What was your inspiration for Fish Out of Water?
In the summer of 1988 I had a dream. In the dream I was ice-fishing on Candlewood Lake in Danbury, Connecticut, when a fish poked its snout out of the hole in the ice. Without spoiling things for the reader, I can certainly say that the dream was my inspiration — and not only for the book, but for the rest of my life ever since. The rest of the dream was a once-in-a-lifetime mind-blowing experience from which I have never looked back, and I’m not even slightly exaggerating. It was a theophanic paradigm-shifting miracle that I knew was the impossible answer to my desperate longing for meaning in the universe, the answer I was sure did not exist, or even if it did, that I no one could ever find. But suddenly I had found it. Now what? Now everything.
What does it feel like to have this book in the world?
It feels entirely different than anything I have ever felt with a book. It is essentially impossible to describe. It is the story of my life — up to my life-changing dream around my 25th birthday — but there are moments of great vulnerability and honesty in it that I might easily have skipped over, but didn’t. So putting that out there is somehow frightening, but I also have the confidence that it will help some people to learn from my own failures, which is why I put these stories in the book. And it has a literary quality that I think is sometimes quirky and downright silly, and sometimes actually very serious. I have no idea what people will make of it. But I’m very glad to have it out there, finally. Every book is such a journey, and I’m inherently impatient, so whenever the book gets out beyond me I’m essentially thrilled, because I’ve been working toward that for so long. And I’ve wanted to write some of these stories for decades. So yes, it’s gratifying that they are finally out there for others to read.
What makes this book special/unique?
Several things. First of all, like its author, it is a bizarre melange of things that one almost never sees together, but at some point in my life, and at some point in the writing of this book, I decided there was nothing I could do about that, that I must simply let the truth be what it is — in all of its misshapen and lumpy strangeness — and trust that the author of my life’s story has a larger purpose in it. So the book is a genuinely strange object, as anyone who reads it will see. It is hard to categorize, because there are so many different kinds of stories and even different voices in telling the stories. But I suppose that’s all God’s business, and people can blame him for what they read, since he is not only the one who created me as I am, but is also the one who led me along this sometimes preposterous journey among some seriously crazy personalities, as you’ll see. Believe me, nothing is exaggerated. I hate people who stretch the truth to tell interesting stories. All of this is exactly as I’ve told it.
What kind of impact did writing Fish Out of Water have on you personally?
Spending so much time thinking deeply about one’s distant memories, and bringing them to life, is an extraordinarily affecting experience. One can sometimes feel that time really is an illusion, and that via one’s mind one can somehow genuinely go back to these places from many years ago. It was all very illuminating too. I began to see things about certain people I had forgotten, and had come to feel again the love I have for some of them, like my Uncle Takis and my Uncle Joe and my godmother, Effie Drograris, and my grandmother, all of whom had profound impacts on my life and who I am today. By spending so much time remembering them there were times my heart nearly burst with love for them. And it made me see that although I never intended it consciously, the fact that my father is on the book’s cover makes sense, because he ends up somehow being the hero of the story. I realize that more than anything it has been his love for me that made me who I am.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned while writing Fish Out of Water?
I can’t say that I learned any particular lesson. At least not yet. I’m sure in the course of revealing the book to the world something will pop out at me that hasn’t yet.
How are you reflected in Fish Out of Water?
That’s very hard to say. I think the reader has to be the one to answer that. To say I’m too close to it would be a great understatement. But I think it shows many different sides of me, and in doing that shows me to be strangely eclectic. That’s probably the most safe way to put it. I’m an anomalous combination of things, probably because each of my parents is so different, coming from such wildly different cultures.
What do you hope readers will take away from Fish Out of Water?
That my story is in many ways their own story, that we are not alone in this world and the God who invested all of creation with infinite meaning, and who longs to give us and our lives meaning, is with us even — and perhaps especially — when we are unaware of him. That gives me hope for those who haven’t found him yet, as I hope everyone will.
What aspect of the Fish Out of Water are you most excited to share?
I think some of the insanely funny stories. I cannot wait for people to read them. Because they are true and because it’s important we be able to laugh, and to see in retrospect what we hadn’t seen at the time. My summers working strange jobs — and of course strange is putting it mildly — are probably some of my favorite parts. But the idea that I got through all of these episodes in one piece is instructive, generally speaking, if I may so bold as to suggest I am not hopelessly fractured, which some would vigorously debate. Nevertheless.
What has been the hardest chapter/portion of the book to write and why?
Writing is always difficult for me, so every chapter is always hard. I can’t think of one that was harder than the others, particularly. There are moments that are less difficult, but generally speaking writing is just hard work. I’m not one of those writers who claims he must write or die. I could very happily not write any day of the week, just as I could forego digging a trench or clearing a forest. I feel no compulsion to express myself in writing, although of course I feel the activity is worthwhile, which is why I take the trouble to do it. But it’s all pretty tough from my perspective. Work is work. The question is whether the readers feel the work is justified. But reliving some of these things emotionally was sad and difficult too. I have so longed to reconnect with some of the people who are gone, and who meant so much to me.
What is it like revealing your journey/story to the world?
I have no idea, ultimately, because I haven’t gotten feedback from readers yet. Of course that will happen very soon and probably for the rest of my life. Sometimes telling these stories was very moving, and at other times it was very sad. I only hope that my willingness to tell my story will touch readers and entertain them and help them make sense of the universe and their own lives in it. That’s the idea. The one who made it all is often quiet and hidden, but not always. And he wants us to know him. He longs for that far more than we long to find meaning. So I hope that in telling how meaning revealed itself to me I might encourage others that their lives have extraordinary meaning too, and on a level that is too much to take in, but which we must at least try to understand, because that’s why we are here.