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SunLit interview: How Dylan Fisher’s fever dream became a game to create the longest sentence

The author notes that his sentences seldom came to a full stop, "and, thus, the question of 'what comes next' never came up for me"

Dylan Fisher’s first book, “The Loneliest Band in France,” was the Winner of Texas Review Press’s 2019 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and selected as a 2020 Coups de Cœur by The American Library in Paris. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Dylan recently relocated from Denver to Atlanta to begin a PhD in Creative Writing at Georgia State University.

Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

I wrote the first draft of “The Loneliest Band in France” in a fever-dream—over the course of a few summer months in Austin, Texas, in 2016. From the very beginning, I had a sense of what the form (composed of long, winding sentences) would look like. I’d just finished reading László Krasznahorkai’s “War & War,” Thomas Bernhard’s “Concrete,” and Bolaño’s “By Night in Chile,” and I was looking for a way to synthesize their baroque, satirical styles with other, more popular genres, sci-fi and horror, the political potboiler, and the Bildungsroman, to name a few. 

I treated it as a kind of game, which I think is the best way to write a book, to see how long I could keep a single sentence going. It was playful—and fun. I’d add between five hundred and a thousand words to the sentence each day, usually on my phone during my lunch and bathroom breaks. I drafted it in emails from myself to myself. Though there isn’t much (if any) of the internet in the book, it’s one that’s very much indebted to it. In the past, I’d struggle with plot. I’d hit the end of a sentence and be overcome with indecision. But by writing in this way, in very long sentences, I never encountered a period, never came to a full stop, and, thus, the question of “what comes next” never came up for me. Like a prolonged game of Snake, I followed the sentence.

Ultimately—and this only became clear to me in a lengthy revision—I think the driving force of the book is neither its peculiar sentence structure nor its eccentric premise of a band that claims to have a song that can hurt and kill its listeners. Instead, it’s a narrator, Migara de Silva, grappling with questions of heritage, of growing older, of the shifting dynamics between parents and children, of multi-generational grief, of being on the outside trying to fit in, of the lasting impacts of colonialism, of a feeling of placelessness and alienation—such that generally-speaking the book’s setting (its geography) is a fictional one. “The Loneliest Band in France” begins, at the first line, with a lie—“my father, full of imagination, would make up lies about how my mother had died”—and the rest of the book is its aftermath.

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?

Because of its structure (the first sentence is nearly 40 pages long) “The Loneliest Band in France” is a difficult book to excerpt from. 

I can’t tell you exactly how many sentences make up the book. I’ve never counted. But I’m guessing only a handful. Six? Eight? 

Because of this, the following excerpt is from the very beginning of the book. Good news for me: I don’t have to do any setting of scene. You’re starting where any reader picking up the book would. Once you finish the excerpt, might as well get it from a library or bookstore, and read to the end!

Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?

From day to day, I never knew where the narrative was headed. Other than the initial premise, it was all unexpected. I was unconcerned with plot, because I trusted the sentence to do that work for me. If I could keep it going, I’d be fine. I wish I could live life that way.

I’m not much of a conversationalist. But I love being in the company of someone who can carry a conversation for the whole room—where all I have to do is smile and nod—show attention. For me, that’s what writing “The Loneliest Band” was like. In literature, people like this tend to fear what might come out in moments of quiet, that to stop speaking would be to allow the world to fall apart. Despite everything Migara reveals, the form of the long, breathless sentence, full of digressions, also lets him skip over and evade his deepest secrets.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book? 

Danielle, my fiancée, likes to joke that I’m lucky to have found a publisher for this book—because of its strangeness, its ugliness, its brutishness—and it was a bit of a challenge to land one. Texas Review Press has treated it with incredible generosity, and I’m proud of the home it found. When I got the call, I was working on the second floor of The Weathervane Cafe in Denver, a very quiet space—the kind where all you hear is the sound of people writing or reading, the occasional creak of furniture. But I made a lot of noise: dropping the phone, talking too loudly, scrambling to get outside. I’m sure I interrupted everybody’s workflow. I think I cried. By that point, I’d been working on this book (in more or less isolation) for a few years and didn’t know if it had a future—and then suddenly it did.

Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?

If it has, nobody’s told me. 

Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

With “Loneliest Band” I wrote every day, during lulls in my job, usually in the morning and lunch hours before the office got busy. Now, I’ve found myself write in dumps—intense sessions with weeks of not-writing in between. I think, probably, that writers who claim to be able to maintain any sort of regular long-term routine are robots—or have enough free time and money to maintain such a lifestyle. 

I do my best writing on planes—haven’t done that in a while! For the better part of the past three years, I was flying between Las Vegas (where I was getting an MFA in Creative Writing) and Denver on those “budget-friendly” Frontier redeyes. I also like to write when Danielle is napping. I’ll lie nearby on the floor.  It’s terrible on my back and my posture. But I’ve worked like this since I was little. I like to think it’s an inherited trait—something my grandparents and great-grandparents passed down to me.

Tell us about your next project.

I’m currently drafting two novels—and have another in the planning stages. I’m outlining it, which I’ve never done before. I’ll type out a few bullet points on my phone before I fall asleep at night. I guess I like to write on my phone. That one’s still so fragile, I won’t say any more. I’m less precious about the other two: the first is a novel inspired by the life of my grandfather—working with the question: How should the Holocaust be remembered after the survivor generation is gone?—and the other is a sort of sequel to “The Loneliest Band in France.” 

What a monstrous, obsessive thing, to return—and return—and return to this story. I don’t know if I should be doing it. 


Read an excerpt from the book.


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