Okoye is pretty much a regular guy in his second year of college, which to him feels like a dead end. He wants to draw comics and he feels trapped doing the liberal arts thing. He’s also developed some romantic ideas about Hong Kong, based on movies and descriptions from a Chinese pal. So he drops out of school, goes on a whim, and from there his life explodes, in terms of excitement. Not that he gets much drawing done . . .
Okay, here’s one: Style or Structure?
Structure. Definitely. I mean, the end result may have a loose feel to it, but I can tell you, it was a struggle to write or finish anything, years of butting my head against the wall, until I really had to force myself to write outlines and plan stuff out. By the way, you think I would’ve gotten that in grad school! Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention . . . But yeah, for me, it doesn’t matter what type of cool, inventive stuff I think I’m trying to do. If I can’t plan it out and make it work structurally, I can’t go anywhere with an idea.
Would you say it’s a story about finding oneself as an artist? A classic coming-of-age kind of thing?
Yeah. I like those kind of stories. So that’s a big part of it. I tried to use the Hong Kong thing as an epicenter, to build the story from there, both back and forward in time. Since, obviously, that search for meaning isn’t limited to just being in your early 20’s. You see him post-Hong Kong, living in New York. Also, as a kid growing up in the suburbs. To think about the experiences that led up to making that choice. Then later, pushing middle age, a kid of his own, and he’s still drawing comics, or trying to, struggling to figure out which aspects of his original dream still apply.
Your narrator, Blue Okoye, might have a crush on Asian girls/women. Is that what’s going on? Is that a thing a lot of guys go through?
Um, maybe . . . Hadn’t thought too much about that aspect, but yeah, I suppose if he were one of my pals, I would definitely accuse him of something like that. And, you know, it’s this unspoken thing. You have guys from the US or wherever, some first world country, backpacking or tripping to these across-the-ocean, exotic locals, and obviously part of it has to be “I’d really like to meet/fuck a girl from Hong Kong, Bangladesh, or wherever.” Also, let’s be real. Same scenario applies for a lot of those girls working Peace Corps.
So you know we have to talk about this. How much of Blue Okoye is based on your real life?
Right. Well that’s the seductive part of that first person POV. You can overtly use details from your life and sort of invite the reader to make those comparisons. That’s the thrill I know I get from certain books. On the other hand, it’s supposed to be fiction! That’s my disclaimer. Or how about this, rather than some overly philosophical thing about the nature of truth, how about we do a lightning round, and I’ll go on record about any detail you want to get into from the scenes of the book. Yeah? Ok, go:
Did you actually work at a Hong Kong go-go club?
On some William Vollman type-thing? No. I mean, I spent a fair amount of time in clubs, after girls and whatnot . . .
Do you actually draw comics?
Do you still work in a bookstore?
The Strand, NYC. Now you know where to find me.
Are there any stories in the book that happened in real life exactly as you describe them?
Streets of Rage. Hulk intro. Those are two I can think of offhand. There’s a couple.
In the book Blue Okoye ends up having a daughter. But you have a son, right?
That’s on purpose. To work in specific points of departure. That way I’m forced to still write fiction, not just try to transcript my real life.
OK, last one. Do you actually have a friend like Benoit?
I think we all might have a friend or two like Benoit. Or maybe I’m wrong about that . . .
UZODINMA OKEHI spent 2 years handing out zines on the subway. Wasn’t as fun as he thought. His work has appeared in Pank, Hobart,Bartleby Snopes, and many, many other places, no doubt, you’ve never heard of. He has an MFA in writing from New York University. He lives in Brooklyn. His son is 8 yrs old, smiles a lot, (too much?), and will absolutely, cross you over and drain a jumper in your face. Over For Rockwell is his first novel.