FQ: What inspired you to write this story?
CYCHOLL: I always joked with my dad (who was in family medicine for almost forty years) that when he died, I was going to assume his identity and start doctoring. I think he only half-believed me. He died in 2007. My brother is presently a family doc in our hometown. I have enormous respect for my dad’s and my brother’s work, the range of conditions that they have treated, particularly in COVID-tide. That world of rural and small-town life has always engaged me as well. So many writers describe it charmingly, leaving out its challenges—the family meannesses, the secret histories, and personal and cultural isolation. Jane Smiley got that in A Thousand Acres. Bonnie Jo Campbell’s stories don’t back away from those forces. Laird Hunt’s work, too.
FQ: The ending of Rx left a few unanswered questions. Will there be a sequel?
CYCHOLL: He just seems to melt into the landscape, right? I wanted to explore the character’s capacity to just rise up out of the land and recede back into it. That is such an elemental aspect to the American voice, no matter its bluster. How the land and its violent history just swallow those voices. I don’t expect Rex to return, although I anticipate that his voice will. Most likely in Chicago, D.C. or Mexico.
FQ: I noticed that you have written and published several poetry books, including The Bonegatherer, over the years. What made you decide to transition from writing poetry to writing fiction?
CYCHOLL: I always feel like a fiction-writer disguised as a poet. I’m intrigued how characters develop a sense of voice. The long poem as a form gives space to that exploration of voice. That capacity for voice and its shifts is at work in each of my Illinois poems—voices and forms cycle through each, testing how place and its dislocating violences define them. The poet and translator Charles Boer called that attachment to a “local epic” the “annalic.” A distinctly American voice speaking in place. That propels my storytelling in the long poem.
FQ: Are any of your characters based on real people?
CYCHOLL: So much of Rx’s world reflects the small-town medicine my dad practiced in a town square storefront in Cisne, Illinois. He still did some house calls and delivered babies until the cost of malpractice premiums made that economically unfeasible. He practiced in one of the smallest hospitals in downstate Illinois. That’s the world of the novel—reset in southern Minnesota, a rural town that reflects the life of Blue Earth, a town where I did a pastoral internship in the early 1990s. I wanted to explore how political, economic and social forces have redefined that world.
FQ: You're also a professor of writing and literature. What advice do you give your students (or any aspiring writer) if they want to begin a career in writing?
CYCHOLL: Write. Even if you don’t feel like you have enough time. Rx’s short chapters reflect that reality—trying to find time to assemble a novel in short spaces of time. I also work in a range of forms. That can be very helpful when you feel stuck or “blocked.” You can move into another project where you feel things are developing.
FQ: Who are your favorite authors?
CYCHOLL: Barry Hannah and Michael Anania have had great impact on how I imagine the play of voice and sentence in my writing. The contemporary fiction writers who have a lot of influence on the way that I think of narrative are Ling Ma, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Alex Shakar, Valeria Luiselli, Aleksandar Hemon, and Dodie Bellamy. Each a very different kind of storyteller, but I owe a debt to each one’s work in Rx.
FQ: Were there any parts of writing Rx that were particularly difficult for you to write? And if so, how did you get through it?
CYCHOLL: In terms of writing, the short chapter structure was challenging. I wanted to engage the country’s disintegration, explore how that impulse has always been a part of the makeup of American history, politics and culture. How do you make it hold together? That disorder reflects the novel’s jumps, fits and starts.
FQ: Do you have any new writing endeavors that you’re currently working on that fans of your writing can look forward to reading?
CYCHOLL: The fourth installment of my Illinois poems, Prairied, will hopefully be available soon. It’s an exploration of water and memory. I’m also working on a mystery set in Chicago.