The Prepositions Are All Lies: An Interview with Memoir-Writer Harrison Scott Key

Harrison Scott Key is a funny guy. Don’t believe us? Check out this piece in Outside magazine. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a Southerner, and your father never forced you to crouch in a tree and eat cheap processed meat in pursuit of woodland creatures–Key’s true-life tales are hilarious, surprisingly relatable and may just make you grateful for (and more forgiving of) your family’s particular brand of crazy.

What’s the last thing you read? (It doesn’t have to be a book, it could even be the label on your breakfast cereal, we suppose).  Technically, it was the question I am answering, which you typed into an email and which I had to read in order to answer, although to be even more technically accurate, it is the sentence I am typing as I answer the question. Right before that, I read a review of my book that was posted online by a magazine, searching for judgments that might make me sad. Right before that, I read an article at the New York Times about how everybody on the Internet is really judgmental and mean and good at making people sad.

I don’t really have any rituals to get me in “the zone,” other than sacrificing a squirrel at the start of every writing session. So I guess that’s a ritual, in a way.

Do you have any unusual writing rituals or habits? (Must write from exactly 10:34-12:56, for example).
If I really need to get in the zone, I write at a kitchen table in a bedroom in my house, which I guess makes it a bedroom table, which sounds like it would be illegal in Utah. I have a standing desk, which my children find upsetting. Now that I think about it, I don’t really have any rituals to get me in “the zone,” other than sacrificing a squirrel at the start of every writing session. So I guess that’s a ritual, in a way.

What book could you read over and over and never get bored?
Anything with lots of dinosaurs or boats.

If you could be mentored by any author, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
That’s a tough one! Being mentored by a dead writer would be interesting, since dead people are often hard to talk to and don’t really get out much, although that also describes a lot of my male friends, who may, in fact, now that I think about it, be dead. I think it’d be fun to get mentored by David Mamet, who seems very angry and terse. I am not sure what being “mentored” even means. Does this mean they would read my work and then say mean, hateful things to me about it, in hopes of spurring me on to more original, creative work? Because that sounds like my children, in which case, I am confused.

I think a healthy sense of comedy makes every book better, even if it’s not billed as a funny book. By comedy I mean a book that’s honest about how helpless and ignoble most of us are all the time, how we’re all striving but generally phony.

What genres do you read for pleasure and what genres do you avoid like the plague?
I read true and not-true books both. I want a book that surprises me—beautiful sentences, weird characters, funny scenes, totally unexpected events. I think a healthy sense of comedy makes every book better, even if it’s not billed as a funny book. By comedy I mean a book that’s honest about how helpless and ignoble most of us are all the time, how we’re all striving but generally phony. The Book of Jonah, that’s a funny one. That’s comedy. That seems honest. My least favorite genre is the disease memoir, because I feel like I know how it ends—Spoiler Alert! They did not die!

What books would you put on a required reading list for humanity?
The Bible is a good place to start because it seems pretty honest about how people behave. After that, probably Watership Down, because it seems pretty honest about how rabbits behave.

..my advice is to hang out with people who love what they do, no matter what they do. This will enlarge the spirit.

Do you have any advice, or reading suggestions for your fellow writers?
Use more semicolons! Also, don’t hang out with too many writers, especially not bad, desperate, crybaby writers. Most crybaby writers actually hate writing. It’s just cosplay for them. They just want to pretend to be writers. A lot of writing teachers are in this category. Many of them are very sad. Not all, but many. No, my advice is to hang out with people who love what they do, no matter what they do. This will enlarge the spirit.

Your book of memoirs ,“The World’s Largest Man: A Memoir” was recently published by HarperCollins. Was your writing influenced or inspired by any particular books or authors?
I wanted to write a book as funny as A Confederacy of Dunces and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and which made as much money as John Grisham’s The Firm and had as much death and dragons as Game of Thrones. And I did it!

…listen, the only thing in the book that’s made up is all the prepositions. Those are all lies.

How much truth and how much tweaking goes into the writing of a successful memoir?
What do you mean by “tweaking”? Isn’t that what people who smoke meth do, if they don’t get enough meth? If so, there was a lot of tweaking as I wrote this book, because of all the meth I opted not to smoke. But to answer your question, listen, the only thing in the book that’s made up is all the prepositions. Those are all lies.

“Love is patient, Love is kind, Love does not mind if its relatives expose the painful secrets of Love’s family…”

Has writing about family and friends who may recognize themselves, even after names are changed caused problems in your relationships?                                                                        As the Book of First Corinthians says, “Love is patient, Love is kind, Love does not mind if its relatives expose the painful secrets of Love’s family, because Love is cool, Love is chill, Love knows a good story when love sees it.”

11038744_10204995585463387_7312140588983735829_oHarrison Scott Key is the author of The World’s Largest Man: A Memoir (HarperCollins) and a contributing editor for Oxford American magazine. His nonfiction and humor have also appeared in The New York TimesOutsideMcSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Best American Travel WritingSalonReader’s DigestImageCreative Nonfiction, and elsewhere. He teaches writing at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Check out ReadLearnWrite’s Book Review in Brief of The World’s Largest Man here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *