Jason Gurley

By day, I'm a user experience designer; by evenings/weekends, I write novels from my home in Scappoose, Ore. My newest is Awake in the World, published February 2019 by Roaring Brook Press; my previous novel, Eleanor, was published by Crown in 2016 and has since been translated into German, Portuguese, and Turkish. I’m currently working on a new project.

Sweat, sawdust

This evening I'm at my blessedly cool office. Lately I've discovered that my tolerance level for heat has dwindled. Heat makes me nauseous, particularly when it occurs within our house. Our little air conditioning unit plugs away, accomplishing little. That I falter on hot days is complicated by my arrival home each evening, when my daughter wants to be thrown into the air, to be chased, to be flipped and tickled and etc. 

Tonight, as soon as I walked into the house, she grabbed my hand and led me outside, back into the evening heat—a relief from the heat within the house, as evidenced by her flushed cheeks and damp hair—to show me some sand art that she and her bà ngoại created on the sidewalk, beside our sun-strangled lawn:

I was born in Texas, then divided my childhood between Houston and Anchorage, Alaska. I wonder often how we made it through the Texas summers. I hardly remember them. I remember little stories that we've told and re-told ourselves, things that we did, places we went. Did I complain about the heat when I was eleven, twelve? I spent most of my spare time outdoors back then, my skin crispy and dark, my brown hair temporarily sun-bleached blond(-ish) again. I wonder what kid-Jason would say to adult-Jason. 

My daughter doesn't seem to mind the heat. She'll announce, sometimes, "I'm sweaty! Dad, feel. I'm sweaty." But being sweaty doesn't bother her. She's cool with it. She rolls with it. My wife, Felicia, was born in Okinawa, and as a teenager lived in Arizona; she's partial to warmer climates, or at least well-suited to them. Of the four people in our home—my daughter, my wife, and my wife's mother—I'm usually the exception case, no matter the subject. Climate? I'm the odd man out. Adventurousness of palate? I'm also the exception to that rule. Extroverted, social? I'm neither, though I can turn it on for a little while now and then. I don't mind being the exception. It's freeing, really. Because there are always two other people in agreement when one person in our home declares that they want to eat squid, for example, I never have to feel terribly guilty for trotting out that old, boring phrase of mine: "Not for me, thanks." 

Tonight, I'm somewhere between fifty and sixty thousand words along in my new project. I'm starting to understand a little more about this book I'm writing: what it is, what it has the potential to be. It wasn't until Eleanor that I realized those answers could arise during the writing of a novel, or during its revisions. Before Eleanor, if my understanding of a story changed after months of work, I would return to the beginning, dismantle it aggressively—not unlike the Hulk ripping apart that jet in The Avengers—and start again. This was entirely unproductive. Now, however, when these new thoughts arise as I'm writing, I make a note, I put the note aside, and I go back to writing as I had been. When the novel is complete, I'll gather those notes, and begin revising, and the novel will begin to shape itself into something entirely new and better. I'll repeat this a few times, the story coming into sharper focus with each revision, until it feels right.

Discovering this nearly twenty years after writing my first novel has been a revelation, I confess. I'm enjoying the realization that even now I'm continuing to learn how to write these books. It certainly casts those years in an entirely new light, and reassures me that all of this took as long as it needed to. 

(Also: Yes, I just compared editing a novel to the Hulk shredding a military aircraft. That's where my head's been at lately, what with my almost four-year-old daughter's fascination with superheroes. She of course doesn't get to watch these movies, not yet, but she's seen little clips of the Hulk smashing things, or Superman spinning around in a revolving door, or Lynda Carter spinning herself into Wonder Woman. To her, these aren't clips from larger movies; they're little inventions that are created specifically for her, so she'll request things that don't even exist: "Daddy, can we watch the Hulk put Superman to sleep?" or "Daddy, let's watch Wonder Woman go ice skating." I am absolutely giddy about the day I can share the entire world of movies—not just superhero movies, of course—that she isn't yet aware exist.)

And now I think my brain has sufficiently cooled for me to attempt a bit of novel work. Each night when I finish writing, I'll leave a little note in the manuscript for myself about what comes next. That way, when I return, I can simply dive in. 

This is the note I left for myself at the end of the last writing session:

Downside to hot days: I'm wearing short sleeves, so I don't have any sleeves to roll up. (Note: I just attempted to roll up my short sleeves, but just felt stupid.) We'll both just have to imagine a more snappily-dressed version of me, rolling up his sleeves and getting back to work. 

Great big stars

Up on the mountain