I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Sean Pravica’s debut novel Stumbling Out the Stable for Cleaver Magazine. You may already be familiar with Pravica’s writing from his short fiction or from my first Fresh Writers Series post. Familiar or not, however, you won’t want to miss out on this often humorous, often heartfelt, often strange work of literary fiction, set for release on November 27th.
(Though you can always pre-order now, of course.)
Stumbling Out the Stable is an irreverent trip down the turbulent backroads of early adulthood. Seamus, a college student with aspirations to hitch hike aimlessly after graduation, grows increasingly unsettled with the vagueness of the future. His friend Jamie, on the other hand, revels in its unpredictability. Together, they party with colorful characters, raise hell at their anarchistic workplace, and wax philosophic about life’s hidden glitches. After a series of accidents intersect their lives, the boys stumble to find their footing as it becomes clear that not everything in life can be avoided.
What first inspired you to write Stumbling Out the Stable?
I’ve got a chip on my shoulder about liberal arts colleges. My own experience ended up okay. I was an English major but also graduated with an emphasis in Creative Writing, denoting a skill. I interned at a newspaper as a reporter shortly after graduating so I had a body of work. And finding a career-oriented job still hasn’t been easy, so I’m grateful that I have.
But not everyone who attends a liberal arts college, or even college in general, ends up okay and that pisses me off. My generation, called “The Me Generation,” by cynics older than us, like to call us lazy, entitled, and selfish, as though we’re the sole root of our work-life dilemma.
Now, while these same cynics were likely quick to tell us throughout our lives growing up that a degree was our “ticket to anywhere” or some other such platitude, blaming them or even ourselves isn’t going to solve anything. It’s just important that we understand on the whole that whether we go to college or not, a direction is everything. Planning for something concrete, learning to do something concrete, is vital.
So the intersection between the aimlessness of attending college because it’s the thing to do coupled with the economic atmosphere of the recent recession inspired this novel. It’s not a book about good versus evil but about passiveness versus action. And because passive life planning is a very visible target, I got to have a lot of fun mocking it all along the way!
Who is your favorite character in the book and why?
Jamie is totally single-minded even though his mind isn’t particularly made up about anything. He acts without second-guessing himself. He pulls stunts at his menial job constantly and flirts with trouble just as often, but never ends up in it. He’s full of shit but not full of himself. And despite being full of shit, it’s a very genuine variety. He believes wholeheartedly that taking already-paid-for champagne that doesn’t get used at wedding receptions is an act of moral integrity. When Jamie’s in a scene, things happen, and I love watching him bounce through life pushing the envelope because nothing is trivial to him. For Jamie, every small rebellion is a victory.
What was your favorite part of writing this story?
I love people and characters in general. This novel has many different characters, and many of them come and go. They appear, make some noise, and move on. I think that’s more authentically reflective of how our real social lives operate. There’s a chaos that can’t be stamped out no matter how wired we become. People continue to populate and depopulate our own personal worlds, and writing a novel that allowed for this authenticity of interaction was really fun.
The archetype of the Trickster seems to grin all throughout the pages of Stumbling Out the Stable. What was it like spending so much time thinking and writing about a pair of tricksters like Jamie and Seamus?
With these two, the trickery emerged naturally. I don’t want to sound like a douche, but the stuff they pulled made me laugh as I read over it! What I liked about writing it is that they believe so much in their trickery. It had such purpose for them. They don’t just joyride in golf carts getting stoned when they should be working, they take ownership over their freedom to act as individuals. Seamus doesn’t just skip class because he doesn’t like school. He silently protests pretentious professors so he can go do something truly productive like take acid and shoot pictures of trees while simultaneously unlocking the secrets of existence as he meditates on misunderstood Zen philosophy. This kind of fuzz-head logic isn’t uncommon at a certain age, and the trickery is as much a mockery of my own characters as it is lighthearted funny episodes.
The style and voice of your novel differ quite a lot from those used in many of your short stories. What inspired this style shift?
I felt that for the themes of this book, there was still plenty of room for those elements but they had to come from the characters’ way of thinking instead of through the content of the plot.
The fact that the world is completely realistic gives contrast to Jamie and Seamus’ thoughts about it, their exaggerated self-worth after rebelling, and their magical concepts about what they are certain reality actually is. This also gave me lots of room to bend the tone of the third person narration as it addresses the characters. Sometimes it’s tongue-in-cheek, sometimes it’s sober. Sometimes it’s overly sympathetic to characters while other times it’s overly harsh. Not being married to a constant emotional tone allowed me to play with the narration and make it yet another character in the book.
How did you enjoy novel writing in comparison to short story writing? Do you think you’ll tackle another novel soon?
And yes, a new novel is developing.
What other writing projects are you working on right now? Do you have any other upcoming publications we can keep an eye out for?
There are no new publications pending currently. I’ve taken a little break from short story writing. I’m putting together, almost entirely mentally, what the next novel is going to become.
So far, I have a working title. I have the first sentence and the last sentence. I have two true lead characters. I know who she is. I know who they are together. But I don’t totally know who he is yet. This novel will necessarily take place in the city, as Stumbling Out the Stable necessarily took place in the suburbs. This next novel is likely to have some surreal and weird elements, unlike Stumbling Out the Stable. Thematically, it’s about delusion and the desperation that fuels it. I’m thinking I’ll sit down and write the sentences in between the first and last early next year and go from there. I feel like this one could happen quickly.