Isn’t a “self-interview” an exercise in narcissism?
I like to masturbate. There’s nothing narcissistic about that.
You seem a little cranky, have I caught you at a bad time?
I left my reading glasses on an airplane so everything on my computer screen is migraine-inducingly minuscule and yeah, I’m fucking jet-lagged.
Always with the bad words.
There are no bad words.
Go anywhere fun?
I was in Lisbon. Portuguese wine is excellent.
Do you know any good airplane jokes?
You’ve written five novels with one word titles. Why the one word?
My first book was called Moist because I was thinking about anticipation, the idea that when a person or, in this case the city of Los Angeles, is on the verge of something exciting that their blood pressure increases, their pores open, their hands become clammy or they get wet. It was about desire and change and that something amazing was about to happen.
I thought it was a “crime novel.”
There is a crime in it, but it’s not what the novel is about. Defining art or literature by genres helps bookstores organize their shelves, otherwise it’s a meaningless distinction.
The one word titles?
My second book was called Delicious because it’s about a catering chef in Honolulu and his identity crisis. Am I a chef? A Hawaiian? What does identity mean? After that my publisher insisted that I use one-word titles for my novels because I “had a thing.” Not that I mind. One word is all you need.
In France your books are hailed as social satires and important critiques of American hegemony and the culture of capitalism. Please explain.
The French look at my work in a totally different way than the American literary world. But then in France “genre books” are considered “literary fiction” and are expected to be about ideas as well as emotions.
Are you using air quotes?
But most people think your books are funny. If you’re critiquing capitalism or sexual politics or whatever why write comedies?
I think books should be entertaining. A novel can be fun to read and still be about something dark or complex or transgressive.
There’s a lot of sex in your books.
There’s a lot of sex in the world.
You also write non-fiction. Why did you start doing that?
I just follow the story and let it take me where it takes me. With Heart of Dankness, I went to the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam as background research for my novel Baked. Once I met the real people who hunt down rare strains of cannabis, well, it just seemed like a natural extension of the story I was already writing. The book I’m currently writing Naked At Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in an Anti-Textile World came about accidentally. I was talking with Jamison Stoltz, my editor at Grove/Atlantic, about these odd subcultures that exist in a kind of quasi-legal Venn diagram overlap with “normal” society and the next thing I knew I had a book deal. And it turns out that I really enjoy writing non-fiction.
Does that mean you’re going to nudist colonies naked?
Yes. I am now an expert at applying sunscreen to my scrotum.
Any books we should read?
I’m a big fan of Canadian writer Lisa Moore. She’s got a new book coming out in January called Caught that looks awesome. I also loved Tom Drury’s Pacific. For non-fiction I’m a big fan of Michael Paterniti’s The Telling Room which I raved about in a review for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
MARK HASKELL SMITH is the author of five novels: Moist, Delicious, Salty, Baked, and Raw: A Love Story (all published by Grove/Atlantic) and the non-fiction book Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers and the Race to the Cannabis Cup (Broadway Books). His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Vulture. He lives in Los Angeles.