Teaser or My Excuse for Delaying a Post

August 16, 2010

Tomorrow, I hope, I will post my thoughts on David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. In the meantime, (as if you have nothing else to do if I delay a post for a day) please enjoy these David Mitchell interviews:

Barnes and Noble interviews David Mitchell.

John Self interviews interviews David Mitchell (curiously, says that historical writers are always in danger of writing bad sentences like this: “’Shall I light the room with the whale oil lantern, Madam, or will it be the pig tallow candles tonight?’” but very early in this novel, writes: “The old whale-oil lantern sways and hisses.” Okay, the second is better, but…)

The Bat Segundo Show: You really should check out The Bat Segundo Show whenever you want an interview. He is entertaining and manages to spark some interesting comments. Plus, the name of his show is borrowed from Mitchell’s Ghostwritten.

Interview with David Vann, author of Legend of a Suicide

June 6, 2010

David Vann has been kind enough to respond to my interview-by-email. This despite his having already submitted to a number of excellent interviews at much more distinguished locales, such as dovegreyreader, Notes From the Underground, The Writer’s Pet, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Booktrust, and The New Yorker. Thank you, David.

Of the interviews to which I have linked, I particularly recommend dovegreyreader which manages to convey, in only three questions/answers more about David and Legend of a Suicide than all the others, plus mine, combined. Great stuff.

But David and you are here, at the moment. David is a class act and a writer to watch, so I hope you enjoy the interview.

Question #1:

If you have a fish tank, what fish are in your fish tank? Alternatively, if you had a fish tank, what type of fish would you most want to have in it?

I don’t currently have a fishtank, but I’ve had a lot of them, and I’ve always loved clown loaches. I had a fiddler crab that had a game with one clown loach, who would lie down and let the crab crawl over. In saltwater tanks, I like clown fish (different than clown loaches). They’re kind of mean, though. Back to freshwater, I was always big into the bala shark, and I liked the archer fish.

Question #2:

As a child, could you see Russia from your house? I assume so, which must have influenced your literary development. Do you have a favorite Russian/Soviet writer(s)?

Ha. Adak Island was pretty close. In Ketchikan we were right next to Canada. I’ve read a lot of Russian writers, and they’ve definitely had a big influence, mostly Chekhov and Dostoevsky, but also Tolstoy, Turgenev, etc. It’s difficult to be influenced in style by writers in translation, but Chekhov especially has been an influence for dramatic structure.

Question #3:

Name one of your favorite comedic writers. Of books authored by that favorite, which one did you enjoy most and/or with which of those books would you recommend readers begin?

I like Bill Bryson for comedy, though some find him mean. Lost Continent was my favorite, I think. David Sedaris is a great comedic writer, obviously, and I loved Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. I also loved the opening of Animal Husbandry by Laura Zigman. Woody Allen has some very funny stories, such as “The Kugelmass Episode.”

Author of Legend of a Suicide

Question #4:

Legend of a Suicide has suicide at its center and your next book of fiction, Caribou Island (due out in 2011), will have a murder/suicide at its center. Do you have a favorite work(s) of fiction, other than your own, that involves a suicide?

There’s a great story titled “The Point” by Charles D’Ambrosio, and “Noon Wine” by Katherine Anne Porter, one of my favorite novellas. Caribou Island is mostly about a marriage, by the way, more than it’s about suicide. It’s set on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, and the marriage isn’t going well.

Question #5:

In Legend of a Suicide, James “Jim” Fenn seems unable to achieve anything constructive. All his plans go awry, his intentions (good and bad) are almost uniformly thwarted. This is particularly evident in the novella at the center, “Sukkwan Island”. I think the feeling that, say, camping trips or woodworking projects never quite come together as the father-son imagined is common in father-son relationships. Jim’s fecklessness seems deeper and more central to his character and the events that build to tragedy than in the ordinary father-son project or adventure. Did Jim (the character) tend to focus more on the failures or did he just hit a stretch in which, for whatever reason, he could not manage those small day-to-day successes we all need?

In real life, my father went to sea in a new commercial fishing boat without an experienced captain or crew. He felt he could just do it, and he nearly died out there. He also took us rafting once on a class-5 river in Alaska after a big rain and we nearly all died. He had a feeling that he could just do things, and that’s part of what gets the fictional Jim in trouble, too. The fictional Jim is also distracted by his ex second wife, Rhoda, wanting to get back together with her and blaming her for his despair. So he’s not able to see any project clearly or able to see his son clearly. And protagonists are supposed to have things go wrong. That’s the way we’ve been writing for at least 2,500 years. The protagonist runs into a series of obstacles. Nothing ever goes well. If all goes well, there’s no story.

Question #6:

In your interview with dovegreyreader, you indicated that, ideally, you would live in New Zealand from December through May. You also indicated that you are currently limited to about six weeks there each year due to teaching obligations in the United States. Do you have much connection with the writing community in New Zealand and/or do you have a favorite New Zealand writer (to plug)?

I just visited Victoria University in Wellington to teach a couple classes and give a reading. Bill Manhire and Damien Wilkins, two teachers there, gave me a tremendous welcome and also are wonderful writers. I do feel that I’m finally getting to meet a few New Zealand writers. I also met Rachel King last year, and C.K. Stead recently at Oxford for the Sunday Times Short Story Award. And I’ll be in New Zealand for a longer time next year, teaching only fall semester in the US.

Question #7:

What have you most wanted to be asked in an interview, but have not been asked?

I’ve been asked so many things now, I think most has been covered. But nobody has ever asked me about the variation in style between the stories in Legend of a Suicide, I think. I’d be curious to see a review really focus on that question. The idea was to form a debate between stories not only in content but also in style.


Thanks again, David. I really enjoyed your book and your responses. Perhaps, we can do it again with your next book. I will be looking forward to it.

Interviews: Geoff Dyer and Graham Greene

August 28, 2009

The Asylum has a wonderful interview with Geoff Dyer here, if you missed it the first time around.

[Updated courtesy of John Self (see comments)] Jim Crace, incidentally in the queue here at Hungry Like the Woolf, has not interviewed Geoff Dyer. A completely separate and unrelated Crace has conducted, however, a very good interview of Dyer in the Guardian. Paris Trance is not the topic, but the second Crace does dribble out some interesting bits about the sex scenes.

Dyer gives a little insight into Luke and Paris Trance while being interviewed by Jed Lipinski for The Brooklyn Rail.

The Paris Review does have available for free its interview of Graham Greene. It is, as almost all their interviews are, outstanding.

Interviews: Gina Berriault and Don DeLillo

August 21, 2009

Gina Berriault gave few interviews. One I could find on-line is this radio interview on NPR (7:00).

If you care to sign up for a free trial of some sort, apparently you can get to a widely cited interview from the Literary Review. I did not sign up, so feel free to share if you do…..

Due to the dearth of Berriault interviews, here is a link to a short bio of Gina Berriault at the Rhea Award for the Short Story.

Discussing Libra, DeLillo said: “But fiction can counteract some of the ambiguity and try to rescue history from its confusions. Stories are a consolation; fiction can be a balm.” The New York Times (July 19, 1988) (free access, login required).

The Don Dellilo Society has a comprehensive listing (often with helpful links) of DeLillo interviews. Peruse at your leisure.

Another list of DeLillo interviews, with fewer hyperlinks, can be found here. The interview list is part of Don DeLillo’s America, a website devoted to the author.

Author Interviews: William Maxwell and Sherwood Anderson

August 14, 2009

NPR has an interview of William Maxwell conducted by Terry Gross. You have to listen to it.

Charlie Rose has a William Maxwell interview (video).

Finally, Frances Kiernan wrote a nice article about her relationship with William Maxwell the editor.

As for Anderson, interviews are in short supply, but check out the Sherwood Anderson Foundation for some interesting resources. It is great that the royalties from the sales of books by this renowned literary mentor are used to help writers. If you read nothing else at the site, this recollective essay by Anderson’s grandson is excellent.

A Canadian writer/blogger posts a short article by Anderson entitled “An Apology for Crudity”. Good stuff.

As a final alternative to an interview, try this short story: “The Egg” by Sherwood Anderson.

Interviews: David Mitchell and Paul Bowles

July 30, 2009

I think you can find all the information you are likely to want on Paul Bowles through PaulBowles.org, a link helpfully provided by a commenter.

There are a number of David Mitchell interviews out there. This one from 2000 was interesting. At the time of the interview, he had only published Ghostwritten.

Here is another interesting interview conducted just after the release of his second novel. In the interview, he talks about Ghostwritten.

ReadySteadyBook is a great literary site to check regularly. You can start with this link to their David Mitchell interview.

Dos Passos and Marquez Interviews

July 23, 2009

The Paris Review comes through with an excellent inteview (1969) of John Dos Passos.

The always fantastic Virginia Quarterly Review has a fascinating interview (1977) with Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

This is another good Marquez interview (1988) and explains how he came up with the ice at the circus scene.

To even the playing field, I recommend this short but delightful essay on Dos Passos at the Dos Passos Review. It is an essay about an interview with Dos Passos, so it qualifies.

Bellow and Ozick Interviews

July 16, 2009

The Paris Review has excellent author interviews, if you are into that sort of thing. Their Cynthia Ozick (1987) interview is here. They have a Saul Bellow (1966) interview, but you have to make a purchase to access it.

Bookslut has a great Cynthia Ozick interview.

Here is an an interesting interview of Saul Bellow by Ramona Koval (scroll down to get to it).

I enjoy interviews like this, so I plan to make a theme of providing links to interviews of the authors I have reviewed in a week. I hope you at least occasionally enjoy.