I admire Ron Currie Jr. for a bunch of reasons, but most of all for the risks he takes. It takes brass balls to write a book like God is Dead, or Everything Matters! And it takes commitment to work a bunch of shitty jobs and believe you can write books and not starve. But by god, Ron Currie Jr. is not starving, and we should all feel good about that. All RC Jr. is doing is winning awards and selling books, and pushing himself (and his narratives) into new places. It pays to get dangerous sometimes. Everything Matters! is about to drop in paperback, and those of you who were too cheap to buy it in hardcover oughta pry a few bucks out of your wallet and buy the PB release.
Here’s a transcript of a conversation we had recently involving a wide range of topics, including books, writing, idealism, cynicism, and the Fitzgerald blues….
Last we spoke, you were in Puerto Rico or some sexy locale, drinking your ass off, pounding away at the keys like a madman, and “feeling like a writer for the first time in awhile.” What’d you mean by that?
I was in Puerto Rico, and, for a couple of months at least, I was dead sexy. Thank you for noticing.When I told you I was feeling like a writer again I must have been having one of a handful of good days, because it turns out the draft of my third book, which I thought was finally going well, in actuality was not going well.And of course I was reading your new novel, which clearly went well for you, so that made me feel even worse. And I went through more than a few long nights when I thought I’d lost it, whatever “it” is, and thought further that maybe I didn’t want to write anymore, and then I saw an interview with you where you talked at length about how yeah it’s great to be published at all, and have money to feed your kid, but even if you were homeless and no one would publish your books you’d still write, and still love to write.And you were clearly quite sincere about this, which only made me feel like a bigger piece of shit than I did just reading your amazing book.So thanks a lot, man.Really appreciate it.
So glad I made you feel like shit! That’s pretty much what I do. Sounds like you had a little case of the Fitzgerald blues–I think every writer has been there at some point. We’re all glad you’re over the hump. I think it’s a good sign that you’ve struggled with number three–hard writing really does make easy reading, and I’m dying to know where you’re going to push yourself this time around. And for the record, you’re still dead sexy, and you still have “it.” Tell us a little bit about your life before you wrote God is Dead, and started piling up awards. If you hadn’t become a writer, into who or what might you have evolved?
Not sure.Serial Parent Disappointer, probably, and I certainly would never have owned a car.Of course I would have always been a writer,too–I’d been doing that literally since I was old enough to hold a pen, so I would have continued to write in utter obscurity, instead of in the relative obscurity I enjoy now.I went through a period of pretty serious personal upheaval in my mid-twenties when I made a deal with myself, resolving to either sell my first story by the time I was 26, or give up writing and go back to school, get off the restaurant-work treadmill. For awhile it looked like I was headed toward life as a CPA or real estate agent, but then, just a couple of weeks before I turned 26, I got my first acceptance.I know you’re familiar with the crap-job roundabout, too. Seems to me it used to be a cliche, but with the ever-burgeoning phenomenon of writing programs that provide both degrees and jobs for creative writers, there must be a lot fewer living the stereotype that we enjoyed so much. What do you think?
I think the stories aren’t in the classroom. I think you can learn a bunch of stuff about craft in the classroom, but I think the typewriter is a better place to learn the same stuff–good old trial and error. I don’t see building a novel as much different than building a brick shithouse. I could take a class from a master shithouse-builder, but really I think it’s more constructive to just build a few crooked shithouses and learn from your mistakes. I think you’re much more likely to stumble onto something unique that way. I can see where learning a bunch of technical stuff overtly rather than intuitively might possibly inhibit a burgeoning writer, and make it harder for them to find their “voice.” But I’m just guessing. At any rate, I’m glad the universe rewarded Ron Currie Jr. before he became a real estate agent. And you would have made a terrible CPA–too audacious. I’ve noticed you’ve been kind of a grump lately (in a funny way). Have you always been kind of a grump? I’m curious, because Everything Matters! struck me as a more hopeful book than God is Dead.
I tend to agree with you on the shithouse trial-and-error, but then that’s a convenient stance for me to take, since I never formally studied writing and have about a month’s worth of college under my belt. I think most people who know me well would describe me as a bit of a malcontent, yes. But I like to think I’m pleasant about it, or at the very least amusing. One thing that happens a lot to me is people misapprehend what I think of as frustrated idealism, and peg me as a cynic. Great and terrible idealism boils inside me like the lava underneath Yellowstone park. The hopeful note at the end of Everything Matters! comes directly from that wellspring of idealism. And for the record, the original manuscript of God is Dead had another story, and had it been published the last line of thebook would have read: “I’ve learned so much about love.” How’s that for hopeful?
I always knew there was some kind of bubbling wellspring inside of you. In a sense, frustrated idealism is the stuff that fuels all human drama–in the space between “how things are” and “how we want them to be,” is where you will find the central conflict of our lives. The bridge between this gap is our story. So, what then, specifically, are some of the things that frustrate your idealism? Failure of good intentions? The pitfalls of human nature?
I’m pretty down on human beings right at the moment, myself included.And I think ultimately “myself included” is the most important bit.You know how they say you don’t dislike anything in someone else unless you see it in yourself?Yeah.So I can bitch all I want about, for instance, what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico right now, but I just a few minutes ago went and put gas in my car.I’ve had this discussion with a few people, and many of them refuse to acknowledge the connection there, refuse to see how there’s a direct line between them taking their 4th of July road trip and the fact that there won’t be any shrimp to eat for the next fifty years.
We’re all complicit.Wait, what was the question again?
Sometimes I think I’m worse than the disconnect people. I live in solitude in the woods, where I willfully avoid dwelling on the atrocities of the outside world. I think if I spent too much time pondering circumstances which I couldn’t overtly control, I’d almost certainly go crazy, and pretty fast. I can’t bear to think of all the suffering that’s going on everywhere at any given moment. It’s instinctive to my nature to empathize– that’s why I’m a writer, probably. When I think of suffering in large volumes, it’s hard for me to process and compartmentalize all of it, and it starts to feel suffocating. Like I’m a small character awash in a sprawling epic, with little or no agency to navigate all the terrain–which of course, is pretty much what I am in the scheme of life. How personally do you take the suffering of your characters?
Well I think most people who aren’t idiots feel the same way you do, to varying degrees–we’re all trying to navigate a sprawling epic.Maybe the problem is we’re all convinced that we’re the main character?
Anyway, as far as the suffering of my own characters, I used to always roll out Nabokov’s famous line:”My characters are galley slaves.”Of course he was answering a question about whether or not his characters ever “took over” a narrative, as many writers claim theirs do.But I think it applies well to this discussion, too.So yeah, my characters serve the story, not the other way around.Which is not to say I’m indifferent to their pain; far from it.I’ve actually cried a handful of times when writing particularly painful scenes.But I understand my obligation to reflect, in my writing, as much of the real human emotional continuum as possible, and suffering is a large swathe of that.
So, how about giving me a sort of mission statement for RC Jr. as a writer. What are you trying to achieve? How do you want to affect your readers?
Well my ambition has always been greater than my talent, so why not go big:I want to make housewives weep over a novel about zombies.I want to win a National Book Award for the story of a man who wakes up one day and discovers his penis is missing.Not lopped off, not Bobbited, just plain missing.I want to develop the discipline to clean my house more often.I want to get comfortable with driving on the interstate.I want to stop having dreams in which I’ve got the same head of hair I had at eighteen.I want to be able to pick and choose which channels I get from the cable company.I want to buy the world a Coke.I want my actions to match my convictions.I want to learn how to jump-start a car.I want to grow a decent mustache.I want, just once, and finally, to be content with something I’ve written.Not happy, mind you–that’s way too ambitious, even for me.Just content.Just once.Then I could die, I think.