Jesse Andrews, growth and learning from failure

Students and faculty alike were treated to another installment of MHCC’s Mouths of Others series on May 11, in which brilliant minds ranging from authors to documentary filmmakers visit to share their work, as well as valuable and inspiring lessons they’ve found to help them reach new heights.

This time the guest speaker was Jesse Andrews, award-winning author and screenwriter best known for his New York Times’ bestseller debut novel, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and the Sundance Film Festival award-winning film adaptation.

He stopped by at Mt. Hood to tell us a little about who he is, what he does, and why and how he does it.

Andrews began the hourlong visit by talking about his start in the industry. “I spent six years after college writing and not getting published, and I wrote two novels in that time and each one took about two to three years and you’ll never see them because they weren’t published and are, in fact, unpublishable,” he said.

He explained part of the reason his first two novels didn’t exactly take off.

“I was writing and not getting any traction and I really had no idea why,” he said. “I decided that I was going to make this great contribution to literature by liberating it from what I thought was the tyranny of plot – you know, like, ‘story with like stuff happening for a reason in a pleasing way.’ ”

As Andrews continued his jovial tirade, he explained ‘plot’ in a comparison unlikely to have ever been made until that moment: “Plot is like the cocaine of literature: It keeps you hooked, but in like a cheap, shitty way.”

He attributed this very “new school” way of tackling English literature for his early lack of success. His first pair of manuscripts would have characters of absolutely no consequence who just sort of appeared and disappeared over the course of the stories, he explained.

Then came the turning point in his career.

“Someone finally came to me and said, ‘What if you were to write, like, a teen book?’ ” he said. That book, as you might imagine, was his first success, “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl.”

Andrews then treated the audience by reading a pair of sections from a newly finished third novel that’s still being revised. The crowd wasn’t given too many details about this new mysterious work, but was able to hear about a few of the characters and the world they live in, in which the size of one’s body is directly related to their socioeconomic standing.

Afterward, Andrews enthusiastically fielded questions, ranging from his greatest influences to what advice he would lend to someone seeking a career in the arts.

One of the first tossed his way was along the lines of what initially inspired him to begin writing, to which he somewhat jokingly, somewhat seriously responded: “I wrote as a kid. I wrote stories… and I think in the beginning you’re just writing (because you) want your parents to love you more than your other siblings,” he said.

“I mean, it’s exciting. You hear a story, you’re intoxicated by it and then some part of you thinks like ‘I can do that! What if I did that? That would be crazy, then I would be the storyteller, and that’s nuts,’ ” he said.

As for authors who influenced him, Andrews named a few, jokingly throwing out names like Dr. Seuss. He said his first two books were more influenced by the likes of stand-up comics such as Louis CK and Richard Pryor, in the sense that writing should be “about the joke you know: It’s about the observation that is true, and it never occurred to you, and it makes you laugh and it’s amazing.”

He summed up his visit with some words of advice.

Firstly, “failures and setbacks (are) how you grow.” Secondly, “Get out of your head… you write to tell a story; it’s incredibly simple, just imagine reading your story, imagine being not you and hearing your music or seeing your painting,” he said. “The farther that you can get, the more you can be other people, the stronger I think that makes you as an artist.”

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