An Interview with Alan Semrow, author of Ripe and Briefs
Alan Semrow’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has been featured in over 30 publications. Apart from writing fiction and nonfiction, he is a professional copywriter, a monthly contributor at Chosen Magazine, and a singer-songwriter. Previously, he was the Fiction Editor for Black Heart Magazine and a Guest Fiction Editor for the Summer Issue of Five Quarterly. Semrow’s debut short story collection, Briefs, was published in 2016. Ripe is his second book. Semrow lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?
I’m definitely proudest of Ripe. It extrapolates on all the topics and themes I wanted my second book to.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
When I was in college and after I came out, I got so invested in writing—to the point where it was sort of like an addiction. But I was doing it for the sake of understanding my life as a gay man, what I wanted my life to look like now that I was living a more honest existence. I sorted out some of what I was going through in my writing—this obsessive writing. Ultimately, I probably ended up writing five or six novels in college. But I tossed all of them. There are a few characters I’ve written in the past that I do still think about and wonder if I could continue their story a bit, but right now, that’s probably not going to happen. I’ve moved on from a lot of creative projects—I’ve recycled a lot of paper.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
I’m definitely more honest. Ripe is non-fiction, where my first book, Briefs, was short stories. With Briefs, I veiled a lot of my emotions and feelings in these characters who had nothing to do with me. With Ripe, I really wanted to just be open and honest. It was the best way for me to convey the points that I wanted to make—by conveying them from my perspective.
I also think my writing is more concise than it’s ever been.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
I used to be like that—ideas would just pour out. But that’s not really the case anymore. Now, I sort of just write when I feel obligated to—when I have something I want to say.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
Writing is an inherently lonely process, so I try to write in public—usually, the coffee shop. I also write a lot at home, but I find I’m most productive when writing in public. And I’m always writing on a computer, unless I’m working on a poem or song—those usually work themselves out on paper.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I’m a big fan of the traditional book—I think I’ve only read one e-book. There’s this great feminist bookstore in Madison that I like to frequent called A Room of One’s Own. It’s really cozy and they always have really cutting-edge works available.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
They’ve definitely changed over time. In college, I dove really deeply into the LGBT literature canon. Lately, I’ve been reading more memoir. I read a lot of memoir while writing Ripe. In general, my tastes are all over the place. I’m sort of a hipster when it comes to books, movies, and music.
If you manage your own profile, please tell me as much as you are comfortable with in regards to your preferred platform and an estimate of time you spend doing it [and whether you like doing it!].
I’ve used Facebook and Instagram a bit to promote Ripe. I post things that pertain to the book, mostly. It’s not really all that time-consuming for me, but I’m sure the total time I spend on social media really adds up.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
I would never! I want to share these with you. 😊
Funny, sexy, evocative, and brutally honest, Ripe is Alan Semrow’s ode to relationships with men. In this epistolary book, Semrow writes to the men who have impacted his outlook, reminded him of basic life lessons, surprised him in more ways than one, and left him reeling for days. Writing to one-night-flings, men he has never met, and men he’ll never stop running into, Semrow touches on some of the most constant human themes—love, lust, desire, and the yearning for connection. All the while, the book details a man’s journey navigating and blooming by way of the modern gay scene. Readers will find familiarity and hard truths in Semrow’s statements about the intricacy and explosiveness of the intimate moments we share.