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For this week’s TAG! You’re It! I chose to take some time and talk to Devin Householder. I straight up do not know Devin, but since he’s joined The Prompt I have enjoyed his writing, especially when it comes to his recurring series “Brief Encounters with Hideous Men.” Chatting with him gave me an inside look at a fellow creative. 

Devin, you’ve been an awesome, recent addition to The Prompt Magazine, and we’ll talk a little about some of your actual pieces in a little bit, but certainly you didn’t just start writing… So my question is: How and when did you get into writing and how and when did it really develop for you?

I’ve always loved reading good stories, but the impulse to write one didn’t come until my early 40s. I would think up an interesting character or an unusual plot twist sometimes but would just forget about it. Until the day when one idea developed little by little every night into such complex layers that it kept me awake.

After a few sleepless weeks, I finally started writing it down. Because at the time I’d been thinking of stories visually, it took the form of a screenplay. I spent a year writing two of them and concluded that screenplays didn’t scratch the full itch because so much of the depth of the characters and the story came from actors and other visual information that the screenplay didn’t touch. I had just finished reading Jon Franzen’s Freedom, and it got me motivated to write a novel. Where does one begin? It was like standing at the base of Mount Everest in a t-shirt and sneakers and just deciding to charge straight up. I found a writers group, and a room full of published and wannabe writers started reading and critiquing my chapters out loud, right in my face. I learned tons. Finished it four years later. Unlike most of those friends I made, I never really aimed to get published (although maybe twenty of my buddies bought it online for $5, bless their hearts). I just wanted to write something that I myself enjoyed reading.

I love that mix of inspiration, aspiration, hard work, and humility. You mentioned Jon Franzen’s Freedom, but where else do you find motivation? Whether it’s an author, a genre, a different medium, a real thing that has happened, or something altogether different? 

Anything that makes me feel something very strong usually lights the fuse. I mentioned great novels. The rare ones that capture the characters so fully that they feel like close friends, friends that I actually miss when it ends. Nobody’s a “good guy” or a “bad guy,” they’re just complicated people who are the way they are because of how and where they grew up, the imprint of their entire human experience peeking through in all of their peculiar life choices.

The more uncomfortable the story makes me, the more I want to write, because I might see something of myself in the characters. I love artists who portray people or sing songs or tell jokes in a one-of-a-kind way.

I get inspired by uniquely talented people who are brave enough to be different. Their odd perspective on life is a gift. There are people like that who write for this blog, and when I read their stuff I immediately want to start writing. Sports, politics, real-life crises and my own inner world are all pretty target-rich writing topics, but the real spark comes from original thought. When something truly original occurs to me, I let it turn in my mind until 1) I’ve challenged it from every perspective and have proven it true in my mind, and 2) I’m convinced no one else is saying it this way, and others would benefit from hearing my take. I think motivation to express just comes from living every day, being present and paying attention.

Fill in the blank. The most successful Devin Householder story makes the reader _______


Okay, I’ve waited long enough. I am a big fan, I am energized by your series of pieces, “Brief Encounters with Hideous Men.” Quick confession – after your first one with Ted Cruz at the airport bar, I had to ask Kelaine if this was fictional. I just wasn’t sure! I thought, “Man, maybe Devin is just a dude who is unafraid to say the things we all want to!” Anyways, I’ve learned and each piece has totally cracked me up. Anyways, can you tell me what inspired this, besides the obvious titular hideousness, and whether you think it’s something you think you’ll keep trying to make work?

Love it that you thought for a second that it might be real. When people ask me if one of these is real, I know the piece worked. What inspired this is a growing list of powerful, terrifying, unaccountable and almost universally disliked people (most often but not always older white males). I caught myself sometimes in fantasy conversation with them… almost out loud forming what I would say (perhaps on behalf of society) if I just got access to them, just once.

I’d actually met Barney Frank (for real) in the Rhode Island airport and talked to him for several minutes, so I knew the encounter was plausible. It seemed like a construct, a fantasy encounter, that could be reshaped for a long list of despots. I was prepared to end that series, but the urge to hop onto a Houston golf course and get randomly paired with a roided-up Roger Clemens and two of his enablers might prove too tempting to pass up. Years of reading The Onion gave me the desire to write something absurd, yet plausible. I love how those articles, the journalistic cadence so authentic, got you all set to believe fully what you were reading. Articles like “Tommy Franks (Chairman JCS) Quits Army To Pursue Solo Bombing Projects.” I love it that Donald Trump once tried to sue The Onion for fake news. That’s just hilarious all by itself.

Do you think, if you had the chance to encounter these men in the wild, that the conversations would or could maintain the levels of calmness? Also, according to Devin, who is the worst person living in the United States right now? 

Unfortunately, Josh… no way those conversations happen in reality. No chance. People like that always control the dialogue. And honestly, I know I could never keep my cool if I got that close. Can you imagine chatting it up with Ron DeSantis on a Pensacola street corner and not eventually getting dragged away by his security? Sad but true.

I do regret how much we get fixated on the worst of us. I’d rather be motivated to write about the very best of us, and there are many truly great people doing great things in our society. Satire favors the wicked, I suppose. As for the worst of the worst, I’d prefer not to say. It’s not so much as “who’s worst,” but the fact that today, the competition to make that coveted Worst 100 would be fierce. But, if I had to drop a name, the congressman from that street corner I hope to never be dragged from might be the guy.

Fair enough. There certainly are lots of good options.

Okay, last question, and let’s get out on a positive note. As a writer, what is something that you do that makes you successful, that you think others could learn from? 

One of my favorite tips from the writer’s group was this: Don’t tell me a story…. show me the story. Let the dialogue and the characters actions reveal as much of the story as possible, then narrate only what you absolutely have to. Literally drop the reader into every scene you can. By the end of your story, your reader will know your characters as well as you do.

Josh Bard

Josh Bard is a guy. A sports guy, an ideas guy, a wise guy, a funny guy, a Boston guy, and sometimes THAT guy. Never been a Guy Fieri guy, though.

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