You’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately?
They always ask the same things, right?
Yep. They usually start off by pointing out that my work is dark, and then follow with a serious of questions trying to normalize the fact that my work is dark. I often get a feeling the interviewer is concerned for me.
(laughs) Well, we’ll try not to do that.
Great. I appreciate it.
I know you pretty well, right?
I thought I’d ask only about things no one could ever know just by reading your book. And ask you nothing about the craft of writing.
Okay–I’m scared, but let’s do it.
First question. Is it true you were almost the “redrum” kid, Danny, in the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining.
That’s true. For some reason they had a casting call in Chicago and my mom sent in a picture of me. I was really young, maybe four years old, but I remember going downtown and talking to a bunch of strange people. I still have the photo my mom sent in, and the letter from the studio saying I was a finalist for the part.
In that photo you’re holding a cat, squinting badly, looking vaguely like you’re about to eat the cat. Why so sinister looking?
I think the squint did it for me. When I was three, a stray cat scratched out my left eye. I had to have some serious surgery to save the eye, even though I’m legally blind in that eye now. For several years after the surgery, my eye was very sensitive, giving me a serious Popeye face. Cute kid with a Popeye face equals creepy.
But you didn’t get the part.
Have you ever wondered why your mom thought it was a good idea to have you try out to be in a horror film?
She said she liked the book.
That’s not strange?
No, I liked the book, too.
And the movie?
The movie is great. Except for Danny. They got the wrong kid for that part (winks).
Your parents took you to a lot of movies as a kid?
Yeah, they took me to some great movies. Whatever movie they were going to see they just took me along. I remember seeing All the Presidents Men when I was five years old. I mean I remember it, remember thinking it was an awesome movie.
You understood it all?
Not the political stuff, but I felt the tension and could read the actors’ emotions. People have so little faith in kids today, like if you make them feel something other than the warm-fuzzies they’ll explode. My parents took me to great movies, even if intense. I saw Tender Mercies, Apocalypse Now, Mad Max –just to name a few–all at a young age. I think I’m a writer in part because my parents took me to so many amazing movies.
So your parents did a good job?
I had the greatest parents in the world. I thank the lord regularly for my parents, who are still my biggest fans and supporters.
Your wife has been a huge support, too?
Yes, I owe my wife everything. From the start she supported me and made us make decisions that would help my art/career.
And she loves your work?
Rochelle and I have a very similar aesthetic. Last Valentine’s Day, I told her to pick which movie she wanted to see, and she decided she wanted to see The Road. So we went and saw The Road and then had some sushi. That’s how we roll. It was a great night.
But people reading this will just think you’re freaks.
We’re normal people. We have three kids, constantly go to school events, even go to church sometimes. My wife teaches grade school. We just like intense stories. We both like stories that make us feel something.
You met her at the zoo?
Alan: Yep. They were feeding the komodo dragon and a bunch of people were standing around watching it eat a rat. I saw this beautiful woman and went and stood by her and made some wise crack and she smiled at me and our eyes met and it was OVER. A year later we were married.
And now you live in Boise, Idaho?
That’s right. Good ol’ Boise. Very different from where I grew up. Nice place. Beautiful land in all directions, very cool writing scene.
But it’s not a place for a city boy?
(laughs) No. A friend asked me to go mountain biking and I thought that meant we’d ride our mountain bikes along the river and maybe get some beers or something. Next thing I knew I was riding straight down a foothill at like 80 m.p.h. and I crashed into a gully and slid through a batch of poison ivy. It was terrible. I itched for weeks. The same friend took me camping. I figured we’d park the car, make a fire, eat some s’mores, that kind of thing. Instead we drove into the mountains, hiked ten miles, and camped beside a pristine lake. I was exhausted and we couldn’t have a fire (we were in a draught that summer and forest fires were a huge risk) and I only wore a short-sleeved shirt and it got down to forty degrees (this was July, mind you), and I just about froze to death. My friend was in his stocking cap and fleece, saying things like, “The universe is sooo beautiful” while I was shivering, and on full alert waiting to fight Sasquatch if he stepped out and tried to eat my face.
But you grew up in a tough place?
There are tougher places, I guess, but, yeah, it was tough. I grew up in Hazel Crest, a working class town in the southland area of south Chicago. It was a great place to grow up, lots a laughs. But the people I grew up with prided themselves on being tough. It was a way of living, a worldview.
Unless you’re in the woods of Idaho?
(laughs, nods) I was often the only white kid on my basketball team, and we’d travel to schools where I was the only white kid in the entire gym. During one game, at a school that was our biggest rival, I remember one of the opposing teams’ fans yelling out, “Kill the whitey!!” It sounded like he meant it, too. I was scared to death, but I finished the game. You don’t wilt, don’t quit. You finish the game. That’s being tough. Where you’re at doesn’t really matter.
But you don’t camp much, right?
It’s not my thing. Idaho has a lot to offer a person. I love its natural beauty, love taking a train up through the mountains, love to have cocktails overlooking a beautiful lake. But I’m not the guy who finds restorative peace in the wilderness. I’m restored by art, by books and movies and plays and music. My son is an incredible jazz singer and I love going to our local jazz club and hearing him sing. I’m restored by my family and a good meal and a good story. I’m forty-years old. I used to try to reinvent myself, try to become a different version of myself, like when I read A River Runs Through It and wanted to be a fly fisherman and went out and bought fishing gear and clothes and everything. It was ridiculous. It didn’t work. Each to their own, but I found fishing to be boring. So I don’t fight it anymore. I just wear my hats and ties and Stacey Adams shoes and enjoy my life the best as I can in my own skin.
Is it true that your neighbor from back home is a hip-hop star?
That’s true! I find this totally cool. His name is David Kelly, though he goes by the moniker Cap D. He’s the smartest man is the hip-hop game. He’s a poet, an important intellectual worldview. His new album PolyMath is getting all kinds of crazy attention. He was recently featured in an article in the New York Times. It just kind of blows my mind that two guys who lived right next door to one another would go on to succeed as artists, two guys from Bob-O-Link Road both featured in the New York Times in the span of three months. I’m very proud of Dave/Cap!
Okay, are you ready for the speed round?
Is it true your childhood pet was eaten by a German shepherd?
Yes. Our toy poodle, Bourbon, a gift from an aunt, was attacked by a big German shepherd that was a guard dog for a nearby truck-lot. The dog ran free and terrorized the neighborhood, chased us all the time, bit my brother once. We figured it thought our poodle was a rabbit or something and just tore into him. It was awful.
Is it true that the legendary Chicago columnist, Mike Royko, once cursed you out?
True. I was trying to get him to take me on as an intern. I thought he’d appreciate gritty Chicago persistence and kept coming at him after he’d said no about six times. He chewed me out, called me “Corn Boy” (I went to the University of Iowa). It’s one of the greatest things that ever happen to me. I mean it was just kind of perfect.
Instead of wearing those tight padded bike shorts like everybody else in Boise, is it true that you adhere maxi pads inside the crotch of your regular gym shorts?
Is it true you could slam dunk in high school?
Once upon a time I was very fast and could jump very high.
And you could dance like James Brown?
Is it true you watch a movie a day?
Not quiet a movie a day, though I’ve kept a movie log for the past fifteen years, and over that time I’ve watched 3,041 movies, which averages out to 202 movies a year.
It’s my understanding that you want to hunt ghosts?
True. I’m working on an opportunity to go on a ghost hunt with professional ghost hunters. I don’t know what I believe and I want to go find out. I’d love to go investigate a real western ghost town. There are many in Idaho, old played-out mining towns left to rot. I like confronting my fears, so long as it’s also fun. I think this will be fun. Maybe it will. I hope…
If you were to win the lottery, what would you do for a living (other than write more books)?
I would design haunted houses. I’m passionate about haunted house. The month of October is my favorite month. But I’d also design a great walk-through style attraction for different holidays. I would make the greatest Christmas/Holiday attraction ever made, an entire forty-minute North Pole adventure that ended with a roller coaster zippin’ you to get your kid’s picture taken with Santa. It would bring me great joy to completely ruin the “mall Santa” experience, which is one of the worst traditions we have as a people.
You watch The Lawrence Welk Show? Earnestly? That’s weird, right?
It’s cheesy, but a great show. I wish we had a show like it now. My four-year old daughter wanted to take tap dance lessons to be like Arthur Duncan (their featured dancer). If you can look past the bubbles and goofy costumes, it’s wonderful, timeless, entertainment. And…I’m a bit of an old soul, I guess. I generally get along well with older folks. I love polka. Get me to an Oktoberfest with a good polka band and a stein of beer and I’ll smile my biggest smile.
What’s your favorite game(s) to play with you kids?
I love playing Scrabble with my son, who is fourteen, and my daughter, who is eleven. We love “real” games; Monopoly, Risk, Apples to Apples, Pictionary… We’re kind of old-fashioned. We have a Wii game system and it just collects dust. With the girls, and especially my four-year-old, I love to play “salon”. We have an old barber chair in our house and we pretend that she owns a salon. She has a cash register and everything. I pretend to come in for a haircut and we go through this elaborate play of sorts, and she does my hair. I find it incredibly funny and sweet and peaceful.
Your wife is concerned that some day you will be the guy who wears a white suit and red socks every day. Should she be concerned?
White suit? No.
Do you think we’ve normalized you enough that if someone reads your book they won’t be concerned for you?
Not a chance. People love being concerned for you. It’s what people do best.
Are you a happy man?
The happiest man alive. Don’t let the stories fool you.