First, You Swallow the Moon by Kipp Wessel | New Release Spotlight & Giveaway!

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An interview

with author Kipp Wessel

Doodles, doodles everywhere congratulates author Kipp Wessel on the release of his novel, First, You Swallow the Moon! Let us welcome him on the blog for an exclusive interview with DDE today. Read on!

1.    Interesting title! What inspired you to write the First, You Swallow the Moon and name it so?

This is a novel about a young man who becomes so lost in grief, he decides to turn himself into a wild bear to get through it. That’s his antidote. It was inspired by two compounded losses lodged early in my adult life – my oldest brother’s death followed by an intensely painful ending of a significant romantic relationship. Years past them chronologically but not yet emotionally, I dove headfirst into the energy of these two losses as my own personal therapy. That’s mostly what my writing experience is about – an open prayer to explore significant life experience and its related emotions with the hope to better understand them, and maybe transform them.

The title, First, You Swallow the Moon – I’m drawn to titles and endings of novels that leave room for the reader to bring their own interpretation. I think good titles tend to gain volume as you read the body of the work. They become clearer, their meaning pronounced, as you experience the content of the novel. At the risk of ruining that dynamic, I’ll confess that I personally latched onto this particular title when I saw it as an answer to the novel’s main question – how do you survive an otherwise insurmountable loss? Or the more symbolic question of the novel – how do you turn yourself into a wild bear? It’s easy. You just do the impossible. You simply consume the whole of the lunar sphere above your human head. First, you swallow the moon.

2. Can you give the readers an idea about what they should expect in the book?

At its core, I believe this novel is about relational loss, and the intense human experience of heartbreak – how it envelopes you and over takes you, turns your world and self inside out. I think that experience is a universal one. We all suffer the loss of loved ones. It’s an unavoidable law of gravity. What’s less universal, though, is how we respond. In the novel, the main character finds himself overwhelmed by loss. And eventually, he comes face to face with the primary question of whether we let our losses define us, or do we instead define ourselves by the manner we elect to move through them? Neither path is easy. And they each provide vastly different outcomes. And those outcomes rely on us to either navigate in the dark or avoid them altogether – which is a different kind of darkness. But we get to choose. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, the path forward is our choice.

There’s a lot of light and lunacy in this novel. It’s not just darkness and loss, but the theme of heartbreak is certainly the one harboring its core.

In addition to the woods of heartbreak, readers can expect to explore the actual woods – the forested landscape of western Montana, where much of the novel resides. If you are one of those people who wishes you were immersed in wilderness right now, mossy wooded mountain trails, instead of the more mundane geographic coordinate your feet are currently planted – read this novel! Maybe it will transport you there. A mini vacation. Laced with heartbreak…

3. Did you decide the character traits before you actually sat down to write the book, or as you wrote?

I don’t plan anything out in advance. I don’t pre-think characters, plot trajectory, nothing. I had a wonderful creative writing instructor who told me “fiction writing is an ultimate act of faith,” and I embrace that belief. Writing has always been, to me, like the ocean was to Jacques Cousteau. The only prep work is dropping anchor – choosing a spot to dive in. But beyond that, the first mission is to simply surrender to the exploration, see what resides in the coldest layer of the sea below you. That’s the original priority. To simply dive in. And to do it open eyed. Take a deep breath, and dive all the way in. If there’s nothing there, move to a different spot and try again. But don’t plan. Don’t outline. Not the first dive. There will be plenty of time to make sense of the footage you shoot, and bring order to it, when you are back in The Calypso editing room later. Smoking Gitanes and lapping Bordeaux. Save the editing and organizing for then.

4. Can you tell us what kind of research went behind the First, You Swallow the Moon?

The novel is about a young man who becomes obsessed with wild bears. The story follows him from Minnesota to deep within the Scapegoat Wilderness area of western Montana, where he eventually joins a grizzly bear tracking project headed by a university biology instructor. That storyline forced me to do a ton of research on wild bears, specifically grizzlies. And to get the terrain right, I bought a four foot by four foot detailed USGS map and hung it on my wall for reference. That map, and a stack of books on Montana flora and fauna, really helped ground me in the main character’s experience as it evolved. I spent personal time in all the places the novel explores, and know them fairly well, but some of the geographic and biological truths required consultation. The rest was life experience.

5. If you had to pick one favorite character from the book, who would you pick and why?

There’s a young woman in the novel whose name is Sumi. I became extremely fond of her. She was the most fun to write, the most interesting for me to get to know. She is the type of individual you might meet in a crowded room – the one with bruises on her elbows and her hair mussed, but with more street smarts and insight than the rest of the room combined. Sumi is the smartest character in the novel. She has her own messy internal struggles she has yet to move past. But without her wisdom and humor, the main character, Jack, would be a whole lot more lost than he already is, and the novel, meanwhile would be a whole lot less interesting. When writing this, I was really happy when Sumi showed up and walked into its pages.

6. Tell us about some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your writing journey till now.

Time. Finding the daily time to do the work. I’m not revealing anything 99.9% of the world’s creative writers probably don’t also experience. Time is the currency all writers long to have more of. You have to channel your untapped energy when you find the extra hour.

7. What is your writing routine like? 

I write all my drafts in long hand. Ink and paper. I need to feel my hand moving across paper. I don’t know why. But it keeps me from overthinking, which is a necessity in the drafting process. I can edit on screen. Or against paper manuscript. But to flesh anything out new, it’s wet ink on paper. Nothing digitized until it has to be.

When I wrote the first several drafts of this novel, early mornings were its best friend. This was my first novel. Before it, I solely focused on short stories. And I have a completely unrelated and intensive full-time job. To write a novel, I knew I needed to secure a whole new level of discipline that could better support the breadth of space and concentration a novel demands. So I advanced my alarm clock by a couple hours, something like 4 am. At that hour, my mental acuity wasn’t sharp enough to safely operate heavy machinery. But it also wasn’t awake enough, or jaded enough, to get in my way. I didn’t necessarily enjoy getting up that early, but I knew it was my one shot to tap into my creative energy before it became diluted by the rest of the day.

Maybe that’s the modern writer’s equivalent to Rocky Balboa’s pitchers of raw eggs and pummeling sides of frozen beef for days on end. You want to write a novel? Get up early.

8. Do you have any rejection stories to share?

The professional ones are less interesting, in my case. I’ve had good success with small presses. That’s where nearly all my short stories found homes. And I think that’s the absolute best place for literary fiction to reside. God bless the small press! There’s the bumper sticker. With interchangeable deity.

9. What's next?

I’m working on another novel, and pretty excited about it. I’m in the early stages of development, which is the most fun. And I really like the content, and where it’s heading. I hope I find enough time in the next year to complete it. Maybe I’ll take a sabbatical.

10. Lastly, any special thoughts for the readers?

Yes! I am grateful to any reader who takes a chance on reading this little novel. If you become one of those individuals, I’d love to hear from you. I’ll wash your car, or something, in return. If you read it, like it, recommend it to a friend, I’ll throw in a wax. But seriously, I am immediately indebted to any reader willing to give this novel a chance.

And thank you, Aparna, for the opportunity to rattle on. I love your blog. It’s one of the good ones. This was fun.

Thank YOU, Kipp!

First, You Swallow the Moon

by Kipp Wessel 

Page Count: 232
Published: March 17th 2016

A modern novel of heartbreak and wilderness.

Luminous, offbeat, and moving, First, You Swallow the Moon is a vibrant novel about love, loss and the sometimes manically impaired road to redemption. This is a novel about the counterpart to attachment - the sometimes impossible act of letting go.

Plan A: Survive heartbreak

Plan B: Turn self into bear

At twenty-four years old, all Jack Hesley knows with certainty is he's head over heels in love. But his life (and love) veers from center when his brother's car careens across an icy Wisconsin interstate and into a stand of pine. Stunned by loss, Jack retreats into isolation - a depression so stubborn the only living thing forceful enough to cross its threshold arrives in the shape of wild bears. He dreams them. He becomes obsessed by them. And he alters his forward path, risking limb and love, to follow real bears, grizzlies, into the thick woods of western Montana to untangle their impossible message - to become one of them.

A love story about love unraveled, First, You Swallow the Moon takes us from the edge of a frozen Minnesota lake into the forested river basins of Montana. But its geography has more to do with the wilderness within - the heart's centrifugal gravity of attachment. It follows one man's attempt to survive loss and transform the chambers of the human heart.

Buy the book

About the author

Kipp Wessel is a devoted writer, husband, father of rescued mammals, and resident troublemaker.

He earned a Fiction Fellowship and his MFA from the University of Montana, and his short fiction has appeared in a dozen commercial and literary magazines, including Southern Humanities Review, CutBank, and Big Sky Journal.

He’s taught fiction writing at the University of Montana, the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, and regional community arts programs. His first novel, First, You Swallow the Moon is published by radialGRAIN.


- One winner will get a hardcover copy of First, You Swallow the Moon by Kipp Wessel
- Open internationally!

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