Published March 2, 2021

Brian Castleberry, author of Nine Shiny Objects, has had stories published in The Southern Review, Day One, Narrative, and other literary journals. He lives in Virginia, where he teaches literature and creative writing at the College of William & Mary.

Get to know Brian in this Q&A and then join us on Thursday, March 18 at 12 PM EST as part of the all-virtual 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book to hear him discuss his work in Historical Fiction: Beanland, Castleberry & Francis-Sharma.

Festival: What motivated you to become a writer? 

Castleberry: I grew up in rural Oklahoma and was often bored, dreaming of some better life ahead, my nose stuck in a book. I think very early on I began creating this idea that a writer stood apart from the world, that being a writer was a kind of rebellion. I don’t know if this is necessarily so, but I kept this sense through my youth that writing was a kind of resistance. I’ve always been an observer, too. But I’m sure it’s a lot of things—especially the books I’ve read over the years.  

Who or what are some of your creative influences?

Dickens, Ralph Ellison, Nicola Barker, Cesar Aira, Louise Erdrich, for sure. I love a lot of Saul Bellow’s work. I read a lot of history and biography as well, and I’m really into visual art and music. I feel like writers need to see the similarities between different fields and genres. It will keep you sane. In contemporary American writing I’ve been inspired by Tommy Orange, Jennifer Egan, and Anthony Marra—their work all helped me to understand my own. 

What was your favorite part about writing your book?

Discovering the characters. I had a sense of what I wanted to do on a big-picture level, but the real fun was in discovering the individual characters, their stories, their inner lives, their voices. That’s the real joy in writing for me. When I feel like a character is a living being, sort of in conversation with my own inner life, then I feel like I’m onto something. And that is an expansive, very rewarding experience.

Do you have any sources of inspiration that you come back to while writing?

I have a list of books that matter most to me pinned over my desk, and I often will look at that list or even flip through the books in question—books that have challenged me and shaped me over the years. But I also get a lot out of music and art, like I said. Whatever it is, I feel like what I’m looking for are artists pushing the limits of their field. There’s a comfort in seeing or hearing these things, like it’s okay to be out on a limb, that it might even be exciting. 

What impact or takeaway do you hope your work will have for readers? 

Regarding Nine Shiny Objects, I hope the reader is left thinking about the violence of white supremacy in this country and how that has complicated or even snuffed out our dreams of a real and true place where we all belong—and that in thinking about it, they want again for that better place. Is that a lot to ask? Ha!

Describe how a book changed your life or perspective.

My aunt once gave me as a gift a set of classic books rewritten for child readers: Dumas, Austen, Dickens, Hugo, etc. Probably the most important event of my life now that I think about it…  

What is something that you’ve read recently and would recommend to others?

Inheritors by Asako Serizawa, Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen, The Removed by Brandon Hobson, H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker

What are you working on next?

I’m working on a novel about art and human survival after climate catastrophe. It begins, in a sense, in the 1920s, in Hollywood, and ends in some time in the future. It’s about sex and trauma and human consciousness. But it’s also about a family and about keeping a dream alive over generations. It is, to my mind, a long one. 

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