Contributor Spotlight: James Brubaker

“James Franco(s) at the Edge of the Universe,” a short story by James Brubaker, appeared in Issue 14 and can be read here.

Tell us a little about this story.

I think I started this piece around the time of yet another big moment of “writers getting angry about James Franco’s writing.” I don’t love James Franco’s writing, but I’ve never seen it as something to get angry about. If anything, maybe it’s an opportunity for non-literary minded Franco fans to get into reading fiction. But the story started from an impetus of wanting to both poke fun at Franco a little, but in a way that humanized him and tried to get to something humanizing about a guy who a) does so much and b) is disliked by so many. Here’s the thing: after I wrote the first draft, I kind of realized that the story was one of the most personal I’d ever written. I was in around year four of a Ph.D. program when I wrote it, and I was working hard. I was starting to co-edit The Collapsar with my friend Nate, I was finishing up my dissertation (which was published as Liner Notes by Subito), I was working on three other books, Pilot Season (sunnyoutside), a novel that I just finished, and another collection, and I was about to take comprehensive exams. When I started rewriting and revising, I started to realize how much the Franco character’s drive and isolation mirrored my own circumstances at the time, and maybe some of my own fears about what we sacrifice for our work.

What was the most difficult part of this story?

Trying to boil down a complex, busy guy like Franco to key elements that best capture him without making him too cartoonish. I’ve written a number of pieces with celebrities as main characters, and this is always the toughest part. I want them to be fun and funny, but also to get at some underlying human truth.

Recommend a book for us which was published within the last decade.

Ah, this is soooooo hard. Maybe Avenues of Desolation Untold by Brandon Hobson. And Madeleine E. by Gabriel Blackwell. And Torture Tree by Bayard Godsave. And Fat Man and Little Boy by Mike Meginnis. And The Suicide Club by Toni Graham. And Inland Empire by George McCormick. And I just started reading Of This New World by Allegra Hyde and it’s fantastic so far…I want to recommend everything, basically. And that’s not even including some of our books at Southeast Missouri State University Press—I mean, I just wouldn’t feel ok using this to recommend books from the place I work.

If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be?

James Franco, for sure. I just find him endlessly fascinating

What are you working on now? What’s next?

I recently finished a novel called The Taxidermist’s Catalog. I’ve been trying to query some agents and send it out to some small presses and what not. And in the interim, teaching, and running the press, and editing Big Muddy, and preparing to get married, has taken up a lot of time (all well worth it), but I’ve written a few small pieces for, and a few other small stories I’ve just started sending out, and my goal is to, this summer, start work on a new novel inspired by the death of a dear friend, outer space, David Bowie, grief, and the existential dread of not knowing anything about anything important. I’ve been jotting down notes and sketches to lay the foundation for the new novel for about a year, now, so I think I’m ready to jump into it.  

Our thanks to James for taking the time to answer a few questions and share his work. Read Brubaker’s story “James Franco(s) at the Edge of the Universe” here:



James Brubaker is the author of two books Liner Notes and Pilot Season. His stories have appeared in venues including Zoetrope: All Story, Michigan Quarterly Review, Hobart, Booth, The Collagist, web Conjunctions, The Normal School, and Beloit Fiction Journal, among others. Brubaker teaches creative writing at Southeast Missouri State University and serves as Associate Editor of The Collapsar.