Christopher Boucher is an associate professor of English at Boston College, managing editor of the college’s Post Road Magazine literary journal and the author of three novels. To make sure he isn’t left with any extra time on his hands, he’s also a faculty member of the OSU-Cascades Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, and recently served as Deschutes Public Library’s writer in residence, where he led a writing workshop and spent a day advising local writers one-on-one.
“I really love the world of books, and I love the gesture of getting writing out into the world both by helping other writers do that and doing that myself,” Boucher said. “They’re opportunities for me to participate in the act of writing at different points in the life cycle of writing. It’s been really helpful for me as a writer to have a different sense of how the process of publishing books works. It’s a symbiotic relationship between my pedagogy and my creativity.”
Perhaps this constant division of his time and talents provided some inspiration for Boucher’s latest novel, “Big Giant Floating Head,” which was released June 18. The tragicomic story blurs the lines between fact, fiction and fabulism as a character who also happens to be named Christopher Boucher struggles to come to terms with love and loss after the breakdown of his marriage. As his life begins to reflect his inner emotional turmoil, the fictional Boucher experiences a series of increasingly bizarre situations. He dates a woman with an invisible dog, sees an enormous floating head in the sky and contracts a mysterious illness that divides him in half.
“There’s an emotional truth that underpins and holds this weirdness and all these strange premises together,” Boucher said. “It was in the wake of my own divorce that I started to see the connective tissue of the book. A lot of the emotional challenges the character was experiencing, I was also undergoing at the time.”
While Boucher has also played with inventive structures and narratives in his previous two novels, “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive” and “Golden Delicious,” he takes even more creative risks in “Big Giant Floating Head.”
“I have a lot of fun in my writing with that line between nonfiction and fiction, and this book owns that duplicity and knowingly distorts it,” said Boucher. “It definitely felt like stepping out on a limb to give this character my name and explore what that meant. At this point in my career and my writing, I look for those limbs.”
Boucher earned his MFA in creative writing in 2002 from New York’s Syracuse University in New York. One of his professors and advisors was the short story writer and essayist George Saunders, who went on to win the 2017 Man Booker Prize for his experimental novel “Lincoln in the Bardo.”
“George Saunders would talk about his emphasis on the sentence, and I really took that to heart,” said Boucher, who describes Saunders as one of his heroes. “I’m really thinking at the language level.”
This focus has spurred a writing process that delays development of an overarching narrative arc. Boucher doesn’t imagine a book with a preexisting structure. Instead, his novels so far have been written in short bursts of one to two hours each day, squeezed in around the demands of his other jobs. Once he’s written several hundred pages this way, he steps back to take a higher level look at the material and visualize how the pages can fit together.
“I love to be surprised as a reader and a writer,” Boucher said. “It can still take me a long time to see how pieces cohere, but I’ve come to look for the surprises now. That’s just the way I need to work. I stay with the various strange moments and premises and then see in a few months or two years, how they hang together.”
Boucher is working on his next novel and has ambitions to try things he’s never done before. He also plans to be back in Central Oregon in November for the next intensive residency of the OSU-Cascades MFA program.
“For the first time in my life, I’m not teaching in the fall,” Boucher said.“I was awarded a fellowship at Boston College, which is an opportunity for me to give more five- to seven-hour writing days. I don’t have a solid deadline, but I hope to make a lot of progress by the end of the fall.”