How did you become a writer?
Reading certain books gave me a certain intense feeling, and it seemed to me that a major point of being alive was to experience that feeling. I wanted to write books that would make readers experience that feeling. So I wrote, then threw away what I had written because it was terrible, then wrote some more. Eventually I made a significant amount of headway on two manuscripts—one called Short Century, the second called The Epiphany Machine—but with each one I got stuck. I went back and forth between the two for years. I often thought that neither manuscript would ever be published, that nothing I wrote would ever be published. I kept writing anyway. Short Century was published in 2014, The Epiphany Machine is being published this summer, and I am well under way on my third novel.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
Kafka is the clearest influence on The Epiphany Machine. He’s the only writer in the history of literature whose work might reasonably be called “realistic.” My other biggest influence is Philip Roth, the writer whose books I always want to put down and yell at, then to keep reading. That’s my model for what engagement with literature should look like. If you’re not tempted to hate a book, why would you bother loving it?
My most important writing teacher was Leslie Woodard, with whom I took creative-writing classes in high school and college. She died in 2013 at the age of fifty-three. I am only stating the facts when I say that I still hear her voice in my head whenever I sit down to write, and especially whenever I try to avoid sitting down to write.
When and where do you write?
Whenever and wherever I can manage not to have an internet connection. This usually means both leaving my apartment and using the Internet-blocking app that is strangely but perceptively called Freedom.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a novel about a mysterious disease that appears to be killing everyone born in the calendar year 1981 (the year I was born) but is leaving everyone else unaffected. It obviously reflects my own concerns about my encroaching middle age, just as The Epiphany Machine reflects my own concerns about finding my own way and my own value system. I like taking whatever is most personal to me and spinning it around I can find a weird angle that allows me to see it more fully and clearly.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Every day. Writer’s block is like heavy traffic or problems with the subway on your commute to work. It’s so frustrating it can make you want to peel your skin off. But you wouldn’t let a bad commute keep you from getting to work, would you?
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Write every day, and accept no excuse to miss a day. Then, when you inevitably go for days or weeks or months without writing, forgive yourself and get right back to work.
What’s your advice to new writers?
That even when you’ve ignored the best writing advice, even when you feel you’ve squandered every opportunity, even when your other obligations nibble at your day until it seems there is nothing left but the tiniest crumbs, even when you’re convinced you have zero talent and that your time at the keyboard could be better spent any other way, still, STILL you can get some writing done today. Finally, the best writing advice is also the best life advice: remember that nobody else has any idea what they’re doing, either.
David Burr Gerrard is the author of THE EPIPHANY MACHINE (Putnam, July 2017) and SHORT CENTURY (Rare Bird, 2014). He teaches creative writing at the 92nd Street Y, The New School, and the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop. He lives in Queens, NY with his wife.