Interview with Teddy Burnette
May 18, 2022
MM) A novel that captures the ethereal, nearly imperceptible nerve pinch of romantic love and its vacant, autonomic qualities, like muscle memory of safety. Is Heartfelt Anything concerned with the primal, involuntary properties of love? It feels tuned to a spectral frequency, the characters are identified by one letter. Is this a kind of universal story, or how does it engage with other romantic novels?
- TB) Heartfelt Anything is tuned to the frequency of the character whose mind the story, and further stories and dreams, reside in, and that is in turn, an exploration or attempt to understand young love. The reality that is created between the two characters is the safest possible environment for them. There is engagement with other novels in the sense that surely others have tried to understand this very thing, from the viewpoint of their own highly unique bout of love, and written a novel around that attempt at understanding. This novel, however, is not concerned with those viewpoints. There is the feeling of sitting back and watching the world go by from a perch up high, and the randomness, the sheer utter randomness of the world, becomes the most obvious thing in the world.
MM) There’s a hushed, oneiric quality to these two central characters’ dialogues, enhanced by their anonymity. It’s partitioned into dream sections and awake sections, but the creative intuition to demarcate these is difficult to parse as incidental, arbitrary or a statement. The characters discuss dreaming but the dream sections blossom into these squalls of imagery that are leaden with struggle, very active. Tell me about what was swimming through your subconscious as you made these formal choices. Are the different sections a plot device or a tonal straddling/balancing?
- TB) I find dreams to be disorienting. I hope others do as well. We fall asleep and are transported to wherever our subconscious takes us. Based on my own experiences, there are no hard and fast rules to dreams. I reject the idea that there are any rules whatsoever. And dreams are nothing if not stories we are telling ourselves, and Heartfelt Anything simply takes that step further; dreams are stories to tell others. T tells stories to M, and writes them down on his computer as short stories, and one day thinks the stories might be recited before an audience. But these stories begin as dreams, which is the only rule applied here.
MM) The book feels of the time, abounding with modernity’s trappings and pop culture but also out of time and in defiance of any dominant zeitgeist narrative through the kind of insular and playfully extroverted world of the couple. What is it about modern romance that makes heartfelt anything?
- TB) I intend for this book to stand outside of whatever narrative you choose to be the dominant narrative. Modernity’s trappings appear in this novel if only because they are funny and unique and one-offs and one of a kind when viewed from the safety and stability and simplicity, and more specifically, the quiet, of one’s own narrative. The novel is self-contained, and love is something that drives that self-containment. Love makes it so the world and its randomness becomes both meaningless and incredibly interesting, in a way that goes against the drama and narrative that drives the world. I have drama fatigue. I have fatigue when it comes to connecting each and every event and story to a larger, totally encompassing story. I want stories that survive on their own.
MM) The dialogue is a heavy lodestone. Were you influenced by other dialogic novels like J R? There’s also a lot of surreal adventurism and experimentation and Cortázar was mentioned in an earlier draft. I wonder if you wrote this as a cipher to puzzle over or as a stream of the inexorable quotidian?
- TB) Heartfelt Anything is meant to be disorienting when it is not centered in the mind and safety of the main character, T. When T guides the story, when he is confident and safe next to M, there is simplicity and back and forth dialogue steeped in calm. But throughout, dialogue drives the story, whether it is in the mind of T or out loud. To my mind, J R is one of the most impressive and completely unique works of art ever made, and most of my favorite writers are either of the same mold as Gaddis, or have elements that are similar. Heartfelt Anything does find itself in places that might be called magical realism. I will say only that Cortázar is a genius and “Axolotl” from his short story collection Blow-Up is a story I’ve read many times.
MM) What is the significance of The Painter in Heartfelt Anything?
- TD) The Painter is an enigma, or a representation of a metaphorical dimension. It is unimportant, and moreover, unnecessary, to decide if The Painter’s actions in this story are real and consequential or not. The Painter is the randomness of the world, the events and oddities that occur everyday that defy reason and yet, these moments of randomness, of actions taken without a proper narrative to attach them too, are what drive the world forward. I hope nobody attempts to make The Painter anything more than the figure is meant to be. I hope the reader is able to accept that The Painter is a floating presence in this contained world, and that the creations The Painter makes are creations and moments to experience.
MM) When did you start writing Heartfelt Anything? What was the process like? How was it conceived and how did it morph over time?
- TB) I was falling asleep one night and had a thought that I wanted to write something genuine, something focused on the bearable parts of life. I wrote in my notes app: Two people in love. They live life and watch the world spin constantly on, sometimes around them and sometimes over and over there and sometimes that way and sometimes this way and they love and wait for what’s next. Is this a life?
- I wrote most of this novel while I was working at the Hudson River Park in the horticulture department. I was planting flowers and ferns and bushes and trees, and for the most part this was a fairly silent, solitary job that allowed for hours of thoughts to roam free and find their ways to new places. I think the dialogue in this novel in part was driven by the lack of it around me when I was working at the park. I would take breaks and in that quiet that almost never ended, I would smoke cigarettes and type Heartfelt Anything on my phone. I’m working on a new novel now, and it will be written and finished mostly on my laptop inside my apartment, but there is something to be said for writing outside, leaning against a railing by the ferry or sitting in the dirt while you take a break from weeding.
MM) Magical realism and schizophrenia. Your book has been called both of these. How do you respond?
- TB) Magical realism finds its way into this book which fights to be entrenched in reality. Schizophrenia can be found in the reader but understanding will be found.
MM) Are the forces of NYC nightlife bringing people together or driving them apart?
- TB) Undoubtedly the forces are bringing people together. Spring and summer are going to be a beautiful time in New York City.
MM) Aesthetically the book is an exercise. Do you have a busy mind, and is there a fractal quality to the main character’s meditations? How do you feel about dense novels?
- TB) Life is dense with people and ideas and words and thoughts and sounds and art and creation and the calm bubble that love makes allows for that to be put on display. So of course there is density at play here.
MM) What art would you say was a formative influence? I’m also curious about more recent art that you feel a kind of kinship with or affinity for. Who’s dripping hardest right now?
- TB) Recent work that I have loved (though not all new): Family Annihilator by Calvin Westra, Trilogy by Jon Fosse, Work and Frog by Stephen Dixon, Sleepovers by Ashleigh Bryant-Phillips, Imaginary Museums by Nicolette Polek, The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan, Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar.
MM) What are you working on next?
- TB) I am working on my next novel. Everything feels very important right now.