AuthorsFrom the Wire

A Wild Playground: PW talks with Eskor David Johnson

In the article, “A Wild Playground: PW talks with Eskor David Johnson,” the author explores the inspiration behind Johnson’s debut novel, “Pay as You Go.” Set in a fictionalized version of New York City called Polis, the story follows the journey of Slide, a barber searching for a place to call home amidst the chaos of the city. Johnson explains his decision to set the novel in a fictional city, allowing him the freedom to create a playground where anything is possible. With a vibrant cast of characters and a picaresque storytelling style, the novel captures the contrasting views of metropolitan living, from dreams to disillusionment in the bustling city.

A Wild Playground: PW talks with Eskor David Johnson

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Setting of the Novel

Choosing a fictionalized version of New York City

When Eskor David Johnson was deciding on the setting for his debut novel, Pay as You Go, he initially considered using New York City as the backdrop. However, Johnson soon realized that writing about a real place would come with certain constraints. He would feel obligated to stay within the realm of normalcy and realism, limiting his creative freedom. Instead, he chose to create a fictionalized version of the Big Apple called Polis. This decision allowed him to break free from the rules and create a playground where he could let his imagination run wild.

The freedom of creating a new city

By building a fictional city, Johnson was able to explore the limitless possibilities that come with such creative freedom. In Polis, he could create a world where anything and everything was possible. The residents of Polis could be as crazy, insane, and freewheeling as Johnson’s instincts allowed. This freedom to create his own rules and bend the boundaries of reality was liberating for Johnson as a writer. It allowed him to fully immerse readers in a unique and captivating world.

Writing Style

The picaresque mode of storytelling

Johnson chose the picaresque mode of storytelling for his novel, which means that the narrative follows the adventures of a roguish and often disreputable protagonist. This style appealed to Johnson because it allowed him to capture the essence of living in a city like Polis. Each year spent in a city can feel like a different era of one’s life, filled with countless events and encounters. The picaresque mode of storytelling allowed Johnson to compress these experiences into a small space, creating a captivating and fast-paced narrative.

The appeal of a teeming cast of characters

Another aspect of Johnson’s writing style that stands out is the teeming cast of characters that populate his novel. Johnson was drawn to this approach because it reflects the reality of living in a bustling city like Polis. In a city filled with millions of people, individuals from all walks of life come together, each with their own stories and motivations. By including a diverse range of characters in his novel, Johnson is able to create a vivid and realistic depiction of urban life.

A Wild Playground: PW talks with Eskor David Johnson

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An ingenuous, resilient, and slightly hapless young barber

The main character of Pay as You Go is Slide, a young barber seeking a place to live in the sprawling city of Polis. In describing Slide, Johnson portrays him as an ingenuous, resilient, and slightly hapless protagonist. Slide may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he makes up for it with his bravery and wonder. Johnson intentionally made Slide slightly hapless to emphasize the sense of wanting and the pursuit of dreams that characterizes life in the city.

Slide’s development as a character

Throughout the novel, Slide undergoes a transformation as he navigates the ups and downs of life in Polis. Initially, he may be naive and inexperienced, but he learns valuable lessons along the way. Johnson wanted to show Slide’s growth and development as he encounters the dreams and disillusionment that come with living in a metropolitan area. Through Slide’s experiences, readers are able to explore the complexities of life in Polis and the challenges faced by its inhabitants.

Contrasting Views of Metropolitan Living

The dream-like aspects of living in the city

Living in a city like Polis can often feel like living in a dream. The constant buzz of activity, the bright lights, and the endless opportunities create an atmosphere of excitement and possibility. Johnson captures this dream-like quality in his novel, highlighting moments of joy, wonder, and exhilaration that can be found in metropolitan living. For Slide and other characters, the city offers a sense of freedom and the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

The disillusionment that can come with it

However, along with the dream-like aspects of city living, there is also a dark side. As time passes, Slide begins to realize that the city is not all it appears to be. He becomes aware of the constant wanting that permeates city life, as people strive for nicer apartments, better jobs, and unaffordable luxuries. The pursuit of these desires can lead to disillusionment and a sense of never reaching true satisfaction. Johnson explores this contrast between the allure of the city and the harsh reality that often accompanies it.

A Wild Playground: PW talks with Eskor David Johnson

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Wanting and Desire in the City

The constant wanting in places like New York

Cities like Polis are known for their vibrant energy and endless opportunities. However, this also means that there is a constant sense of wanting. When individuals first arrive in the city, they may believe that their desires are rooted in fundamental needs. However, as time goes on, they realize that there are always more things to want and pursue. Johnson captures this constant state of wanting, illustrating the never-ending cycle of desires that accompanies life in a bustling city.

The realization of unaffordable wants

In Pay as You Go, Johnson explores the realization that many wants in the city are simply unaffordable. As Slide and other characters navigate the streets of Polis, they encounter restaurants, apartments, and experiences that they can only dream of affording. This realization adds a layer of complexity to the characters’ desires, as they grapple with the tension between their dreams and the reality of their financial limitations.

The sense of never reaching satisfaction

Perhaps one of the most poignant themes explored in Pay as You Go is the sense of never reaching true satisfaction. In a city where wants are abundant and desires are ever-present, characters like Slide can easily find themselves caught in a cycle of unfulfilled dreams. Johnson skillfully portrays the constant striving and longing that comes with life in the city, capturing the bittersweet nature of pursuing one’s desires.

Book Details

The title: Pay as You Go

Johnson’s debut novel is aptly titled Pay as You Go, reflecting the themes of wanting and desire explored throughout the narrative. The title suggests that in a city like Polis, individuals must constantly pay their dues, both figuratively and literally, in order to pursue their desires. It hints at the never-ending cycle of striving and longing that characterizes life in the city.

Publishing house: McSweeney’s

Pay as You Go is published by McSweeney’s, a renowned publishing house known for its commitment to unique and innovative literature. McSweeney’s has a reputation for publishing works that push boundaries and challenge traditional storytelling conventions. Johnson’s novel is a perfect fit for the publisher’s catalog, as it offers readers an immersive and captivating narrative that breaks free from storytelling norms.

Release date: October

Readers can anticipate the release of Pay as You Go in October, adding to the excitement and anticipation surrounding the novel. Johnson’s debut work promises to captivate readers with its unique setting, fascinating cast of characters, and themes that resonate with anyone who has experienced the desire and dreams that come with living in a metropolitan area.

Genre: Fiction

As a work of fiction, Pay as You Go transports readers into the fictional world of Polis. Although inspired by real cities like New York, Polis allows Johnson to flex his creative muscles and create a universe that is distinctly his own. With elements of picaresque storytelling and a focus on the themes of wanting and desire, Pay as You Go offers an engaging and imaginative reading experience.

The Creation of Polis

The process of building a fictional city

Creating a fictional city is no small feat, and Eskor David Johnson took great care in constructing the world of Polis. He had the freedom to imagine every detail, from the layout and architecture of the city to the personalities and quirks of its residents. This process involved careful consideration of the city’s history, culture, and atmosphere, ensuring that Polis felt like a fully realized and vibrant place.

Exploring the limitations of real settings

While New York City served as an initial inspiration for Polis, Johnson quickly realized the limitations of using a real setting. Writing about a real city would require adhering to its existing geography and landmarks, which could potentially hinder the story he wanted to tell. By creating Polis, Johnson was able to sidestep these limitations and build a city that perfectly suited his narrative needs.

The ability to bend and break the rules

One of the greatest advantages of creating a fictional city like Polis is the ability to bend and break the rules. Johnson could shape the city to fit his vision, allowing him to create a playground where imagination and creativity could thrive. The freedom to establish the rules of the city and its inhabitants enabled Johnson to craft a narrative that is both familiar and delightfully unpredictable.

Themes Explored

Identity and self-discovery

Pay as You Go delves into themes of identity and self-discovery, as Slide navigates the challenges and opportunities that come with living in Polis. In a city filled with diverse individuals and endless possibilities, Slide must grapple with questions of who he is and what he wants. Johnson explores the nuances of personal identity and the transformative power of self-discovery, making for a compelling and introspective reading experience.

The pursuit of freedom and happiness

At its core, Pay as You Go is a story about the pursuit of freedom and happiness. Slide and other characters in the novel are constantly striving for a sense of fulfillment and contentment, often seeking it in the bright lights and bustling streets of Polis. Johnson examines the various paths individuals take in the quest for freedom and happiness, inviting readers to reflect on their own desires and aspirations.

The reality of dreams and aspirations

Dreams and aspirations are powerful motivators that drive individuals to overcome obstacles and pursue their goals. However, Pay as You Go also explores the reality of dreams, acknowledging that they are not always easily attainable. Through Slide’s journey, Johnson showcases the resilience and determination required to chase one’s dreams while also acknowledging the potential disappointments that may come along the way.

The contrast between reality and fantasy

Finally, Pay as You Go highlights the contrast between reality and fantasy. In the dreams and desires of its characters, the novel presents a world of endless possibilities and excitement. However, as the characters navigate the complexities of city life, they come face-to-face with the harsh realities that can accompany these dreams. Johnson skillfully portrays this tension, offering readers a thought-provoking exploration of the interplay between reality and fantasy.

Influences and Inspirations

Other big-city literature

As an author writing about life in a metropolis, Eskor David Johnson drew inspiration from other works of big-city literature. He looked to the portrayals of vibrant city life found in classic novels like “The Great Gatsby” and “Invisible Man.” These works served as touchstones for Johnson, guiding him in capturing the essence of urban living while infusing his own unique perspective and voice.

Writing teachers and their advice

Johnson’s writing teachers played a significant role in shaping his approach to storytelling. One teacher in particular emphasized the concept of “more is more,” encouraging Johnson to embrace the picaresque mode of storytelling. This advice resonated with Johnson, leading him to craft a narrative that captures the energy and multiplicity of life in a city like Polis.

Personal experiences in New York City

Although Johnson ultimately chose to fictionalize New York City, his personal experiences living in the Big Apple undoubtedly shaped his understanding of urban life. His time in the city allowed him to observe the dreams, desires, and disappointments of its residents. Drawing from these experiences, Johnson was able to create a vivid and authentic portrayal of city living in Pay as You Go.

Writing Process

Exploring different versions of Slide

Developing the character of Slide required multiple iterations and revisions. In earlier versions of the novel, Slide was portrayed as wiser and more worldly, but ultimately, Johnson found this version to be less enjoyable. He wanted to capture the sense of wonder and wanting that comes with living in a big city, so he made Slide slightly stupider but braver. This adjustment allowed Johnson to create a protagonist with relatability and a sense of genuine discovery.

Finding the right balance between intelligence and wonder

Creating Slide as an ingenuous but resilient character required finding the right balance between intelligence and wonder. Johnson wanted Slide to possess a genuine sense of curiosity and awe for the world around him. At the same time, he had to ensure that Slide’s intelligence was not overshadowed, allowing him to navigate the challenges and complexities of city life. Striking this balance was crucial in developing a protagonist who would resonate with readers and guide them through the captivating world of Polis.