Did you plagiarize any of Numb?
Fair enough. Did you set out to write something disturbing? I have it on good authority that someone called Numb “nauseating.”
That would be my wife, and no, I didn’t aim for anything nauseating. The main character, Numb, is putting nails and other whatnots into his body, and there is blood, but it’s not a horror film. I wrote what I thought had to be there, but didn’t go nearly as graphic as I could have. My goal was not to disturb with graphic detail, to create the literary equivalent of the Saw films. I was aiming for a balance between physical and emotional and spiritual impact that was moved forward by the physical inability to feel pain. The purpose is not gore, it is depiction of extreme emotional disconnect.
Did you have a goal?
I don’t start with goals or themes in mind because I don’t want become a slave to them, and I also think that at the beginning of the writing process I have no idea what the book is about. By the time I finish writing a book I have learned what the themes and focus of the book are or should be. I write to figure out what I think, not illustrate what I think. Writing with a specific goal in mind would keep me from unearthing what I believe, I would be too focused on conveying a point. Books written with a goal, a sales pitch of a philosophy, reek of propaganda.
Was there anything that surprised you in the book?
I was surprised by Mal’s actions and emotional responses to Numb. I’ve said elsewhere that he was all id, but more than that he enjoyed being id. There are two scenes that take place on the Manhattan Bridge, both focused on Mal, and the conclusions of both scenes shocked me. I found myself staring into space a bit after writing them. I was also pleasantly surprised when I met Bernie. Bernie appeared on his own, fully formed and weird and beautiful, and I’m so glad he did because he’s one of my favorite characters in the book.
What about the book’s reception–any surprises there?
I am thrilled that it appears to be finding a diverse audience, people different from me. When I write I sometimes ask, “Who but me is going to read this?” It doesn’t change what I write, I can’t write to any specific audience because I tried that before and that’s the death of fiction. It’s not writing, it’s begging. But still, I do sometimes wonder, “Am I just lecturing in a closet? Am I the lord of a laundry room?” That people from very different backgrounds, men and women, older and younger, have found something to connect to means a great deal to me.
I am also interested in how many people think it might be a young adult book. I never intended for YA readers to be interested, but if they are I love it. Ironically I was surprised by my mother telling me I needed to make the sex scenes more explicit. That was a shocker. I started therapy about five minutes after she said that.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Marcy Dermansky’s brilliant Bad Marie. I can’t say enough about it. She is a powerhouse, a beautiful writer. She does the difficult with an effortless quality. And I just started The Financial Lives of Poets, by Jess Walter, and holy hell can he write. I did a reading with him in New Hampshire and realized that I want to be him when I grow up.
This is a self-interview. Did anything about the self-interview process surprise you?
When you pulled that gun. That was kind of shocking.
Well, you have shifty eyes.
True. And I also wish one of us was wearing pants.