Q & A with visiting author Kristopher Jansma

Kristopher Jansma’s new novel, “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards” follows a struggling writer across continents and years as he unfolds his stories of fierce competition with his “frenemy” in writing, and his romance with a beautiful actress that has never been fulfilled. Jansma will read from his novel at Watermark Books & Café this Saturday. An author meet-and-greet begins at 5 p.m., and a free reading and book signing starts at 6 p.m.

KM: The narrator is really unreliable, but as the reader, you still find yourself rooting for him. What is it about him that makes him relatable, despite all the untrustworthy things he does?

KJ: I’ve always loved unreliable narrators. This narrator was inspired a little by a book by Henry James called “The Aspern Papers.” He’s unreliable, but he’s also kind of intentionally manipulative. You root for them because they’re being honest about how dishonest they are with other people, and everybody loves that. We all love being told secrets. The narrator is deceptive, and he misleads everyone around him. But there’s something earnest at his core about the way he writes and the way he wants to be more like Jeffrey. I think there’s a way through the honesty he has with us that makes us want to like him, despite the fact that he’s basically going to be a terrible person.

KM: In the book, the narrator is told in college that he shouldn’t be a writer if he can avoid it. Have you ever been told that?

KJ: Yeah, I had a writing professor when I was an undergraduate. He was someone I really looked up to, and I went into his office. Fishing for a compliment, I went in there and I said, ‘What should I do? Should I go to graduate school for this?’ What he said to me was, ‘Look. If you see yourself being happy doing anything other than this, you should do that.’

You write every day for hours and hours without getting paid for it, trying to squeeze that time in between family, friends, jobs, school. There’s no guarantee that it’s ever going to go anywhere, even if you are very good at it. You have to have a lot of patience and kind of persevere through a lot of rejection.

It made me think a lot and it made me realize that what he said was right. And I was somebody who wasn’t going to be happy unless I was writing. I see my own students now, and I think I would pretty much tell them the same thing.

KM: There’s a passage in the book where the narrator talks about how the word for “leopard” is mistakenly swapped on the news for the word “tiger.” It speaks to how even if things are fictitious or a lie — if it’s said in a reliable way or repeated enough, it becomes a new truth.

KJ: That was something I stumbled across by accident as I was doing the research for that chapter. It fit so perfectly with how the narrator feels at that point. The further he goes down the path of believing that there’s no absolute truth, that everything’s arbitrary, that everybody’s conceptions and words for things are entirely malleable, the darker things get for him.

I think one of the big things I love about fiction is if you write something convincingly enough, you can make it true, or at least you can make people believe it. And that’s something that the narrator of the story is trying to wrap his head around. I think something he doesn’t get is that there has to be something honest underneath it if it’s going to stick, I guess.