A year in interviews: selected words from 25 authors

by Lara

We had the pleasure to interview 25 authors this year: what are their main themes or preoccupations? What are their intentions, their goals, what do they want to achieve through their work? Find out in a selection of every interview published on Feedbooks in 2013.

A certain sense of place

Malcolm MackayScott HutchinsIvy PochodaKarl Taro GreenfeldLiad ShohamDavid Vann

Some novels benefit from having a strong sense of location, but some are better served to let the location fade into the background. This is a story of characters and their situation, and the location was always going to be secondary to that. Trying to create a powerful sense of place can sometimes come with the risk of reducing the strength of the characters.
Interview of Malcolm Mackay about The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter

I wanted to capture San Francisco very precisely at this historical moment, so the novel is filled with my day-to-day observations. I consider A Working Theory of Love to be a love letter—not without criticism—to San Francisco.
Interview of Scott Hutchins about A Working Theory of Love

I grew up in Brooklyn not too far away from Red Hook. So many of smells, sounds, and sensations of summer (please excuse that alliteration) must have been ingrained in me. When I started to write I was determined to convey that lazy summer feeling of other people’s street noise that drifted in through all of the open windows of my childhood. When I was growing up much of my spare time was spent outdoors playing on the street—epic, block-long water fights, baseball games, feeble attempts (at least on my part) at skateboarding. So I spent a lot of time thinking about the way summer sounded and went from there.
Interview of Ivy Pochoda about Visitation Street

I wanted to write about one place in one particular time, and sort of take a microscope to the people. For me, Tribeca was a natural choice because I was living there and, most important, it is where we had our children. Children integrate you into a community in a far more profound way than when you are single. Suddenly, you know all these people, dentists, teachers, fellow parents, and are interacting with them so much more frequently and seeing different sides of them because you also have this view of them through their children and how their children behave.
Interview of Karl Taro Greenfeld about Triburbia

Despite the lack of physical descriptions of the city, the feedback I get is that the book is very Israeli. Although my intent was not to present Israeliness, I agree with this claim. Firstly, as I stated, all the characters in the book improvise. I think that this characterises young countries and in particular countries such as Israel where something is always happening and improvisation is paramount. Also the small territory, small population and the familial intimacy derived from these certainly come across in the book.
Interview of Liad Shoham about Lineup

Goat Mountain is the ranch where my family hunted for deer every fall. It was where our stories and family history were kept, our most sacred place. The first short story I ever wrote, more than 25 years ago, was set there, and it makes sense to me that the novel that finishes my family material would go back to there. After this, there will be no more books with my family history in the background, as far as I can tell. And as you point out, landscape is central in all my books. Each day I describe the place, like a Rorschach test, and as the landscape shifts and takes on pattern and form, I found out what the story is about and who the characters are. I write Greek tragedy told through a wild western landscape.
Interview of David Vann about Goat Mountain


Modern-day preoccupations: how to live in an age of surveillance, censorship and loss of privacy

David BellLauren BeukesPatrick FlaneryRobert LittellGerbrand Bakker

We live in an age and culture that tells us we can and should know everything. It is difficult to live with doubt and uncertainty—although all of us do to some extent. We don’t really know what goes on in the hearts and minds of the majority of the people we know. How many people keep their desires, fears, hopes, and wishes hidden from others?
Interview of David Bell about Cemetery Girl

I write the books I want to write and people classify them afterwards. They’re all mutant mélanges of different influences, but what they have in common is that they’re all (more or less) thrillers with a strange twist and certain themes that emerge, from the ghosts of history to how technology and culture intersect and what that says about us.
Interview of Lauren Beukes about The Shining Girls

Even when codified in the language of reason, even when censorship presents itself as a force for good, it is almost always reliant, in the end, on the entirely subjective opinion of one or two people (and these people have usually been men); this is why censorship as act and ideology is both so absurd and so radically dangerous. 
Interview of Patrick Flanery about Absolution

Like Lemuel Gunn, the detective in A Nasty Piece of Work, I have often felt out of place in the modern world of computers and fast food and Facebook and the like. I enjoy certain things as much as the next person: the automobile, which allows an enormous mobility; e-mail, which permits me to keep in touch almost daily with my children and my friends; the refrigerator, which keeps foods from rotting so that one only has to shop once or twice a week. But a lot of things frighten me: credit cards that can be used by someone who steals my identity to withdraw money from my bank account; answering machines that garble messages; buy now-pay later schemes which seduce consumers into instant gratification. Above all I am suspicious of what television and the internet have done to democracies in our Western countries where, so it now seems, elections go to the candidate who spends the most money (hundreds of millions of dollars in the case of America) and uses the modern technologies best.
Interview of Robert Littell about A Nasty Piece of Work

I hate cellphones: as a writer they are terrible. People know everything about each other all the time. One has to ‘smuggle’ these cellphones away, like I did by having Emilie/Agnes leave the phone on the boat. 
Interview of Gerbrand Bakker about Ten White Geese


Societal issues at the core of their work

Qiu XiaolongMelanie WarnerCaryl FéreyNoah Hawley

To say the least, I have a mixed feeling about the transformation of the materialist era. In China, the transformation is even more shocking considering the “proletarian” years of the Cultural Revolution under Mao. That does mean any nostalgia for those years—simply in terms of contrast. In the last analysis, China’s materialistic era may also be seen, among other things, as a result of the bankruptcy of the traditional ideological discourse. People no longer have anything else to believe in. They can only grasp whatever material they can hold in their hand.
Interview of Qiu Xiaolong about Years of Red Dust

I wrote this book because I wanted to take people into the fascinating and sometimes scary world of food science and industrial processing, showing them how far removed so many of our favorite foods are from their natural state. Hopefully this book is one among many telling the story of where our food comes from and how our food systems operate. This knowledge is essential for people who want to have a more conscious, and ultimately healthier, approach to eating. Overall, I think it’s a slow process because changing the way you eat isn’t easy, but there’s evidence that so many Americans are now waking up the idea that we can’t blindly trust giant food corporations to do our cooking.
Interview of Melanie Warner about Pandora’s Lunchbox

With the globalisation, the world has gone right-wing, and South America has done the other way around, by getting rid of dictatorships and the influence of the CIA. Argentina, so close to us (Westerners), has undergone the worst of all of them, and the worst crisis in our economic system. I’m passionate about that, as well as the fate of the natives, in this case Mapuche people.
Interview of Caryl Férey about Mapuche

America is a big country, one it’s easy to become lost in – emotionally, psychologically. For a young man in desperate need of structure and boundaries, hitting the open road is the most dangerous option. To remove oneself from family and community, to drift across the open plains – it’s easy to lose track of yourself, to lose any moral compass you once had.
Interview of Noah Hawley about The Good Father


From personal to fictional: putting yourself on the page

Massimo CarlottoJenni FaganAlice LaPlanteCourtney Collins

I like to depict reality and mix it with fiction. All of my present and future novels deal with a precise topic, a repressed story, an investigation. Noir fiction allows me to be an attentive observer of reality and to describe it through a crime story.
Interview of Massimo Carlotto about At The End of a Dull Day

I have worked with young offenders and I have experience of these systems personally. I was brought up in local authority care so I understand what it means to exist in a periphery that is often pre-judged as some kind of homogeneous subaltern. The process of being observed by adults and written about and passed on from place to place — it has its own sinister element to it.
Interview of Jenni Fagan about The Panopticon

My mother had Alzheimer’s (she died almost a year ago) and so I’d been living with the disease and thinking about it for nearly 10 years. I’d tried to write other pieces about Alzheimer’s, both fiction and non fiction (essays), but none of them were working. It wasn’t until I had the idea to put it in the shape of a mystery that I was able to write about it.
Interview of Alice LaPlante about Turn of Mind

To enter the world of a novel is to temporarily escape the demands of life. But I have a faith in fiction – that it allows us to understand ourselves better. So the paradox is that fiction can help us to face the reality of life and be just a little bit braver in authoring our own lives.
Interview of Courtney Collins about The Burial


Through the looking-glass: when the writer becomes the reader

Will SchwalbePeter HellerRuth OzekiRobert WilliamsAimee BenderGavin Corbett

I think that one can read for oneself in solitude, and reading in solitude is an enormous pleasure, but there’s also huge pleasure in sharing. In fact, literature starts with an act of sharing because an author writes down a story to share it with other people. I think that a lot of our first experiences with books is sharing, when a parent reads to us at bedtime, so for some people literature is strictly a solitary pleasure, and I completely understand that, but for many people, there is also enormous pleasure in sharing.
Interview of Will Schwalbe about The End of Your Life Book Club

I like to write fiction in this way of constant discovery because I get to be thrilled, shocked, surprised. I can have as much thrill as the reader. It’s a wonderful way to work.
Interview of Peter Heller about The Dog Stars

I think I write for myself. At least that’s how I start. But then, during the process of writing a book, I think my sense of self changes and expands, so that by the end I’m writing for everyone. That sounds grandiose, but I don’t mean it to. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the process of writing dissolves the boundaries between “self” and “other,” so that by the end, there’s not much distinction or difference between writing for oneself and writing for the world. (Writing is communication, after all, and the point of communication is to dissolve the boundaries between self and other by sharing or finding common ground.)
Interview of Ruth Ozeki about A Tale for The Time Being

I’m quite a wasteful writer, I tend to do my thinking in the writing, so often a book will turn one way and it will only be after I’ve spent days writing in that direction that I will realise I’ve taken the wrong path. As frustrating as that can be, it can also be exciting. For example I didn’t know Jon would be in the book until the sentence before I wrote him running out into the road – then, suddenly, he was there for me, just like he is for the reader. When it works it’s exhilarating but quite often those moments are red herrings too. You have to learn to spot the true breakthroughs from the false dawns.
Interview of Robert Williams about Luke and Jon

The real joy for me in writing is the surprise, but it also means I do A LOT of wandering around. With this novel, I had no idea where it was going, and halfway through I felt the brother take a larger role, and then he became as central to the book as Rose. This surprised me but it felt right, too.
Interview of Aimee Bender about The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

It was important for me that the reader doesn’t just engage with the story but senses that a story is being told here, perceives that Anthony is working through his storytelling chops. He comes from an oral storytelling culture, though he’s become disconnected from that culture, so by telling this story he feels he’s somehow locating himself not just within the story itself, but within that culture too.
Interview of Gavin Corbett about This Is The Way