Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder? In other words do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?
Phil Klay: It varies story by story, but for the most part I'm a chipper. I'll write full drafts and then abandon most of what I've written, rewrite the thing, get comments from friends, rewrite it again. First drafts are just me figuring out the left and right lateral limits of what I'm working on, so I guess those would be the initial block of marble.
What was your first publication?
"Death and Memory," an essay about my relationship to a series of photographs in a trauma ward in Iraq depicting a group of Navy medical folks trying to save a marine's life.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
Reading: Teju Cole's Open City, Dostoevsky's Notes From a Dead House
Thinking about: Marlon James's Brief History of Seven Killings, Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars, Ayelet Tsabari's The Best Place on Earth
If you had to inhabit a fictional world, what would it be (i.e. the environment of which novel or short story or poem)?
Huh. I've never thought of it that way. Oftentimes, I read to imagine places I would not want to actually inhabit (the world of George Orwell's 1984, or the 17th century Japan of Shusaku Endo's Silence, or the antebellum South of Edward P. Jones's The Known World). I often gravitate to books that unsettle me. Though I wouldn't mind strolling through one of Italo Calvino's invisible cities.
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
Well, I spent thirteen months in Anbar province in Iraq at a time when that area was undergoing tremendous change, and I was a public affairs officer so I got to travel a decent amount and talk to a lot of people who played a role in that. I also briefly (half a year) taught writing to a group of middle schoolers, which was awesome. Middle schoolers are such strange beasts.
Novels? Short stories? Which do you prefer to write?
No preference. Working on a novel now, so we'll see how that turns out. Maybe a strong preference will develop depending on how it goes.
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
Find smart friends to read your work and be interested in your own mistakes.
Your book title: was it your first choice?
Yes. "Redeployment" was the first story I wrote, and always seemed the right title for the book. I liked how it could be read in a variety of ways, all of which seemed to reference central concerns for me while writing the book.
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
A novel. Still in early stages so I can't really describe it. We'll see how it turns out.
What's an interview question you've never been asked that you wish you had been?
Generally, if there's something I really want to say, I just say it regardless of the question. So there's nothing specific I want to be asked. Usually, I enjoy it when somebody comes at the book from an unexpected direction (Hey! You like Jakob von Uexkull? So do I! Let's chat about umwelt!)