March 31, 2010
DH: Derek Green came to my attention when three of my Facebook friends friended him on the same day. Who was this guy? A writer. I hastened over to Amazon to check him out and discovered his story collection, New World Order by the invaluable Autumn House Press. I was intrigued by the theme that holds the collection together: Americans working abroad in the new global order.
So I gambled a few bucks and bought the collection. This was a gamble I won. Derek is a born storyteller. He’s the kind of guy who you could sit down and have a beer with that you would forget to drink while he told you these tales about guys out of their country and mostly out of their depth. But let’s let Derek Green talk for himself. Here’s his WWFIL.
DG: My own addiction began early. I recall a steady habit of Scholastic paperbacks followed by the entire Hardy Boy Mystery Stories series—the latter in hardback editions sporting the shamelessly clean-cut cover art of the time. I couldn’t consume them quickly enough. My parents encouraged me, looking the other way as I moved on from such light fare to harder stuff: Isaac Asimov and Star Trek pulps, the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft, and a newcomer in those days, Stephen King. Like anyone else with a dependency, I used constantly—in the john, in my bedroom alone. Before school, after school, and during school. Wherever heartier boys exercised their limbs, I could be found with a book.
But it was not until high school that it occurred to me that I might not only consume: why not produce this stuff too? By then I had discovered George Orwell, an experience from which I have not yet fully recovered. I read Animal Farm and1984 at the dawn of the Reagan era and it seemed to my book-addled psyche that this was what I wanted to do. Forget the MBA yuppies of the age, chasing the almighty dollar in power ties and BMWs. I would write.
My reading became frightfully promiscuous from then on and remains only slightly less so today. I was moved to write (or try to) by The World According to Garp and Under the Volcano. These two books should not be read by an earnest young writer in the same summer. I remember the searing experience of discovering Blood Meridian and wondering how I would ever learn to write with McCarthy’s thundering cadences. (Short answer: I wouldn’t, and didn’t need to. Even McCarthy never managed it again.) I became hopelessly hooked on the hopped-up noir of LA Confidential andAmerican Tabloid, and equally infatuated with Elmore Leonard’s Detroit cool. (Can anything be more different from Get Shorty than the Melvillian excesses of Blood Meridian? The answer is no.)
I decided to learn to write short stories, so I read the pastel-covered Echo Press library of Chekhov and The Stories of John Cheever to find out what a short story was. Along the way I discovered Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina. I moved from fiction to the more potent forms of non-fiction: Richard Preston, Susan Orlean, Richard Rhodes, Jon Krakhauer. The list went on.
By the middle 1990’s I had grown confused (a trait common to addicts and to writers). I was still hooked on books but older and less tolerant of writerly poverty. Reagan was gone, Clinton was in, and it seemed like time to chase some bucks. (I was reading Michael Lewis at the time.) I donned that power tie, and offered my writing skills to the highest bidder. As a creative consultant, I traveled around the world, but never lost my secret urge to write. Then I read Bruce Chatwin. In Patagonia and The Songlines (channeled through The Sun Also Rises and the stories of Saki in ways that even I don’t fully understand) led me to see how I could write a book. Which I did. I even got it published.
These days reading remains a barely controlled addiction. Sometimes it takes exotic turns (for me at least): a newly-acquired taste for Haruki Murakami (Hardboiled Wonderland at the End of the World comes to mind) and a renewed admiration for Jorge Luis Borges (Ficciones) and the great Juan Rulfo of Pedro Páramo.
But I see signs of mellowing. I’m in my mid-forties now and like some middle-aged Dead Head, my pace has slowed. I find myself drawn to the longer and slower stories of Alice Munro. Tears swim into my eyes at odd times as I read the beautiful and elegiac and only occasionally overwrought prose of the wonderful Jim Harrison, most recently in Returning to Earth. (Harrison believes that heaven is a small cottage in the woods which you share with the dogs you’ve known in life.) Less interested in racking up new experiences, I am as likely to reread as to read.
And with this slower pace comes something unexpected: I am writing more. Longer, slower stories. Essays on travel and on food. Long notes to my children and my wife. Novels. Maybe now I am finally ready to emulate and, in my own humble way, create in others the feelings I have enjoyed all these years. Maybe.