I met with Wyatt and Walt Sawday on Sunday, February 12th, in Seattle, Washington, to discuss the release of their upcoming novel, Always In My Eyes, their collaborative process, and some other odds and ends. The interview took place in Walt’s apartment, a small studio near the University of Washington.
[Heck of a view]
[Walt] The view sealed the deal. The view made up for the fact that I don’t have an oven or stove or dishwasher. I’m not much of a baker anyway.
The apartment is on the seventh floor. Out broad bay-windows, there’s a view of campus, downtown, the Space Needle, a cloudy sky, Lake Union, and Lake Washington. Seagulls and packs of pigeons dart in the grey sky.
We’re waiting for Wyatt—who lives in Portland, Oregon—to arrive. Walt wears a black baseball hat backward, a plain white t-shirt, dark jeans, and eye-watering white Air-Force-One’s. He has quite a collection of shoes. He straddles his chair backward, his arms resting on the backrest, resembling an unfazed jock sitting in detention. From beneath the sleeve of his shirt peeks a black tattoo (a phoenix). Behind him, on a scratched white table, are stacks of heavily-marked manuscripts, casebooks, novels, and yellow legal pads filled with case briefs.
[You don’t look like an aspiring lawyer.]
[Walt] Because I’m not wearing a sweater-vest? [laughs] I can clean up when I have to.
He’s an avid leg-bouncer. He asks if he can get me something to drink—I decline. He pulls a can of chewing tobacco out of a pocket.
[Walt] Do you mind?
[Walt] You sure? I know it’s a gross habit, but…
He packs the can, places a pinch in his lip. He offers it to me—smiling, I shake my head. There’s a knock at his door.
[Walt] It’s unlocked! [spitting in a red Solo cup]
The door opens. A young man wearing khakis and a blue sweater over a crisp white dress shirt steps inside.
[Wyatt] Jesus, Walt. It smells like a storage unit in here.
[Walt] [to me, pointing at his brother] That look more like an aspiring lawyer?
Wyatt shakes my hand and the two brothers hug, patting each other on the back. Despite the fact that they’re dressed about as differently as possible, it’s easy to see that they’re twins: identical heights, similar facial features: large eyes, the faint outline of a cowboy chin. Walt takes his seat. Wyatt pulls up a chair, sits, puts an ankle on his knee.
[Wyatt] That shit’s going to make your jaw fall off.
[Walt] [spitting] Thanks, mom. How was the drive?
[Wyatt] Easy enough.
[Wyatt] Give or take, depending on traffic.
[Walt] And how much coffee he drinks beforehand. Wyatt has the bladder of an seventy-year-old man.
[Walt] Wyatt, by about two minutes.
[Wyatt] I’ve always been more willing to take risks than Walt.
[What do you do, Wyatt?]
[Wyatt] I work in special assets for a bank. We help people who’ve fallen behind on their loan payments work out payment plans.
[When did you guys start writing? Always write collaboratively?]
[Walt] I took—do you want to tell the story?
[Wyatt] Go for it.
[Walt] I took a creative writing class spring quarter of my freshman year at college. On a lark. It turned out to be my favorite class. We actually did very little writing; mostly we read and discussed short stories. I told Wyatt how much I enjoyed it and he looked at me like I was insane.
[Wyatt] I was knee-deep in economic theory.
[Walt] Anyway, I was hooked. I majored in political science but I signed up for any creative writing class I could. And then I think it was fall quarter of—
[Wyatt] Winter quarter of sophomore year.
[Walt] Winter quarter of sophomore year I finally convinced Wyatt to take a writing class with me.
[Wyatt] At that point we were writing our own stuff, separately. We actually have pretty different styles and interests in terms of fiction. Walt has more of a classical, straight-forward style. I love post-modernism.
[When you say post-modernism.]
[Wyatt] It’s not really clear what that actually means, is it? I don’t know. Pynchon, Gaddis, Barth. I fell in love with those writers and tried to emulate them. You have to be careful, though, because that type of writing really isn’t conducive to novice writers. Those guys were able to break the rules because they knew the rules; young writers usually don’t have a grasp on what they’re doing yet.
[Walt] Anyway, Wyatt got hooked, too, and we kept taking writing classes until graduation. I applied to law school and a bunch of MFA programs. I told myself that if I didn’t get into an MFA program I’d go to law school. I didn’t get into any MFA programs, chose not to go to law school, and worked in construction for the past four years.
[Wyatt] Since I’m more rational, I went to work right away for a bank.
[Walt] Both of us kept writing, though. We’d read and edit each other’s stuff. Then, I was having trouble with this one story, and I was talking to Wyatt about it.
[Wyatt] Shameless plug: it’s titled Porce’s Constrictor and is available on Amazon, here.
[Walt] I had this cool idea of a kid, set in a town a while ago, whose heart is underdeveloped, so a doctor invents this barbaric device to stabilize his heart. But I couldn’t figure out where any of it went.
[Wyatt] I liked the idea, typed up a rough draft, and emailed it to Walt.
[Walt] It was terrible [both laugh]. But he’d managed to figure out where the story led. We worked on it together, came away with a pretty good little story, and had a lot of fun. We’ve been doing it ever since.
[How does that work, though? Does one person write a scene, and the other edit it? Or do you work on the same scene together?]
[Wyatt] It honestly depends. Usually with shorter stuff we’ll have an idea and each of us will essentially write our own version. Then we sort of mash them together, keeping only the best scenes.
[Walt] Which are typically mine.
[Wyatt] With longer stuff we tend to work together to create each scene. It was a bit easier when we lived in the same city and could meet up. Now we spend a lot of time emailing bits and pieces back and forth.
[Got to think that process takes a long time.]
[Walt] It can. At the same time, it actually makes things a bit easier, at least from an editing perspective. Since we’ve got two sets of eyes, we’re basically editing as we go, which maybe makes our rough drafts a little more polished than they might otherwise be.
[What about disagreements?]
[Wyatt] All the time.
[Walt] Wyatt can be a stubborn [explicative]. And when he get’s all worked up he starts tossing around fancy literary terms like incremental perturbations and objective correlatives to justify his position. I always picture him sort of punching the keys on his laptop in a sweaty rage when he’s making his arguments.
[Wyatt] Meanwhile Walt’s real cordial and measured in his responses, telling me he doesn’t give two flying [explicative] about theory, the [explicative] character wouldn’t [explicative] say that.
[So how do you resolve?]
[Wyatt] If we truly can’t come to an agreement, we’ll let the thing sit, move on to something else, and revisit it later. Time usually helps one of us see the error of our ways.
[Walt] We have maybe ten short stories that we’ve simply abandoned because we can’t agree on how to make them work.
[On March 1st, you’re releasing a new novel.]
[Walt] Always In My Eyes. Currently in the final stages of editing.
[But this isn’t the first novel you’ve written together?]
[Wyatt] Shameless plug number two: our first novel, which was actually written almost a year ago, but was published in January, By All Means Must We Fly, is also available on Amazon, here.
[What’s this book about?]
[Walt] Without too many spoilers: there are two principal characters—a guy, who’s a director, and a woman, who’s an architect. Both of them are forced to deal with some pretty harsh personal losses, and we examine how each of them responds to those losses.
[When you say losses?]
[Wyatt] Both…uh…the death of a family member, and also the end of a relationship.
[Wyatt] This one came to us in a different way than our other stuff. As Walt said, this novel has two different principal characters. The director, the way this started out, the novel was just going to be about him. We had a director in our previous novel, and it was a subject we wanted to explore more deeply. Then we got about halfway through and all the sudden this other character pops up out of nowhere.
[Walt] She’s the wife of a different character. And she really—a lot of authors talk about characters sort of writing themselves, which has always struck me as a little odd—but she really had a strong, original voice. And before long we discovered that she had a really interesting story, and acted as a compelling foil to our director.
[In the blurb you showed me about the novel, you wrote that it’s about, “the enigmatic divide between explanation and understanding—and the never ending struggle to traverse it.”]
[Walt] That’s straight Wyatt.
[Wyatt] Well it’s—I mean both characters are creative-types. You’ve got a director and an architect. And both of them are searching for an explanation for why they feel the urge to do what they do. Why they feel the urge to create. And for us, when we write, it’s to communicate something: whether it’s an emotion, an image, humor, whatever. But in order to successfully communicate, you have to somehow make someone else understand. And I think with both of these characters, they have an incredibly urgent need—almost bordering on obsession—to make themselves understood. But in a lot of ways their pain prevents them from doing so.
[Because it shuts them off from others, or…]
[Walt] Because it not only shuts them off from others, but it shuts them off from themselves. They become so focused on their pain that they lose sight—I think they lose sight of the very things that caused them pain in the beginning. And the climax of the novel is them finally coming to terms with their pain.
[Wyatt] The novel is told in the first-person. Each part is told from the point-of-view of the two principal characters. Which is different from anything we’ve done before—certainly in a longer work like this. And it’s fascinating to—it’s very intimate, in a way, you can find the characters hedging, withholding certain information. And the pain of each of their losses is something both characters bury pretty deep; but it’s something they have to acknowledge if they’re ever going to properly explain. To properly create.
[I find it interesting, it sounds almost banal saying it out loud, but to properly explain, to make someone else understand, of course you have to first understand yourself.]
[Wyatt] Right. Otherwise you’re just shooting in the dark.
[Walt] Shooting blanks in the dark.
[Wyatt] Part of the struggle with this novel for us was that both characters are dealing with some pretty major stuff—certainly more major than anything we’ve ever faced. And there’s a danger—our first novel was more of a comedy, in a lot of ways. This is more of a tragedy, but when you’re dealing with such depressing subject matter, it’s easy to push the character beyond the point where they’re relatable. To the point where they’re almost a monument of grief. And the major struggle for us was to keep them relatable, to keep them from becoming utterly consumed by their respective tragedies.
[Walt] In real life, the really strong people, you find they don’t let their tragedies define them. They use the tragedies they experience as lessons. And those wounds might become scars, but they don’t allow them to become mortal wounds. They…I guess they assimilate them. Whether or not our characters are able to accomplish that feat…well, you’ll have to read the book.
[I thank Wyatt and Walt for taking the time to meet with me. It’s early evening. I ask if Wyatt’s heading back down to Portland right away.]
[Wyatt] Probably get a bite to eat first. And I think we’ll try to hash out some edits before I head back down.
[Edits on Always In My Eyes?]
[Walt] Maybe a bit. But we’re already waist-deep in our next project, and that’s where the bulk of our time’s going.
[Wyatt] No rest for the wicked.
Wyatt and Walter Sawday are the authors of By All Means Must We Fly, a novel, and several short stories, all available on Amazon here. Their newest novel, Always In My Eyes, will be available for download on Amazon on March 1, 2017.
Both Wyatt and Walt wanted to sincerely thank Kevin Cooper for providing this great opportunity to post on his awesome site! And they want to also thank you for reading. If you have any questions for them, feel free to check out their blog, here, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.