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stevehimmerGood morning. Your novel Fram is about people at work, more or less, but by the end of the story I wondered if some of your characters might need to seek new employment. So I’m going to ask you what Forbes says are the most difficult job interview questions.

Oh, um… okay?

 

Why is there a gap in your work history?

It hasn’t been that long, has it? What’s the usual time between books? I guess it feels like this one took a long time because the research for it and some of the ideas have been in my head for years. So I’d say I’ve been working on it in one way or another all along, even if it’s not clear on my résumé.

 

Tell me one thing you would change about your last job.

I don’t think I’d want to change it. My last book, I mean. There are things I sometimes wish I’d done more of or less of, like any writer, probably. But at some point I guess a book is as close to what you ideally want it to be as you’re capable of making it at the time and you have to accept that even though there might be another level to go to maybe you’re not going to get there. At least not this time. Does that sound defeatist? Like an apology for bad art? I don’t mean it that way.

Deji Olukotun by Beowulf SheehanDeji: I’m not sure what the point of another interview is. What can you tell me that Google can’t?

Bryce: Slow down, there, Deji. You’re way too pushy.

Deji: It’s a Nigerian quality. We like to get things done.

Bryce: You’re half-Nigerian. Anyway, not all Nigerians are like that. Some of them do yoga.

Deji: They were probably disinherited from their families. So, about my question–answer it.

Pattison 1The characters of all your novels are driven to find justice for horrible crimes with no help, and often outright opposition, from their government. Why have you chosen this dynamic for your books?

There is almost never justice in my books except for the makeshift justice wrought by people who have been abandoned by their societies. With my characters forced to navigate by their own innate sense of right and wrong I can explore justice in broader dimensions, including its spiritual and cultural context. The actors in these dramas come from sharply different cultures, with markedly different perspectives and motivations, but they are joined by the common goal of resolving terrible injustice. I have worked in many diverse cultures around the globe and am convinced there is a sense of justice ingrained in the human DNA — it is this instinct that drives my plots and empowers my characters.

OishiAuthorPhotos-17You say it took you 50 years to write your novel. What took you so long?

Fifty years ago, I was still a young man and didn’t have much to do, so I thought I would write the great Japanese-American novel. I thought it might a take a couple of years. But I had the time.

 

So what went wrong?

I needed a story. You know, drama with conflict, passion, pathos. Those kinds of things.

MM&JMTMichael McGriff: Though we never explicitly discussed Richard Brautigan during the writing of Our Secret Life in the Movies, he was and continues to be a huge inspiration for both of us. Looking back at our book, I see Brautigan’s fingerprints everywhere–from structure to style to ranges in tone. You’ve mentioned before that you read Brautigan early. Was there a particular book of his that grabbed hold of you?

RVincentWhat would you like people to know about you?

I’m a dystopian novelist who is really much more of an optimist than might appear.  Out of all the countries in the world, I think a major U.S. strength is its ability to rebound.  The danger is the great ideals the country was built upon can slip away after several generations.  My novel centers on a world where that has happened.

Photo on 11-13-14 at 9.49 AMAren’t miniature Shetland ponies wearing argyle sweaters the best?

!!!

 

What do the protagonists in your book do for work?

One of them is a county clerk, one is a drug addict, another is a drug dealer, another is an office worker, another is a porn star, yet another is a history professor, and the last leads survey groups for a multinational food conglomerate. But he quits.

photoSo a self-interview! Pressure?

Absolutely. I feel compelled to be witty and interesting. I feel compelled to write quirky questions. I am buckling under the pressure and stress-eating potato chips instead.

 

What kind?

Barbecue. Left over from a weekend barbecue, fittingly enough.

Lennon, J RobertOh, John, Why?

Wait, which thing?

 

I don’t know, all of it.

Yeah, no, sorry. I truly have no idea. I will say that it feels strange to actually ask myself, in public, that question, which of course I ask myself silently more than any other. Why did you just say that thing? What were you thinking? Why did you hit send? Are you an idiot? Are you out of your mind? Don’t you know that you can never take that back? You’ll always be the guy who did that. Your past is like a big wheeled cart, towering with reeking garbage, that you’ll have to haul behind you for the rest of your life, and it only ever gets heavier.

Roorbach_CMYK_HR (c) Sarah A. SloaneI happen to know that you love stories of maroonment, if that’s a word, and that you read Robinson Crusoe and the Bounty Trilogy multiple times as a kid.  Oh, and Swiss Family Robinson, which was made into a Disney movie back in the day, this family shipwrecked and alone, all those trips back out to the wreck to collect the stuff they’d need to make their new life in a tree house.  And that book Sand you loved in college, from Japan.  So claustrophobic, that guy who lived in a house at the bottom of a sand pit?  And that girl falls in one day, no great improvement for him?  Were any of these in the back of your head as you approached The Remedy for Love?

Bill: Yes, yes, I do love those stories.  That moment Crusoe sees the footprint in the sand and realizes he’s not alone.  And that story “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad.  I think you’d call it a novella now, a long story based on the author’s own experience. This kid goes to sea on a coal boat and somewhere in the far southern ocean the coal in the hold catches fire, and eventually the boat.  But that’s just half the adventure—the rest is getting back to England, which the protagonist manages, much as Conrad did.  You can’t rest for a second reading that thing.  And that’s just what I was going for, but boiled down to a simple snowstorm situation—nothing unusual for Maine—that spirals out of control. 

GinaBNahai 2How Long?

To write the book? Seven years.

 

Were you getting paid by the hour?

Yes. In gold bullion. So I held out because the price of gold’s been going up of late. That, and I couldn’t get the story right to save my life.

 

Which story is that? I stopped counting after the first dozen.

Yes, I realize there are many characters and each one has his own life and struggles, but the main story, about the value of Truth, is what took so long to shape.

Jac-Jemc-HeadshotWhat do you struggle with most in writing?

Time. Everything takes longer than I think it will, more drafts than I think it will. Then there’s the business and admin side of things that eats up so much free time. Then the joy of reading and supporting other people’s work. I also work a more-than-full-time job that’s entirely separate from my writing, as well as taking on smaller writing-type/teaching jobs from time to time. I function best when busiest, but I have a partner and family and friends I love so much, and I want to offer help and support to them, and I can’t really fathom turning them down in favor of writing most of the time.

RosnerBYJulia McNealWhat do you love/hate about being a writer?   

I get to do things like this — interview myself, I mean. Which is kind of a love/hate thing right away.  Because in this type of activity there is a temptation toward grandiosity and humility all in a single moment.  Because I have to wonder who really cares what I might ask myself and what the answers might be. Because when I post on Facebook that I’m going to do this and invite some help with questions, I actually receive some really intriguing and compelling suggestions. The point is, I truly enjoy (I am amazed at this!) being given the chance to investigate myself and to know that this is “my job.” Asking myself questions and trying to answer them is in fact a basic description of my full-time employment.

Author Karen KarboThe Diamond Lane was first published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1991, Overlook Press published a trade paperback in 1993. What’s it like to have a book go out of print, then be reissued in a gorgeous new edition with sexy French flaps, and an introduction by Jane Smiley?

Long before The Diamond Lane was published the first time, Dr. Egon Spengler prophesied that print was dead. And yet, it lives on. The only way print can continue to survive can is in beautifully designed editions like this new one from Hawthorne Books. So far, there’s no app that can completely satisfy the human need for the tactile experience, and if you’re a reader, eventually you’re going to tire of Kindle, that cheap floozy, and settle down with something you can gaze upon, you can feel and hold. Also, crack open a book and take a whiff. There’s no smell like that ink-on-paper smell. As far as being lucky enough to have Jane offer to write an introduction, I am humbled beyond measure. I have been a huge fan of hers since The Age of Grief. She’s one of our greatest contemporary writers, plus a kick ass horsewoman.

amina_gautier5How did you select the title for Now We Will Be Happy?

There’s a long and a short answer to that question. The short answer is that the title comes from Rafael Hernandez’s song “Ahora seremos felices,” which translates into English as “now we will be happy.” Hernandez was an important Puerto Rican composer of music; titling the collection after his song is a way in which I honor him.