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Closeup shot of a young man writing on a note pad

Writing has ‘got to be weird before it gets good,’ says Casey Gerald

"There Will Be No Miracles Here" by Casey Gerald. Courtesy: Riverhead

Courtesy: Riverhead

Our December pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, “Now Read This,” is Casey Gerald’s memoir “There Will Be No Miracles Here.” Become a member of the book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here and see all the previous book club selections here.

Casey Gerald’s “There Will Be No Miracles Here” is no ordinary rags-to-riches memoir. Over the course of the book, we watch Gerald achieve all the success of the American dream — a football scholarship, a place at Yale University, a leader of several successful organizations. But then Gerald calls all of it into question. The result is a memoir that’s part personal, part political, and asks important questions about power, success, and where the United States is heading.

Below, Gerald shares his writing routine (he writes by hand), his favorite childhood book (“The Boxcar Children”) and the best writing advice he’s received.

What is your daily writing routine?

I wake without an alarm and make coffee, do the morning hygiene thing, and sit to do my morning pages — three stream-of-consciousness pages, by hand, inspired by Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Very useful to get uncensored. I meditate and pray after those morning pages.

After I’ve done all that, I get to the book. I wrote the whole book by hand, on yellow legal pads, so each day began with reading whatever I’d written and typed up the day before. That was a second round of revision. The extra revision, by the way, is the greatest gift of writing by hand.

I’d mark up the typed pages and then get to work on the day’s goal — rarely a word count goal, more often a set of experiences or ideas I want to get explore. Usually, the work took me somewhere I hadn’t planned to go, and I’d follow until the afternoon, when I’d go try to live a normal life before coming back to type up pages in the evening. On good days, this all happens almost as a trance, and you lose yourself in the work, and are a bit sad to have to step away from it, even for sleep. On bad days. Well. I try to forget those.

Post-book, I still do everything up to the meditation. More day-time hours are spent in Normal-Life Land. But I sense that’s not going to last long. I’m glad about that.

What is your favorite childhood book? Or one book you think everyone should read?

The Boxcar Children” by Gertrude Chandler Warner. It taught me that, sometimes, it doesn’t matter what you have; all that matters is what you’re trying to do.

What is something you’ve seen, watched or read that you think is overlooked and deserves more attention?

Ja’Tovia Gary’s “An Ecstatic Experience.” Richard Siken’s “Crush.” The true Jesus of Nazareth—not that I’ve seen him, to be clear.

What is the best piece of writer’s advice you’ve received?

In the early days of this book, when things were shaky, my editor, Rebecca Saletan, said: “It’s got to be weird before it gets good. Keep going.” She’s the first person to ever seriously hold space for me to be fully, strangely, magically myself, in my work.

Can you describe the moment you knew you wanted to write this particular book? And when did you know it was over?

I had achieved, by my late 20s, about everything a kid is supposed to achieve in this society, but I was cracked up, and many of my friends were cracked up, and the world was cracked up, too. So, I set out to trace the cracks, with words. Before I finished, one of my friends took his life. He came to me in a dream and said: “We did a lot of things that we would not advise anybody we loved to do.” My job became to make plain “those things,” to expose the dark side of the American Dream, to counter the ways we’re taught to live — to die, in fact — and, ultimately, to find and share a way to heal. I first knew it was over when I felt a deep peace, for multiple days, about not adding anything more. And when, a few months later, my editor said: “You did it.”

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