William Giraldi is the author of Busy Monsters: A Novel and the forthcoming Hold the Dark: A Novel as well as a respected literary critic and lecturer at Boston University. His website can be found at http://williamgiraldi.com/
1) In Busy Monsters why did you choose to make the narrator’s verbal style so unrealistic?
Charlie Homar’s disobedient voice matches his ecstatic vision of the world. It’s unruly, anarchic, untethered from propriety. If it’s “unrealistic,” as you say, that means only that it’s unconventional, that it attempts to say something necessary about American excess, and about how we day-to-day so carelessly employ language. The novel is about language, is self-referential in every chapter, and so has something to say, I hope, about the artifice of storytelling. Remember, he’s a writer, and the novel is really his serial memoirs appearing in a weekly magazine, so there’s a slightly meta quality that adds to the chaos of the book.
2) Was this choice influenced by the styles that you have read by other authors, if so which authors? Was it a conscious choice to be distinct?
Yes, when one lives inside literature, when one can’t help but view the world through a literary lens, then nothing one writes is ever completely devoid of influence, the anxiety of that influence, per Harold Bloom. The storywriter Lee K. Abbott was an enormous influence on Charlie Homar’s exuberant voice. He’s the best and most underrated storywriter in America. Also the great Southern magician Barry Hannah was a paramount influence. Also the divine Allan Gurganus. The book is manic because Charlie’s vision is manic, and the language, of course, is a manifestation of that mania. As far as being consciously distinct: absolutely. If you don’t care to be distinct then you’re perfectly comfortable being just like everyone else, a clone of a clone, a photocopy of a photocopy, in which case you should join Congress or the Senate, but imaginative literature isn’t for you, I’m afraid.
3) Which story from the book is your favorite and why?
Busy Monsters is a novel, not a story collection, so I don’t think of the chapters as stories,although I can see why someone else would. I really do like the Romp chapter: Charlie and Romp in the woods of the Pacific Northwest hunting for Sasquatch, and all that goes wrong, all that of course goes wrong. I’m endlessly interested in the monsters we fashion as manifestations, embodiments of the darkest corners in our souls. We men are just grown boys in vassalage to our boyishness.
4) I noticed that sometimes your memoir writing echoes in your short fiction (for example “Freaky Beasts” and “Cracked” sharing a young fit protagonist establishing a relationship based on F. Scott Fitzgerald, or paternal fixation on speed in “Physics of Speed” and “Lament for Car”). How do you feel about blending your own non-fiction writing into your fiction? What are the issues that you wrestle with when such parallels come up?
I like this question because it’s exactly what happens in Busy Monsters: the confusion of fiction and fact, the difference between the truth and what’s true. Lauren Slater’s masterful memoir Lying gets to the core of this prickly problem. Let me say, though, that I don’t approve of fictionalizing nonfiction, trying to spice up your personal essay with the same wand that gets waved over a short story. One’s nonfictional life will infect one’s fictional life, of course, and, more interesting, the other way around. I suppose I don’t think of it as a “blend,” as you say, but more of an intriguing inevitability. Verisimilitude in fiction is inert, it’s dead, we simply don’t need another played out version of reality. This question gets interesting for me when we consider the role mythos must play in our storytelling. Folklore and epic and poetry — they all have something vital to inject into our novels and short stories. Another Carverian domestic drama is not going to cut it.
5) What does being a critic add to your writing?
It helps me to be the critic for the work that needs it the most: my own. Anyway, I can’t help that literary critical impulse; it’s simply how I read and how I write and how I pass through the world. It allows me to participate in a larger cultural conversation that simply being a novelist doesn’t allow me to do. More people read my criticism than read my fiction, I’m half certain, and if that never changes, that’s okay. I’m lucky to have any readers at all in this era of mass distraction. You’ll hear that critical writing isn’t an art, but don’t believe it. I’m not bothered by the falsity of that statement as much as I’m bored by the stupidity of it.
6) How does being a critic potentially hinder your work?
Well, the truth is that I’d rather write criticism than write fiction, so it hinders my work if you consider fiction my real work, but I don’t make that distinction. I haven’t written a short story in five or six years. Part of the issue is that I can get paid right away for my critical essays, but no one’s lining up to pay for my short stories, and I’ve got two little boys who need their superheroes and their Cheerios. I’m probably done writing stories. I never think about them. But I’m thinking about criticism all the time, about the critics who have meant the most to me, Blackmur and Trilling and Hardwick and Hazlitt and Wilde and Eliot and Dr. Johnson. They’re never far from my mind.
7) What does your writing process look like?
No process that I’m aware of. As for time: I write when my boys will give me an hour of peace to do it. When I was writing my new novel, Hold the Dark, I wrote it mostly at night after my boys were asleep. I’d spend the morning reading, the afternoon working on criticism, and at night I’d turn to the novel when the world slowed down and darkened. That was a tough three years, working on this novel. I’m very glad it’s behind me.
8) If you had a recommendation of one thing writers should avoid, what would it be?
Avoid too much writing.
9) What would be your top recommendations to writers?
Write less. Read more.
10) How do you see the future of the printed word and literature in general?
I wish I could be more optimistic but I’ve been a pessimist since I was six months old, wailing for a breast and not getting it quickly enough. The future looks grim, but I do know that the book will never die, that the Internet isn’t powerful enough to kill the book as a sacral object, as a physical experience in your lap, the same way Internet porn will never kill actual sex between loving individuals, or the automobile will never kill the bicycle. The question is: How many intelligent, literate individuals will be left to appreciate a solitary, noiseless experience with a book? I’m hoping to die before the dark answer to that question appears.