Jon Chopan, an Oswego State alumnus and published author returned to campus on Sept. 18 to talk to the Living Writers Series class about his novel, writing and life.
Chopan was the second guest in the Living Writers Series of 2012. Professor Donna Steiner opened the discussion with some fun facts about Chopan. When he was 16, he was held up at the Eckerds Drug Store where he worked, his nickname on the club hockey team at Oswego was Acorn and he has two tattoos from the movie Ice Age. Chopan said he recommends that everyone get at least one tattoo they will regret later in life.
Chopan’s first novel “Pulled from the River,” published in December 2011, examines his memory of childhood growing up in Rochester, on the banks of the Genesee River. The novel is a blend of memoir and fiction Chopan created using his own memories.
Chopan recently finished a collection of short stories about his close friend Nick, who is an Iraq war veteran. Similar to “Pulled from the River,” the story is a fictitious memoir rather than non-fiction.
Chopan read one story entitled “Men of Principle,” from the forthcoming collection. In the story the narrator, Nick, and another friend are helping their cocaine dealer friend by providing protection for him as they go through the city, distributing the product everywhere from strip clubs to apartment complexes. Nick is coming along for another reason. His girlfriend told him that a long time ago a man raped her and Nick thinks he knows the guy. They end up finding the guy and beat him to within an inch of his life before the victim states that they have the wrong guy.
Following the reading, Chopan opened the floor up for questions. One student asked how factual the stories involving Nick were, to which Chopan responded that most of the stories were ‘what if’s’ rather than cold hard facts. Chopan continued on this note by saying that “Men of Principle” is actually based on a similar situation that happened to his brother. Instead of beating the man half to death, his brother called his girlfriend and figured out that it was the wrong guy without initiating any violence.
“What if he didn’t make the call? What if we are actually wrong with our foreign wars?” Chopan said, letting the thought hang in the air for a few seconds.
One common theme of the questions asked was, how can someone succeed in the writing world as an undergraduate student? Chopan had an interesting response to this, saying not to submit to big magazines, because the work is not polished enough for them. He recommended that students should read what they like, and read as much as they can. He also said to use teachers while an undergraduate because, in graduate school, teachers will be more focused on their own work than that of students. He added after the fact that a few good letters of recommendation will always help.
The final question, asked during the discussion, was, “Do you believe that fiction is a growing industry?” Chopan responded, “Our literacy is terrible.”
“We would rather watch Monday Night Football because we can enjoy it with little to no effort, while a book needs real energy,” Chopan added. Chopan said that we, as a nation, have “anorexia of the soul” without reading. He said that as a writer, a person should not worry about making money, but rather worry that their words are not being read.
“Steal the book,” Chopan said. He made it clear that he would be happy simply if people got to read his work.