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Chris Cleave

Dennis's picture Posted by Dennis

Chris Cleave

The Architect of the Trojan Horse that is Little Bee
Kasey Carpenter
Chris Cleave

I recently caught Chris Cleave in Dallas as he wrapped up a 35 day tour across the US promoting his second novel, Little Bee, now being released in paperback.  Little Bee is a New York Times Bestseller, shortlisted for the 2008 Costa Novel Award, nominated for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book, long-listed for IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

We scheduled an hour, and wound up chatting for about four.   We talked about Little Bee, the fear of screen adaptations (of his first book, Incendiary and the upcoming adaptation of Little Bee), rewriting Star Wars, what literature needs to learn from the music industry, and why being asked if you want the keys to the minibar at check-in is such a loaded question.  These are the highlights, culled from the audio:

KC:  So you came about the subject matter for Little Bee quite by accident?

CC:  Yes, actually.  And this is what provoked me so to write about it, because I didn’t come about this information by the BBC or the papers, but because I accidentally worked in an immigration detention center kitchen and didn’t know it was such a place until I sat out in the common area and talked to some of the detainees and other employees.  These people committed no crime, and are held, without reason other than being a refugee, for an indeterminable amount of time.  Even convicted felons have a release date, or a hearing date that they can look to.  I spoke with people who were detained there anywhere from two days to seven years, children even.  This was profoundly shocking to me.  They were seeking political asylum, which it is legal for them to do. I wanted this message out there, and I wanted it to be entertaining. I carried it around with me for years because I couldn’t really work out how to tell it, what voice to use, etc…

KC:  When and how did you figure that out?

CC:  While I was thinking about this story I was struck with the fact that these are two different worlds that share many common things.  The point of view of the refugee and the point of view of the western world.  So I knew I had to tell this story in a sort of dual personality, and that’s when I knew it would have to be Little Bee and Sarah.

KC:  Well I think your approach to your subject matter, your WHY you wanted to write, is what really made Little Bee click for me, you took an unpopular, unpalatable subject matter, and wrapped it up in a very entertaining way, it was a great Trojan Horse of entertainment and then *boom* you’ve got to start thinking about an issue that wasn’t even on your radar.  And you tell this dark subject matter via this effervescent, darling little child, and this interplay with the sophisticate western-world woman who is mired in all the problems of her life which we can “mock” but they both are experiencing real problems, albeit of two different stripes.

CC:  That’s the interesting thing, the western world dies of all these things like obesity, heart disease, and all of these things are consequences of access to relative wealth, yet another subset of the world dies because of the extreme lack of access to things that are perceived as relative wealth.  I’ve got very little sympathy for unhappy wealthy people.  With the caveat that if people are wealthy and unhappy, that is their own fault, whereas poverty is generally not the fault of an individual, and is generally inescapable – poverty isn’t their fault.  My whole point of the book is that choices you make in your relative comfort will kill you just as surely as people chasing you with machetes through the jungle.

KC:  That’s one of the great lessons we learn.  While feeling sorry for Little Bee, we realize that Sarah was no better off.  I knew people in the third world who prayed for people in the west who incurred huge debt, who chased material things and worked their lives away, absent from their broken families, for huge empty, septic homes, while these people we associate with a National Geographic spread are some of the happiest on earth, corrugated metal roof and all.

CC:  And that’s the moral question we get asked every single day, and as writer, or rather a storyteller, it is your job to spot these inequities no matter how great or small and put them into a format that asks the question.  For example, I’ve discovered while on this tour, every time you check into a hotel, I’ve checked into thirty in the last thirty-five days, they ask you, smilingly “would you like the keys to the minibar?”  That’s such a bloody loaded question!  Nothing in that minibar is good for you, and what they’re basically asking, is “has your level of decadence reached the point where, on your own, in your room, will you be drinking miniatures of whiskey?”  But what they are basically asking you is a very profound moral question, a personal one.  You have this Edvard Munch moment, “What do I say?”  That really encapsulates my view as a novelist, our job is to spot when deep moral questions are being asked of us.  Learning to say no to the minibar is my great moral triumph for today.

KC:  There was a point that I noticed between the two books, you seem to be interested in the strange bedfellows people gravitate towards in tragedy, but in both stories, those bedfellows turned out to be a rather negative experience for the individual, what was your thinking on that, was that a moral tell on your part?

CC: No.  [laughs] That’s very perceptive on your part I think…

KC:  I don’t know about that, it just struck me, that and I have some experience in that area.

CC:  Well it is, and what you say is true, in both cases a person’s life is essentially ripped asunder and they make this very inappropriate choice in someone to help them get out of that mess, and I think that is something that is really tragic…

"Little Bee' by Chris CleaveKC:  So you think it inappropriate? Or is it just what the person needed at that time?

CC:  Umm, I think it is what people DO. They are very vulnerable after their lives have been fundamentally shaken off course, they go through a period of six to eighteen months where their like children again, where they’re vulnerable to anyone and if they’re lucky, a white knight will walk into that situation and fix everything and be wonderful, but goodness as a writer, that’s not an interesting story is it?  Actually, you look at life and you realize there are people whose job it is to identify precisely the people who are vulnerable, and sell them things they don’t need, or get them into religions that aren’t real.  You see someone who is a mentor to someone who has been through a horrible stretch, say in a religious setting, and you can see that two ways:  one, isn’t that lovely, the church is there for them, or two, my god, can you not at least wait until the pieces of their lives have fallen back into place before you exploit their fragile minds?

KC:  Well, leveled lots are the easiest to build a house upon.  So, was it more of a plot choice for you then, these bad decisions?

CC:  It’s just what happens. I’m really sort of wedded to realism.  People in my books aren’t good or bad, they make these choices based on what is available to them, rather than on what they want. So they keep falling for the wrong people, and they sort of have to extricate themselves from that situation as well.  I hit my poor characters with these propulsive events that sort of kick the story off, and I take these people down to the floor – basically when you meet anyone in my novels, they are at their lowest ebb, and I hope that by the end of the novel I’ve built them up again.   They’ve either rightly or wrongly answered these moral questions the scenario proposes to them.  And that is what I really like about people, I think that is why I write about people, because I’m really impressed by their ability to build themselves despite their poor choices. 

KC: You’re two for two on novels that have been critically acclaimed and have gone straight to movies.  Do you think about the adaptation process at all? Is this kind of success at all intimidating?

CC:  I ignore it altogether; it’s the best thing for me really.  I can no more write a screenplay than I can paint a watercolor. I respect the screenwriter, but it isn’t for me.  I learned pretty early on that the movie business is a different business altogether, and the people in it are all smarter than me.  I like playing with people’s internal space, and it seems to me that each word in a screenplay has to work three times: it has to move along the scene that it is in, in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t feel like it is showing you the door, but then it also has to motivate a character that you might not have even met yet, and then it has to remind you of what has happened so far, because people’s attention spans are so short, and you only have about a hundred and ten pages of screenplay.

KC:  And it seems like the physical act of watching a movie is so much less immersive than reading a book.  You have to create a visual on the fly as your read, in your own subjective imagination of what the author is conveying, whereas in a movie, you’re being spoon-fed dialog and images that are someone else’s vision.

CC:  Agreed, I really respect what they do, but I’m a novelist.  I’m really interested in people’s interior states, I mean; I write these books where I try to make the reader be a copilot in the mind of the character, a very sort of first person experience.  I don’t see it as my thing to write a screenplay, but I am delighted when people take my stuff and do something else with it.

I was on a panel in Dubai recently with various writers, one of which was Vikas Swarup who wrote Q&A, which became Slumdog Millionaire, and the whole point of the panel was “what do you do when your book is adapted to a film?”

KC:  And everyone had a different opinion I suppose?

CC:  No, the overwhelming consensus was that if you are serious about writing novels, there is every chance that you should avoid writing screenplays.  It takes a very long time to do either, so pick one and go with it.  And this is a very serious artistic point:  as a writer, when you are writing a novel, it costs nothing but the cost of your time, that and the opportunistic costs of not writing another novel while you are working on the one.  But basically, I can live on $20k a year, so that’s what it costs to write a novel, for me.  And you can do wild things with a novel, you can experiment, you can throw new ideas into it, you can rip out bits of your own soul and plaster them onto the page, and it costs no extra to do that, you don’t need CGI, you don’t have to employ actors, you don’t need anyone’s permission, you don’t need a team of people who will tell you they will not finance chapter nine if you don’t write it in a particular way. You are absolutely unconstrained, and I think that is why a novel is so much an innovative and endlessly flexible, re-inventable art form.  It’s cheap!  Cheap and dirty.  You can pour your heart into it, and if it doesn’t work you can pour your heart out into another one, you know?  It’s endlessly malleable like that as an artistic space.  And I think the mindset of writing a novel is really out there, artistically it is about as far out as you can go, and I think that being involved in the process of writing a screenplay is just as artistically difficult, but it is a very different mindset, because you are having to think in the back of your mind, okay, how much will this scene cost the film? Who will back a movie like this if I simply have this scene that is a bit risqué?

KC:  You’re definitely on rails with that, you don’t get to choose your direction as much as you’d like.

CC:  I think as an artist who’s interested in these moral questions, and wants to tee them up in a new way every time, I’ve made this real conscious decision that novels are what I want to be doing, not screenplays, and not newspaper work either. 

KC:  I noticed that, you just recently decided to end your ongoing column at The Guardian.  Why was that?

CC:  Yeah, well, I just decided that I really want to give myself to writing some big novels, you know? I feel like I’ve got some big stories to tell, but they are going to be harder and harder to write because they are going to be better and better books, I think, but that means I have to throw overboard everything that is going to drag me back down to the earth, so I have to give myself this space to work in now, and that’s meant, yeah, I can’t really afford in terms of my time, to get involved in a movie, or a newspaper.  And I loved writing that column.  It was some of the most fun writing I’ve ever done, and I did that for two and a half years, I had no agenda whatsoever apart from making people laugh every Saturday morning.  But it’s another of the things I’ve had to throw overboard with my completely dedicating myself to the writing of these novels.  I’ve got four novels that I really want to write.

KC:  Four more?

CC:  Well, yeah, maybe more, but four that I know what they’re about, four at immediate attention.

Chris Cleave

KC:  So, are you an outliner, or are you more of a stream-of-consciousness kind of guy?

CC:  Hmmm.  That’s a good question actually.  [Long pause]  I know my theme, I know the moral question I’m wanting to deal with.  I say to myself, what’s the biggest story, because why wouldn’t I write about that?  For example in my last book Incendiary…

KC:  Wait, what’s your definition of “the biggest story?”

CC:  Well, it changes.  If it seems to me that there’s an issue that defines a historical period that we’re living through, then that’s the story.  So with Incendiary, it was what was being called the “war on terror,” which obsessed me, I mean, when you declare war on a noun, writers are definitely involved.  [Laughing] You can’t choose to be a noncombatant in this.  That for me was the biggest story in town, and now, the refugee crisis is that story.  There is this permeable boundary between what we call the developed world and the undeveloped, and that boundary isn’t getting any less permeable.  The crisis isn’t going away, so I thought when I was writing Little Bee, that was the biggest story in town.  Then after identifying the big story, then I look at why it is big, and define the central moral question, in Incendiary it was how much of our personal liberty are we prepared to give up in the name of security.  Simple question.    In Little Bee it was how much of our comfort are we prepared to give up to assuage other people’s desperation.  These are really simple questions.

KC:  With very difficult answers.

CC:  With very difficult answers, but those are the questions we need to ask.

KC:  Yes, they are the most compelling; they’re the ones that merit thought, not some of the more asinine questions out there that we deem “important.”

CC:  I’m really excited about working in that space.

KC:  Well the good news is that there isn’t any shortage of those questions.

CC:   Isn’t that great? It is an amazing world; I do find this world a good environment to write about, because of its quality of being sort of simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.

KC:  Bittersweet, that’s for sure.

CC:  Yeah, the world is incredibly funny, even when you’re falling to pieces.

KC:  That was one of the things I really appreciated about Little Bee, how you showed us that that kind of desperate humor wasn’t a luxury of the western world, but you showed that people in desperate conditions have humor, and it is oftentimes key to their survival.  You painted both Sarah and Little Bee as equals in that department.

CC:  Very true.  Interesting isn’t it, the value of money is very non-linear.  Whenever they try to do these quality of life indices, it’s amazing how few wealthy people are really happy.  [Laughs]  Yeah, money’s like body fat, you need a percentage, any more than that and it becomes an encumbrance, you give your life to managing it, you become its servant or else it kills you. 

KC: I read this great interview of Cormac McCarthy by the WSJ where he basically says all novels will be 150 pages, you won’t be able to sell 400 page books anymore, Pynchon will be unsalable.  Now I think, and secretly hope, that there will always be a sector of society, an element, that will invest time and effort in a good story.  Your thoughts?

CC:  Well when Cormac speaks, everyone listens.  That man is truly amazing.  I just hope that I’m producing my best work in my 70’s as he is now.  If I could be half the writer he is, I’d be happy.

KC:  Yeah, if I knew I could write stuff like that at 70, I’d be okay with everything that happens from now until then. Nothing would faze me.

CC: He’s amazing, definitely an inspiration to me. I think Blood Meridian is a near perfect novel.  Of course you can’t fault The Road either.

KC:  Not at all, I think that one speaks to me more than any other of his books, as a father.

CC:  And No Country was sort of his most accessible, broad market book, yeah? 

KC:  His refrigerator buzz, definitely.

CC:  Ah, Radiohead reference, nice.  But that scene where the sheriff and his deputy are assessing the carnage of a deal gone wrong and he says, “well this looks like trouble,” and he says “well, if it isn’t trouble, it’ll do until trouble gets here.”  Just brilliant.

KC:  I think that goes back to his West Texas experience too, we have a lot of dark humor in Texas, plenty of tongue and cheek stuff here, sheriffs really say such things, and they look at it with a similar disconnect.

CC:  I found that out this week, many Texans have this sort of graveyard humor about them.

KC:  Yep, a lot of us do, I think if goes back to coping.  Texas can be an oppressive place, in many ways.

CC: [Laughs]

KC:  You talked about the moral theme from Little Bee, I’m not 100% familiar with your activism, but what have you seen come out of that book in re: thinking on refugees?

CC:  Well, I’m all about giving people information in an entertaining way, and you know, I think that is what novels should do, I feel that I write for the same reasons that Dickens or Steinbeck wrote, your central theme, like it or not is political, but you have to make it palatable.

KC:  That’s just it; you can’t just throw the naked issue out there and expect people to care, sadly.

CC:  True, but it’s more than that, when the events change you, you have your own artistic response to those events, and you want to express that in the best way you know how, whether it is through painting or writing or whatever.  When Picasso painted Guernica, he wasn’t really doing it, I mean yeah he was doing it to make a statement, but also he’s doing it as a chronicle to his own reaction to horror, so it’s not that I sit down and I write these things to change people’s minds or to make a political point, but it has had a huge impact, and as far as I can work out, everyone in the UK has read it, everywhere I go out I see people reading it. In the park, on the train, wherever.

KC:  You ever just walk up to them and ask them what they think?

CC:  No, I have a rule that I never do that. No, never.

KC:  Awww, how can you resist?

CC:  I just think how badly that would freak me out if I was reading a book and the author walked up to me and asked me what I thought about it… No, I make the rule to never invade their privacy.  As a writer you are already invading someone’s life, but it is voluntary for them, they choose to let you in, on their terms, very one-way.  All I want to do is entertain people in a way I think is meaningful.

KC:  That seems like a good policy.  I have this huge beef about subjectivity, everyone reacts differently to a book based on their own circumstances in life, their past, whether they drink five cups of coffee a day or not, etc...

CC:   It’s just one man’s opinion at the end of the day, isn’t it?  I agree with your subjectivity on books, and novels are the ultimate “stop the clock” aren’t they?   They exist immutably in time and space, but at some point the form of one’s own life will be adapted to receive them.  I read Virginia Woolf’s books at school and got nothing out of them, but now, I guess along with Cormac, they are some of my favorite books, and I’m absolutely in love with them.  Sometimes I worry how I can be simultaneously in awe of Virginia Woolf and Cormac Mccarthy…

KC:  [Laughing] It makes perfect sense to me.  I don’t know what that says about us…

CC:  But there was a time when I didn’t understand either of their works. And I’m sure I’ll shift into another genre or author down the road, kind of grow out of them, I suppose. 

KC:  And that subjectivity isn’t lost on the subtleties of your work, again with Little Bee, we get the big issue, but you crafted it in a way, well, you nailed the voices, your kept the pace, and you reeled us into a story to where we, or at least I, was confident that something like this has really happened in real life.  And that is a great accomplishment for a novel.  Say what you will about Michael Crichton, but Jurassic Park was so convincingly written that labs across the globe allocated funds to test the viability of what was essentially the central plot of a work of fiction.  That’s convincing writing, right there.

CC:  You know, I’m glad you brought that up, because people wrongfully categorize him, but in reality, Jurassic Park is really a high work of literature… he suffers from the literary snobbism that says he doesn’t write “art,” but I think it is.

KC:  I’m so glad you said this.

CC:  But you have to read him with the same kind of mind you’d read Edgar Allen Poe.

KC:  Yes.

CC:  Poe is science fiction, after all.

KC:  [Pause] Okay.  See, I think, on some level, Thomas Harris suffers from this as well.  Hannibal Lecter is one of the most compelling characters ever written, in my mind.

CC:  Yeah, I’d love to rewrite that one.

KC:  Really? 

CC:  Yeah, I wonder if we are going to get to this point where we can take previous works and rewrite them the way musicians are sampling each other’s music.

KC:  That’s funny, I had this exact discussion with Craig Clevenger about The Davinci Code – we both secretly wished we could have that concept, which at its core was clever, and have it written, well, better.

CC:  Well, I don’t have any strong opinions about Dan Brown, but I am getting tired of these genre mashups, of Jane Austen meeting zombies, well, that stuff leaves me cold.  But that isn’t what I’m talking about anyways.  I would love remixes of novels to come out, written by other really good novelists.  Not just to give them a different voice or flavor, but to see what their take on an issue is.  I’d love to rewrite Star Wars from the first person voice of C3PO…

KC:  So he’d be the Indian in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest?

CC:  [Laughing] Yes, he’s a basic protocol droid that speaks over seven thousand languages, you know.  Imagine his sense of utter despair as he watches all of these cowboy types dealing in violent reactions to problems as they dumb their way through it, all in his infinitely subtle and proper protocol.  [Laughing] He’d be a wonderful narrator, and I’d love to set the whole thing on the Death Star.  You need a lot more about the Death Star for goodness sake, if you look at how many storm troopers there are on it, and how many Ti fighters, imagine the ancillary staff required to keep that thing going, the cleaners, and the cooks.  A huge army of staff.

KC:  You’ve heard Eddie Izzards take on that then I suppose?

CC:  Yeah, the Death Star Canteen, yeah I guess that’s sort of what I’m talking about, something where you take these things that are iconic and move the point of view, almost to the banal, so that it becomes sublime again.  We see that type of reviewing of things that were important to us growing up with all of these movie rereleases.  I’d love to do it with Star Wars, and some of the great sort of iconic novels we grew up with.  I’d like to see more of it.  In general I’d like to see more of the culture that surrounds the music industry coming into literature.  I think the way musicians see their art is really healthy, I love sampling, and the sharing of ideas.

Chris Cleave

KC:  Writing is still pretty territorial.

CC:  Isn’t it just?  I mean we talk about plagiarism, which I think is such a redundant concept actually, if you are good, plagiarism should be the last thing on your mind, and you should have every right to do it, [laughing] you should be able to sample themes and ideas.  I really admire the culture in rap music, hip hop, and R&B where a young artist will crank out four to five beautiful albums and then become a producer and bring on the next generation and mentor via his own label.  I think literature has a lot to learn from music about how it should structure itself and how it can stay relevant to people.  I’m dead serious that I think the novel is a very exciting art form, still.  Because as we discussed, it is very cheap to make very wonderful things happen in a novel, it should excite younger people more than it does, you know?

KC:  I don’t think there is a vehicle for expressing an idea that engages another individual more effectively, with the exception of face-to-face, which is logistically impossible when reaching a large audience.  The written word is the next best thing to that.

CC:  Well, and like we talked about with film, you are being fed, as you said, someone else’s idea.  But the novel, how you react, how you envision Sarah’s house – the novel is yours.  I see what I write, when I write a novel, I see it as an unfinished product – it isn’t finished until the reaction from readers comes about, then the novel becomes this conversation, that is what excites me so much about them.  I’m a storyteller, not a writer.

KC:  About your writing process, any kind of ritual, schedule, etc…?

CC:  I can do it anywhere.  I don’t ever stop thinking about the stories really, and wherever I am there is part of my mind turning it over.  I don’t need to be in a particular place, or have a candle lit or what have you, I don’t need anything really.  I need to be left alone a bit, I need to sort of deal with all of the everyday demands of life and get them out of the way, and then I can write.  I get up really early, I write from five a.m. and by lunchtime I’m more or less done. In the afternoon I’m giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s in terms of life, work obligations, family, etc… 

KC:  Are you a morning person by nature?

CC:  Nope, I had to train myself to be.  I can work anywhere, I have my little laptop, I can work in hotels, as I have been for five weeks, in planes, wherever.  I’m constantly writing, which is not to say that everything I write is good. I throw away whole novels.

KC:  I’m glad to hear this isn’t just me.

CC:  Well, you go through times in your life as a writer where you’re conscious that what you are writing is genius, and then there are times where you also, and you’re usually right when you get that rare feeling, and then you also have days where you’re conscious that what you are writing is crap, and you’re usually right as well, but you still have to do it.  But the interesting bit that determines whether you are a good writer or not, is whether to keep them or throw them away.  I think I’m more and more proud of what I throw away.  So that’s my process, it’s very simple.  I give myself my time, and I’m more and more ruthless with myself as to what I let out of my sphere, what I think is publishable.

KC:  What advice do you give to our aspiring writers here at The Cult?

CC:  Okay, well one, look at Chuck for a start. [Laughs]  Everywhere I go, he’s done an event at a bookstore I’ve done an event at.  He is loved as a writer.  Right?  Let’s think, why is that? First, he really respects his readers.  When he goes out and does an event, people bloody well remember it, right?  He’ll have brought stuff and chuck it into the audience.  I went to one of his events and it was bloody great.  He cares enough to make it an event rather than a reading. So what are we to learn from that?  That what he does comes from the core of his personality that he’s not afraid to write from the heart, and he’s not afraid to show it, he doesn’t hide behind the page.  So in terms of technical writing advice, that is the very first thing I’d say to people, to not be afraid of being yourself.  Always remember that you are not really a writer, right, no one’s a writer, you’re a storyteller.  And you have to imagine that you are going to be able to speak these words as if you are gathered around a campfire, or in a tiny bookshop in a suburb of Denver where there are maybe six people there and you are going to need to be able to look them in the eye and convince them that your work is worth their attention.  And that’s the job, if you believe that what you’ve put down on the page is good enough to be able to do that, then it’s good enough to publish.  Work backwards from that moment in a tiny bookshop where you are giving a reading:  why are the people sitting opposite you, why are they going to a) laugh, b) cry, or ideally c) both at your work?  If you can’t answer that question, then write it again.  Why are people going to love it? Or hate it? Because either reaction is a great one as a storyteller. Just so long as people don’t yawn or become indifferent.  Why are they turning pages?  Because if you break it down and don’t think of yourself as a novelist with a capital “N” or a writer with a capital “W”, but if you think of yourself as someone who is producing beautiful pages that will make someone want to read the next page, then you’re a storyteller.  But you shouldn’t focus on the technical level until you’ve found the story, the force that makes a reader turn the page.  This is what creative writing programs don’t address, the WHY we should make beautiful pages.  Pages are just made up of paragraphs and sentences.  Sentences are just beautiful, and there was a time when sentences didn’t exist.  My advice about sentences: try them forty different ways, bearing in mind that they are the greatest invention man has ever produced, write each one until you find one that really hums, because you know when you’ve done it.  Never write a boring a sentence.  Just don’t do it.  Really simple.  So write beautiful pages, and make your pages out of beautiful sentences.   It really bothers me that kids are being taught there is a way to write, and to be a writer.

KC:  Maybe it’s just the circle that I swim in, but there are a lot of writers who will reluctantly admit, usually in a dimly lit bar, that MFAs are a waste of time and money, if your goal is to simply be a writer.

CC:  I’ve got nothing against these creative writing programs as a whole, but if they are putting kids off, and if they’re telling kids this is the way…

KC:  That’s the problem with some, they all want to put out a Styron, or a Faulkner – which is fine if that is where you were to start, but don’t make a wooden sculpture out of marble, that’s all I’m saying.

CC:  Ah, I see what you mean, well, let’s hope that is the exception versus the rule.

KC:  What’s the thing you are most proud of as a writer?

CC:  For me, and I’m totally serious, it’s that I saved up the money to be a writer. I was talking earlier about how hard I fight for the space I write in, that is my biggest personal act, is to win these times when I don’t need a job, the biggest and best time I managed to do that was the time I wrote Incendiary, I went to work for an internet startup for three years so I could save up eighteen months worth of money to write a novel in.  And I did, and it finally got published. 

KC:  So you had a plan before the book was ever written, that you needed to devote time, to buy this space in which to write it?

CC:  Exactly, so weirdly, my biggest creative act as writer was going to work a job as a means to an end to get Incendiary out.  Winning the space to write in is the single greatest act you will ever do as a writer.  You need that investment, you make that sacrifice, you won’t let it go to waste.

KC:  And that’s especially important for a debut author, since he isn’t one, living off of an advance, or two, riding the sales of previous books.  The first investor in your book has to be you.

CC:  It gets easier if you sell a book or two, but the hard part is the first time.

KC:  So you’ve said America is so great for readings versus Europe and the UK.  Why are you buttering me up?

CC:  No seriously, people in America tell you what’s on their mind more readily.  Here they are forward, happy, funny, opinionated:  bigger crowds here than in Europe, and people take literature seriously.  And they do exactly what I have always wanted literature to do, which is to be a starting point for a discussion, not the last word on a subject.  I’m not one of those writers who want his work to be perceived as holy.  Readers of serious literary fiction are a rare breed, and it is a privilege to have that caliber of audience in which to incubate these discussions.  They teach me a lot; they give me ideas for my next book, and great feedback on what I’ve already done.

KC:  Well, we could go on all night with this, but you’ve got an event to make, and I’ve got traffic to beat.

CC:  Yeah, well, listen, this has been without a doubt the best interview of the last thirty-five days.  More of a great conversation, no pressure, quite relaxing really.

KC:  Thank you, and thank you again for taking the time out to meet with me, we’ll see you tomorrow at the signing.

CC:  Cheers!


Kasey CarpenterKasey Carpenter writes ad nauseum on the subject of wine and looks to his ongoing fiction projects for balance.  When he hits/negelcts his wordcount, he just might throw up a post at