Compulsive Reader - Q & A
Reviews of books by some of the hottest writers working today, exclusive author interviews, literary news and criticism.
How would you characterize your work?
My work strives to push the boundaries of contemporary fiction, to create fictional landscapes that live and breathe with characters that readers can relate to, learn from, and bring into their own lives, much in the same way that you might bring new friends, companions or lovers into your own world. I’m not content producing genre work that adheres to a set of conventions, with an strong emphasis on plotting and diagrammatic storytelling. My work is always original in theme and content, and relies on my travels and experiences in different parts of the world. You could say that I work like a madman to create memorable characters.
So how do you find these characters for your novel? Where do they come from? How do you bring them to life?
The answers are simple yet in some respects difficult to explain fully or even adequately: they’re part of the creative process, the one that enables you to write and think and produce good work. In practice, the characters, as in “real-life,” will find you. They’ll haunt your dreams, talk to you at odd moments of the day, chase after you on the street or around your neighborhood, beg you to tell their story, and won’t give up until you do. Finally, you’ll relent. That’s what typically happens to me when I start work on a new novel (I’ve written eleven so far). It happened with my latest work: OF GODS, ROYALS AND SUPERMAN.
Who are the main characters in your new novel?
The main character is a young, cocky, powerfully-built twenty-two-year-old named Christopher Reed. He was a handful, all right: a coming-of-age Superman whose wings probably needed to be clipped. He told me his story: how he got kicked out Dartmouth for behaving very badly as president of his fraternity house, how he got taken for a ride to come out to San Francisco, how his father and the dean and president of the college plotted against him, in an effort to teach him a lesson. And how, ultimately, he was able to redeem himself and do something great. But that wasn’t enough; another character, also a senior at Dartmouth and a literature major, came into the picture, too. She had her own travails in life: working as a summer intern for a New York publishing, learning the business, and then discovering the work of a vanished American author from the 1970s, a successor to Kerouac and Kesey, whose work had suffered the fate of being neglected yet not forgotten by a devoted coterie of followers. Those two characters provided the juice and energy of the novel. Their lives began to intermingle, twist and finally connect.
What about the other characters?
A rogue’s gallery of characters popped into the novel, as well: Tina Kennedy, a high-power New York editor on her way to the top of the House, Chick Johnson, a literature professor and lover of Tina, Maddy Chang, a film producer making the latest remake of a remake of the Superman movies, Ana Ortiz and her brother, both Integer Poets, Maman Noor, the owner of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in San Francisco, where Christopher Reed ends up working as a waiter, Alejandro Via, the rainmaker who truly brings cloudbursts of rain to the city, Raj Pushkar, a Silicon Valley hotshot and political prankster who befriends Reed, men from the “Company” who want to enlist Reed’s capabilities as a disruptor, bad boy, bad Superman in their endless efforts to wreak havoc around the world in the name of Truth, Justice and the American Way, and of course, the vanished author himself who is rediscovered in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico — to name but a few.
How did you write the story?
Well, with characters like these, the story practically wrote itself. I heard their voices, listened to their sorrows and griefs, laughed with them, cried, even wept, and told myself: Hey, this is life, right? Or so-called life? So, what can I say for writers who are working on new fiction? Forget genre, forget plotting, story outlines, high or low concept, and focus on bringing the characters you know and love to life. The rest, as they say, is or will become history.