"Let’s Make Yarn Art"
An Interview with Jason Porter
Jason Porter’s first novel, Why Are You So Sad?, concerns the particular sadness of Raymond Champs, illustrator for a large, bland furniture manufacturer, who secretly surveys his coworkers to prove that his is only one point of light in a global constellation of sorrow. Porter goes well beyond the typical office satire by drawing every single human—readers and characters alike—into an epidemiology of gloom and isolation. As someone who once wrote instructions for patio furniture, I identify with Champs’s desire to find company for his misery, but I mostly admire Jason’s writing. His control of tone is remarkable, his characters resonate, and he is in my estimation one of the funniest authors making fiction these days.
Jason Porter and I have known one another for several years. We have grilled together. I know the names of his dogs. Despite the fact that he lives six blocks from my house, we conducted this interview by email. Somehow it just seemed sadder, lonelier, that way—much like the woeful questionnaire Ray leaves anonymously around the office.
I. SMALL TALK
THE BELIEVER: Ray Champs is an illustrator for a furniture company. Did you reach back to a personal job experience to “get inside” his character? Also: what is it like to be “inside” a character?
JASON PORTER: Getting inside a character is very much like when you dress up as a mascot and attempt to elicit the enthusiasm of a highly fickle and fairly inebriated sporting crowd, all of whom feel a certain degree of entitlement because they paid a good amount of money for their seats while avoiding other more essential expenses in their life, like health insurance and water softener. It is at turns thrilling and horrifying, and the ventilation leaves much to be desired.
For this character I did zero research outside of trying to assemble a few intensively laminated bookshelves that smelled like spray-on cancer. I also borrowed some memory of working for what was, at the time, referred to as a web portal. There was nothing specifically lifted from that, just the idea of endless cubicles and a minimum of natural light. Oh and they also had a really dreadful, and, in my opinion, inhumane color scheme, which for some reason was a source of pride. It’s one thing if you are the Minnesota Vikings. Otherwise, don’t do it. And maybe even the Vikings should reconsider.