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RuizCamacho_color-2Antonio, congratulations on your recently published novel Barefoot Dogs!

Thank you! It’s not a novel, though. It’s a collection of short stories.

 

Oh. I was told your book tells the story of a single family in exile, so.

Yes, Barefoot Dogs revolves around the Arteagas, an affluent family from Mexico City who must flee the country after their patriarch is kidnapped. But their saga is told through short stories–each one from the perspective of a different member of the family, or some of the housekeepers who worked for them back in Mexico, as they face exile.

 

It’s not a novel then.

Technically, no.

 

That’s a bummer, man. We’ll keep this short, then. Haha.

Fine by me.

J_Rubin_Color_6x7Has it started yet?

Shhh, shut the fuck up.

I’m gonna do the asking around here if you—

 

Your novel is about an impressionist, Giovanni Bernini. Who does he impersonate?

Great question. As a child, he has no control, really, over whom he impersonates. Then as he gets older, he starts to rein it in. At first, I think, he’s drawn to people who seem especially alive, charismatic. As he gets older, he prizes self-sufficiency. His word is “unrequiring.” He’s so malleable that he envies people who aren’t. He eventually becomes this very cold character, this nightclub owner named Bernard, in order to save himself from feeling too much, probably.

saad 2You’ve never been to Iraq. You ain’t Iraqi. What the hell is your problem?

Escape from Baghdad is not a travelogue. It’s not a factual account of the war from the eyes of the victor. It is, as the name suggests, escapism, a fantasy, a depiction of the ‘other’.

 

Sticking up for the losers, eh?

Well it’s very easy to tell heroic stories about winners. Those are things people want to hear, but it’s boring. It doesn’t cover anything new, it becomes formulaic. At the same time, I think a straight up tragedy has little value to a reader, especially if you already know the story. I mean I know that Napoleon lost at Waterloo. I don’t really want to rehash that. If I’m rooting for Napoleon, I want a victory at the end. 

Elizabeth Evans by Steve ReitzYou struck the supposedly galvanizing “Wonder Woman Pose” for at least the requisite two minutes. You’re writing with your favorite fountain pen. Also, you’re making up the questions, here. What’s with the racing heart?

I’m so much more comfortable with writing fiction than writing about my fiction.

 

Maybe you’ll calm down a bit if you focus on how you came to write this story of addiction and female friendships and lovers and betrayal and the human negotiations that endlessly fascinate you.

I’d written before about intense female relationships. I knew I’d be driven to dive into the topic’s sublime pools and scary quicksand again, and, eventually, that particular obsession attached itself to the germ of a story that had haunted me for years.

claire fullerOur Endless Numbered Days – isn’t that the name of an Iron & Wine album?

Yes! Are you a fan too? Shall we skip the books and the writing and just talk about music? No? OK. It’s also the title of my debut novel. I wrote the book while listening to all of Sam Beam’s (also known as Iron & Wine) music on a loop and now when I put it on I’m ready to write. But it’s not just that I love his music, the title is also very appropriate to the story.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the biggest criticisms about your work is that it is gruelingly, at times overwhelmingly, dark. Why so sad?

When I first told people that Call Me Home was slated to be published, friends and acquaintances kept asking me, “Is it funny?”

“No,” I would say. “Not even a little bit. Not even for a second.”

This makes me laugh, but it’s true. I think I can be decently funny in person, on a good day, and I respect (and am fairly jealous of) anyone who can be funny on the page, but I’m not a humorous or light writer, often to a fault.

hallebutlerThere are a lot of conversations in this book. What’s your worst conversational habit?

I don’t like to talk about myself or what I’m doing because I find it embarrassing (or I’m afraid it will be embarrassing), and then I get annoyed when the person I’m talking to is going on and on about themselves, like I wish they were as embarrassed as I am, or like it’s impolite to not be embarrassed. But then I keep asking them questions about themselves, so what are they supposed to do?

JoshWool_Bookshelves

 

Sarah, tell me, is there anything more navel-gazing than a self-interview?

I was just wondering the same thing. If there is, I can’t imagine it.

 

Would you consider your inability to imagine it a personal failure?

One of many.

4582134Where have you been? Four years feels like a long time between books. Is that how long it takes you?

There was another manuscript I was working on for two of those four years – and I stopped when I found myself lost. I couldn’t figure out that spark of the story that had intrigued me in the first place. It was buried in multiple edits. Sometimes you have to know when to walk away.

 

So then you wrote The Grown Ups? New day, new idea?

I wish! I did the moping thing really well. I wasn’t pleasant to be around. I knew I would write again – but I didn’t know about what. The reality of my writing life is that I have trained myself to sit in a chair every morning, same time, to write. I had never experienced this scary lack of motivation, or the fear that I might not like the next idea either. It was like squinting into the sun. I had to face it – but I didn’t really want to.

Lynn Sloan by Chester Alamo-CostelloPrinciples of Navigation tells the story of a marriage. Isn’t marriage a kind of ho-hum topic?

While I enjoy reading about a boy stuck on a raft in the middle of the ocean with a tiger as much as the next person, what I like best are novels and stories about people who are recognizable to me. We are all surrounded by marriages. Some of us are even married. Marriage is a fundamental institution. And marriage is a real cauldron. It can protect the individual and it can bury the individual.

KardosAuthorPhoto 1-2014Your new novel is Before He Finds Her. What’s it about?

Melanie Denison is 17 and has lived her whole life in the Witness Protection Program. Now she’s pregnant and doesn’t want her child to live in fear like she has. So she sets out on a quest to find her father, who murdered her mother years earlier and is still at large.

 

Where’d you get the idea?

There’s a second narrative thread that tells the story of the antagonist (Melanie’s father) in the days leading up to the mother’s murder back in 1991. He is a secular doomsdayer, convinced of an imminent planetary cataclysm. This guy had been in my head for years, along with the question: What happens when you’re absolutely convinced the world is going to end—which would happen to solve all your problems in one fell swoop—and then the world doesn’t end?

 

I heard that the movie version of Before He Finds Her is currently in development with J. C. Chandor slated to direct, and Abigail Breslin and Ryan Gosling slated to star. Is that true?

Actually, no. Nothing is true about that.

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.