Interview with Sean Jackson, Haw
Author Sean Jackson’s Haw launches on June 19th. Haw is the gripping story of a father’s struggle to save his son from a corrupt society in a pitiless, bleak, futuristic America. Sean Jackson has published numerous short stories in literary journals, from the U.S. to Canada and Australia. Haw is his debut novel. He was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. He lives in Cary with his wife and two sons. I want to warmly welcome Sean and thank him for speaking with Eco-fiction.
Mary: Your novel, Haw, takes place in a future world where climate change and related problems have degraded the planet, yet reportedly your book offers some hope. Do you think that literature can effect social moods and ideals–and, if so, do you think dystopian views or hope is the better motivator (or a combination of both)?
Sean: Literature has a dramatic effect upon the way we think, socially and politically. It’s just a matter of whether writers want to address these larger issues. I understand the desire to write for a larger audience, but I’ve always felt that if you’re not bringing something new to the table, if you’re not agreeing to a dare of some kind, then you are probably cheating yourself. When I was younger I felt that the only worthwhile writing was found in the books and stories about change and revolution, like in Dostoevsky or Sartre or Ibsen. I’m lucky in that I still feel this way.
Dystopian literature has been around a long time. It’s in the religious scriptures, and you can find it in Homer. I’ve been a big fan of Richard Bach for years. He writes both very simply and very mystically about our stations in life. Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy take darker views into human nature. I tried to put some of both in Haw. The story just didn’t seem to work without keeping the compelling and unbreakable nature of love intact.
Mary: They say that a story, first and foremost, is what draws a reader. Your novel has been described as humorous, brilliant, and moving. Please describe what’s going on in your novel at a pure and essential story level.
Sean: Unchecked power corrupts and destroys. That’s the nut graph. Expanding out from there, I explore the possibility that future generations could become even lazier with holding their governments accountable. You cede more power to a ruling entity, it only craves more power. It’s a vampire-and-host relationship. The people become weaker, the rulers grow stronger. Scarce resources cause white populations to systematically destroy dark-skinned people. None of this sounds very humorous, but I assure you that some comic relief is sprinkled throughout; otherwise it would get too grim. And sometimes dark comedy works best. Hopeless people can be funny. It’s often their only way to survive. Unfortunately, violence is the only remedy to the problems of the future landscape in Haw. I think we’ve seen that in America recently in places like Ferguson and Baltimore.
Mary: There is an LGBT element to your story as well, something that is unique (so far) in the flood of novels coming out about climate change.
Sean: Across the country, there is what feels like a war against the LGBT community, simply because they have sought equality. It’s a repeated cycle, with the suffragettes, then the Civil Rights marches, and now the rainbow flags are the battle flags for many people. It’s a taboo that many writers want to shrink away from if they are seeking a mainstream audience. I have a transgender daughter and I noticed over the years that if I referenced a work that featured homosexual characters, it was often written by a lesser-known writer such as Jean Genet or John Rechy. People were saying, by omission, that gay people did not belong in novels. So I created gay characters that are a part of the setting just like they are in real life. It’s weird that this hasn’t been done before.
Mary: I’m glad that you are not being exclusive. Mitch Cullin (Tideland, A Slight Trick of the Mind) described your novel as a potentially seminal work in contemporary American fiction and likens your novel to Brave New World. What are some of the similarities?
Sean: I hope Mitch is right. The book takes a straight-on look into a potentially bleak future, unless we can rein in these people who think the Earth is invulnerable and that minorities are disposable. How long can we keep this up? I think Aldous Huxley and George Orwell are more relevant than ever before, more so than even the Cold War era when nuclear war was the looming disaster. I think it’s been a while since widely read American authors have tackled social issues.
And there is a genetic issue similar to Brave New World, only darker: some people aren’t bred to be more perfect but rather more imperfect. Populations of dark-skinned people (the citoyens) are fed into systems of poor nutrition and economic hopelessness so that the white society exists in a matrix of plenty.
And there is a trip into the American West that could remind a reader of Huxley’s novel. Brave New World showed the dangers of utopian society, and I feel Haw depicts an even more extreme and imminent threat, of having wealth-inequality force the majority of people into deprivation so that the depleted natural resources can sustain and nourish a select few.
Mary: You’ve published in several literary journals thus far. What kinds of works have you published before, and are you working on anything else at the moment?
Sean: Short stories written in the literary fiction vein, quite different from Haw. I’m trying to finish and revise a couple of stories currently being published in journals so that I can put together a collection. I want these stories to reflect the struggles that poor, young families and strong women encounter in the modern world. I’m not sure if they’ve “gotten there” yet. But I’d like to get a book of stories published next year. We’ll see.
And I am toying with the idea of writing a sequel to Haw.
Mary: I will be looking forward to it! I’ve been asking all the authors I interview: who were your greatest inspirations (authors) when growing up?
Sean: I’m from North Carolina, so Thomas Wolfe is near the top of that list. The old standards, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Raymond Carver, Hemingway, and Willa Cather, Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill, are there. And I read a lot of French authors after high school. I wanted to teach French lit after college, so I read Gide, Camus, Hugo, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Collette and the great Louis-Ferdinand Celine.
Mary: Would you like to add anything else to our discussion?
Sean: I would like to thank Harvard Square Editions for deciding to take me and my book on. Their mission—to promote social equality, effect climate awareness—is a great ethic for a book publisher to have.
Mary: Yes, Harvard Square Editions has some excellent novels coming out. You are the third author I have interviewed who has published with HSE. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to Eco-fiction.com. I’m looking forward to Haw!