LA Fiction Anthology Interviews: Sean Bernard

An Interview with Sean Bernard

This week in the Faculty Lecture Series, associate creative writing professor Sean Bernard took his turn. Bernard’s lecture was entitled, “In Bloom, a Critical and Creative Revisioning of James Joyce’s Ulysses”, in which Bernard shared excerpts from the book that he is currently writing that takes a different look at the famous novel Ulysses. In 2011, Bernard won a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for his work in fiction writing.

What role does Los Angeles play in your fiction?
Certainly in a handful of stories—“California,” which appears in the anthology, and others (set variously at Santa Anita Racetrack, in Santa Monica, etc.)—Los Angeles plays a crucial role in my fiction. But for the most part, my stories are usually set in places away from LA; like a lot of people, I moved to Los Angeles and don’t quite feel—at least not yet—implicated in the landscape enough to feel that I can draw on it a lot of the time for my fiction; it’s something that’s convenient to use, I think, but not yet an instinct for me.

To what degree do you think place shapes fiction in general?
The way that place impacts fiction is variable, isn’t it? There are authors famous for being regional (Louise Erdrich and many more), authors who are almost indifferent to place (e.g. Calvino, in his stronger works), and those who vacillate between (Bolano and, of course, many more). Personally, I fall into the last category: when place becomes a defining aspect of a story (such as “California”) or a longer project (my first collection, Desert Sonorous, is all about Tucson, Arizona), it becomes almost the defining aspect: the polestar, the way everything in the work is oriented. Other times, place becomes as important as stage decoration—more important is character, tone, imagination. It depends on the project, really.

Do you see your work as coming out of any traditions of LA fiction or poetry?
Not generally, no, but again, the story “California” is intentionally a nod toward detective noir—it’s as LA fiction as I can possibly be.

How does being a writer affect your work as a teacher and how does your work as a teacher affect your writing?
Enormously: I teach fiction to college students, and so I’m constantly reading, critiquing, trying to finds ways to communicate the mechanisms of writing fiction. Teaching has forced me to figure out a way to show students ways of looking at fiction so that they can see how it’s put —to break it into workable components so that they can assemble their own excellent work. Just by doing this, by trying to develop a language and way of seeing how fiction is composed, has helped me with my own writing, my own way of looking at fiction.

What is your current project?
I’ve begun the imagination phase—the early phase, the dream phase—of a project that may feature telescopes, spies, astronomers, artists, and more. Very undefined, but fun.

Bio: Sean Bernard teaches fiction at the University of La Verne. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of an NEA fellowship among other awards, his fiction has appeared in many journals. His debut collection, Desert Sonorous, received the 2014 Juniper Prize, and his debut novel Studies in the Hereafter was published in 2015 by Red Hen Press.

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