father of this family.
Are there any similarities between yourself, your family and the dark but humorous world of Jacob Green?
I drew from truth in certain aspects but also took great liberties with truth. That’s the beauty of fiction as long as no one you love is hurt in the process. I was forced to go to a religious school like Jacob, and my parents divorced when I was 13 like Jacob, and I come from a family of four like Jacob. But a lot of it is pure fiction.
How long did the book take you to write, complete and get published from start to finish?
It took two years to write. I had three offers quite quickly after finishing. When I signed with Algonquin it took another year and a half before it was on shelves in book stores. Long process.
Can you explain to us a bit about your writing process? How do you get your idea’s, whether there’s a particular time of day or night that you find it easier to write etc.
My writing day begins as early as I can get in the chair and never goes longer than five hours. I like to write in libraries so I take a laptop computer and notebooks to whatever library I’m working in and go from there. I write in notebooks until I’m ready to actually write a scene/chapter, and then I write on a computer. My ideas come from anything I might absorb from my daily life. Characters and plots and the textures that build them come from observing others, listening to music, watching movies, raising my kids, reading, anything and everything.
Is The unthinkable thoughts of Jacob Green your first book or do you have more lurking about that we should look up?
It is my first published book. I may or may not dust off the first one someday. I have published short stories and essays and one children’s story but they may be tough to find. I’ve been writing a Blog since I went on a book tour in the fall of 2004. Two of my short stories can be found there. Joshuabraff.com. In some of the early entries, I also listed books that have inspired me over the years and also offer writing exercises for those out there who are struggling with getting started.
Are you writing another novel at the moment? If so can you give us any hints as to what this one might be about?
I am very underway with my next novel. Like everything I write, it’s about the human condition, relationships, secrets and lies and love and humor and pathos and always a splash or more of sexuality. It’s about a family and the intricacies of them. That’s all I’ll say right now. It’s gonna be good. I pray.
Who is your favourite author?
I like many. But I’ll go with, Steinbeck, maybe Flannery O’Connor, Salinger, F. Scott Fitz.
What is your favourite movie?
Smokey and the Bandit 2 with Dom Deluise and Sammy Davis Jr. Kidding.
Tough to pick one but…Ordinary People.
What sort of music do you enjoy listening to?
A wide, wide range. A few that come to mind – Radiohead, Gomez, Iron and Wine, Led Zeppelin, Audioslave, Ray Charles, The White Stripes, Ray Lamontagne.
Has having a famous brother ( Zach Braff ) changed your life or your family’s life much? And have you ever considered acting or directing anything yourself?
A celebrity in the family is odd at first and then you adjust. When it first happened, so much of it was surreal, people recognizing him on the street and stopping him to shake his hand. It’s been a bunch of years now so we all get how it works and know what it entails. The important thing is that he’s doing what he loves. I am not an actor or a director.
What would you say are the plus sides, and negative sides to being a professional writer?
Plus side. I had a dream and it came true. My colleagues are characters and creating them and placing them in situations that readers can relate to and be touched by is pretty powerful when it all works out. I like to think that my best work will be read long after I’m gone.
Neg side. It’s a very solitary work life. You need to be excellent at being alone and at self-motivation. And if you’re capable of pulling together a funny and poignant and riveting and textured and maybe even important novel-length manuscript by the time your publisher wants it, and somehow all the reviewers don’t rip you in half, and readers actually buy enough of your book to allow you to write the next one – then it’s a breeze.
What advice could you give to any of our members who may be looking at a career in writing, or getting a book published?
Write and write and write all over the place. In groups, alone, in the shower, wherever, just write and don’t stop. Then, put together the best stuff you’re capable of writing in that unique voice of yours. After that, you should look to publish in literary mags, in mainstream mags, in your local newspaper, any place that’ll have you. After that you should look for representation, probably in New York or London. Your agent will then help you shop your work around. There are books with lists of agents and publishers you can submit your work to. Or, find an author whose work you liken your work to, call their publisher and ask the receptionist who the author’s agent is and their phone number. They will give it to you. Call the agency and ask the receptionist in that office to send you the agent’s writer’s guidelines for submission. Send the appropriate amount of pages to that agent and wait. You might wait a month or more. If you don’t hear from them, call back and ask if it was read. They will eventually give you a response.
Finally, where do you hope to see yourself 10 years from now?
I’d like to continue to write for a living. Someday I’d like to live in Europe. So, I’ll answer this question by saying, writing books and living abroad.