Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
The Complicated Calculus (and Cows) of Carl Paulsen, published by Fitzroy Books (an imprint of Regal House Publishing); pub date is July 5, 2022.
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
It’s about a gay teenager living on a small and struggling Minnesota dairy farm who thinks he’s met the boy of his dreams, but it turns out to be a lot more complicated than he realizes. He is also dealing with the potential loss of the farm, which was handed down from his late mother’s family, and the conflicts he has with his father about what to do about it.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
It’s a young adult novel, but I hope that adults will pick it up as well and find things in the story that they might identify with. I’m mindful of the expression that YA books are about young adults but aren’t necessarily exclusively “for” young adults.
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
I was really pleased when Publishers Weekly, in reviewing the book, characterized the setting as “richly described.” Place has never felt like a strong suit in my work so that was particularly gratifying.
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
I hesitate to make comparisons to specific books, but there is a long tradition of novels set in rural communities, which provide such rich terrain for great characters and storytelling. My novel is very much inspired by that tradition, and I’d like to think I’m making a contribution to that, if even in a small way.
- Why this book? Why now?
I wanted to create an adolescent character who was very self-aware of his identity and comfortable with it rather than someone dealing with “am I gay or not” questions, which can certainly give rise to worthy stories but I was interested in something different. Instead, the question for Carl, the main character, is “how do I help the world understand who I am and how do I understand my place in it?”
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
Without a doubt, it’s teaching. It’s demanding work but helping college students to learn and grow and consider new ideas and ways of thinking…there’s nothing better.
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
It’s a simple message, but LGBTQ+ people are everywhere, in all communities. Also, acceptance and understanding for LGBTQ+ individuals (particularly kids) not living in urban areas can still be a challenge despite the significant progress we have made.
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
The book is set in rural Minnesota, so there is a lot of “hot dish” (casseroles) being served! I’m a big fan of that type of food because it’s what I grew up on, so it was fun to be able to include that in the story.
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
I’m not sure that this exactly qualifies as “reading,” but every day (weather permitting) I take a 30-40 minute walk around my neighborhood and recently I’ve started listening to the New Yorker Fiction Podcast while I’m walking. The podcast features a contemporary writer published in the magazine reading a short story also published in the New Yorker that they admire, and then discussing the story with the magazine’s fiction editor. Some of the names (both the writer who chose the story and the writer whose work is read) are familiar, but a lot are not, so I’ve discovered some excellent writers both past and present that I want to explore further. Exercise and a “mini craft class” in the art of fiction writing – it’s a great combination!
Learn more about Gary on his website.