Ken Russell (BSS #348)

Ken Russell is the director of such films as The Devils, Women in Love, Tommy, The Music Lovers, and Altered States. Beginning today, Russell’s films will be playing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center for one week (many of which are unavailable on video), where Russell himself will be appearing each evening. Considerable thanks to Elize Russell and Shade Rupe for their invaluable assistance.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wrestling nude with 83-year-old directors.

Guest: Ken Russell

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: You got into a fight with Alexander Walker, a man who, by the way, you’ve outlived. Other critics have called your films monstrously indecent. Walker was not the first one. So why did you hit tap him on the head, or beat him on the head, with a newspaper. I’m curious. Do you remember what was going on in your mind at the time? Or did you finally have enough of all these critics who were needlessly shitting upon what I think is a remarkable output?

Russell: Well, I guess I got tired of him putting me down. When he said, “You change things. We actually see Oliver Reed’s testicles crushed.” And I said, “Excuse me. That’s in your mind.” We don’t see his testicles crushed. Because they weren’t crushed. Only in your dirty little mind, you pig. And so he took exception to that. So I hit him over the head with his own review. Which happened to be a tissue of lies from start to finish. So that was a reason.

Correspondent: One of the few filmmakers to really get pugilistic about your critics there.

Russell: Yeah, well, he shouldn’t have said that. I mean, we didn’t see Oliver Reed’s testicles crushed. He may have wished we had. But we didn’t.

Correspondent: It was really — you were sticking up more for Ollie than you were for yourself?

Russell: That’s right. Yes.

Correspondent: I’m curious about a couple of things I’ve heard. One being that Oliver Reed apparently slammed you to the kitchen floor so that you would include the nude wrestling scene in Women in Love. I’m not sure if that’s true. Wanted to run that one by you. There’s another rumor going around that Ollie and Keith Moon were so drunk on the set of Tommy that they were improvising their lines. And then there’s another one that you guys got kicked out of the resort that you were filming at because of Ollie’s behavior. First of all, I wanted to find out if these stories were true. And second of all, given that this obviously must have been a very difficult working relationship at times and I know that you Ollie again until Prisoner of Honor, what accounts for the delay between Tommy and Prisoner of Honor?

Russell: Well, the delay between the two films was simply down to the fact of availability. Oliver Reed was only available at certain times and he wasn’t available. In Prisoner of Honor, that was why I didn’t use him before.

Elize Russell: You got along with him well.

Russell: Yeah, I got along with him very well. He…

Elize Russell: He called him Jesus.

Correspondent: He called you Jesus?

Russell: Yes. That wasn’t a compliment.

Correspondent: (laughs) So a little tempestuous there.

Russell: (laughs) Yeah.

Elize Russell: But he did throw you to the floor and you said that he convinced you to do the scene.

Russell: Oh yes. Yes, he did. I wasn’t going to do the nude wrestling scene. Because I couldn’t think of a way to do it. Because nude wrestling was frowned upon in British cinema.

Correspondent: In more ways than one.

Russell: In more ways than one, yes. So finally, he agreed to do the nude wrestling as long as there was no nude wrestling to be seen. (laughs)

Elize Russell: And how did he convince you to do it in front of the fireplace?

Russell: Well, he dropped round to my house for supper and said, “It could be done! It was very simple to do.” And he showed me how easy it was. You just faced each other, put out your hand and shook it, and threw each other onto the ground.

Correspondent: Did he often persuade you to insert scenes along these lines? Because I’m sure it couldn’t have been limited to Women in Love.

Russell: No. It was one of his favorite methods of perusasion.

Correspondent: Throwing you to the kitchen floor? That wasn’t the only time then.

Russell: Oh no.

Elize Russell: There was a sword fight.

Correspondent: Aha!

Elize Russell: But you won that one by mistake and closed your eyes.

Russell: Yeah.

Categories: Film

Sally Potter (BSS #347)

Sally Potter is the writer and director of the 1992 film Orlando, adapted from the Virginia Woolf novel, which opens in re-release on July 23, 2010.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Hoping to live forever or die trying.

Guest: Sally Potter

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: One interesting aspect about Orlando, from my standpoint, is that it’s almost a textual collage. You don’t really use a lot of the prose that’s in Virginia Woolf’s book. And if you do use it, you often modify one word or two words. There’s Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. There’s Joseph Addison’s The Tattler. There’s Shelley’s “I Arise From Dreams of Thee.” If you’re a literate person, there’s a smorgasbord of collage and possibilities. And I’m curious why you made this particular decision. Was the idea here to reinforce some of the sexism of the literary world? That Virginia Woolf’s true prose would not be represented in the film version of her work? What happened here?

Potter: Well, I think the essence of her prose is the skeleton of the film. I tried to make a distillation of what she’d done to further distill her own project of distillation. She writes in her diaries about wanting to exteriorize consciousness, writing in images rather than language. And where usually she was working with a kind of inner monologue — the stream-of-consciousness project through the word — in this case, she was working through the description of images that were like watching the inner mind unfold, but not as one individual’s mind. A kind of collective mind. Now she was also working with a tapestry of references. So the book is littered with one reference after another. When you go back to her diaries, and look at her essays — which I did — and go back to her sources, you see that she was doing a kind of postmodern collage herself.

Correspondent: Yes.

Potter: So all I tried to do was stay true to that principle, but make it work in cinematic terms. Anything else would have been a disservice to her as a writer.

Correspondent: But in terms of using the other — mostly; in fact, all male — writers, instead of specific quotes — with the exception of, for example, the trial and the poetry scene with Greene, I’m curious how you made that selective process. Did some reference in the book cause you to grab for the Norton Anthology? What happened there? And also, I was curious in terms of changing one specific word from a passage. Did you encourage the actors to paraphrase from the script? Or did you actually have the…

Potter: Oh no no.

Correspondent: Okay.

Potter: No. But I did so many drafts. My first draft — in fact, when I took it to my script editor at Faber & Faber. He picked it up, weighed it, and said, “Go and take out a hundred pages.” It was really long. The first adaptation. So it was clear that it had to be cut. And some words work spoken. And some words work written. And so through the very long development process — I mean, multiple redrafts and redrafts and redrafts. And Tilda [Swinton] reading aloud to me. And so on. First of all, I learned about the importance of things actually working, rather than working in theory, as you intended them, and to try to be very open to listening and observing what worked, and make things fit so that they had, in a sense, a natural feeling for voice and body of that particular actor who’s manifesting the idea. So that entails changing things from time to time. But, for example, Nick Greene’s satiric poem about Orlando and Orlando’s bad poetry are not in the book. I had to write them.

Correspondent: I figured as much.

Potter: From clues. So I had to fill in, in a way, certain gaps that, had she written them on the page, they would have had a different status. And also, from her, she does a sort of sketch of 18th century authors. And you know who she’s referring to. And again, I had to fill them with actual quotations. So my guiding principle always was: Stay true to the spirit and the intention, but not to the letter of the book.

Categories: Film

Jennifer Weiner III (BSS #346)

Jennifer Weiner is most recently the author of Fly Away Home. Ms. Weiner previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #198 and The Bat Segundo Show #14.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Hoping to be frightened by The Motherland sometime soon.

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: It seems to me that you are really gravitating more towards this extremely dark expanse of human behavior. At least from my vantage point. And it seems that you really want to push further in this direction. And yet, to some degree, you almost stop short of really pushing yourself fully into something so dark. And I know you’ve got it in you. So I’m wondering: why ride the comic tone? Out of obligation to your readers? Or what here?

Weiner: Well, I think, for me, it always feels natural to have both. To have the darkness and the comedy. That’s just how I am as a person. And I think that my own family history has made me that way. There’s been horrible things that have happened, but me and my sister and my brothers always wind up laughing about it. Because what else can you do? But it’s interesting. That darkness. Because it’s a tough tension to maintain. And I don’t want… (pause) See, here’s the thing. I don’t think writers choose the books they’re trying to write. I don’t think writers choose the tone they’re going to take. I think that it’s a blood type. Like it’s what you’re born with. Stephen King gave the example. He and Louis L’Amour could be sitting at a pond. And Louis L’Amour would come up with this Western about water rights in a town that was having a drought, and what would happen? And Stephen King would write about something that comes slithering onto the banks, and first takes the dogs, and then takes the cattle, and then takes the kids. It’s just the way you’re wired. And I think that I’m wired, for good or for ill. I mean, there was a lot of sad stuff in Good in Bed too.

Correspondent: That’s true. But we’re talking about rape.

Weiner: Rape.

Correspondent: We’re talking about neglected children.

Weiner: Yes.

Correspondent: And during those sections in both of these last two books, it gets really, really serious.

Weiner: Right.

Correspondent: And then we go back to the laughs. But I’m wondering why not go ahead and spread this further? It’s not to say that you can’t explore light and dark. You can do a double plot thing. Like Crimes and Misdemeanors or something. I don’t know.

Weiner: (laughs) And then when you turn the book over…

Correspondent: (laughs) Yes.

Weiner: …they go shoe shopping!

Correspondent: Yeah, exactly.

Weiner: Well, who’s doing that well? Zoe Heller obviously.

Correspondent: Yes.

Weiner: Who else? Who do you like? Because Zoe Heller’s funny too.

Correspondent: I’ll bring up Richard Russo. Richard Russo does that very well too. And in fact, I….

Weiner: Mmmmm. My mother loves him.

Correspondent: I’m trying to go ahead — you and Russo are actually on the same team here. You know, that whole description of the development of the grocery store?

Weiner: Yes. Yes.

Correspondent: I could find that in a Richard Russo book, as I could in a Jennifer Weiner book. He writes about this kind of stuff too.

Weiner: Right.

Correspondent: You write about this too. And I’m telling you. What do we do to get some kind of diplomacy here?

Weiner: But I…

Correspondent: It’s not Russo’s fault that your mother was blabbing about him!

Weiner: Oh my god.

Correspondent: It wasn’t his fault.

Weiner: Okay, let me set the scene for you. The year is 2001.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Weiner: And my first book is out. And I’m in a bookstore with my mother. And I’m signing stock, as you do. And my mother, who is very friendly and chatty. This woman comes up to her and says, “Oh, I need a great book for the summer. Have you read anything?” And my mother says, “I just read the best book. It was funny and it was sad. And the characters felt so real.” And I’m like, “Wait for it. Wait for it.” And my mom’s like, “It’s called Empire Falls by Richard Russo.” And I’m like, “Mom!” Because do you think that Richard Russo’s mom is up in Maine pimping my books?

Correspondent: But your mother was probably pimping your book too!

Weiner: Uh uh.

Correspondent: No?

Weiner: Mmm mmm.

Correspondent: Not at all?

Weiner: Well, maybe a little bit.

Correspondent: Oh okay. Well, there you go.

Weiner: But I think the woman asked what she read that she loved. And I think that [my mother] read Good in Bed in galley months ago. But, no, I love Richard Russo. But I don’t know.

Correspondent: So wait. You have read him.

Weiner: Of course!

Correspondent: Okay. Okay. So this is…

Weiner: I’m not a philistine here!

Correspondent: (laughs) So what’s the issue here? It can’t just be your mom. There’s something else going on here.

Weiner: I like Richard Russo. Have I talked smack about him?

Correspondent: Yeah. You’ve been suggesting, “Oh. Richard Russo. I don’t talk about him because of this whole mother thing.”

Weiner: It’s a joke! It’s a joke!

Correspondent: Okay.

Weiner: I like him. I don’t like Jonathan Franzen.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Weiner: But I don’t think Jonathan Franzen likes anybody. So I think it’s all good. Like I don’t think he wants me — I don’t know? Does he want to be liked? Did you read the essay that his girlfriend wrote?

Correspondent: Yes.

Weiner: Where was it? The Paris Review?

Correspondent: Kathy Chetkovich. It was in Granta. [EDITORIAL NOTE: Issue 82, to be precise. Now behind a paywall, but an excerpt appeared in The Observer. See above link.]

Weiner: Granta.

Correspondent: Yes. Exactly.

Weiner: Weird guy. About birding.

Correspondent: Yeah, I know. But actually, since we’re talking about the literary world…

Weiner: Yes!

Correspondent: I should also bring this up. Why give so much credit to The New York Times Book Review? I mean, this whole thing with the full-page advertisement.

Weiner: I know.

Correspondent: And I read your Twitter feed. And I know that you’re there on a Friday afternoon. At 5:00. When they put up the new articles. And you are looking through those articles.

Weiner: Right.

Correspondent: Why? Why give these folks credence?

Weiner: Well, you know what it is? They’re kind of the only game left in town. The Philadelphia Inquirer, where I used to work, once had a free-standing books section. And there used to be — I think the Hartford Courant, where I grew up, had a books section once upon a time. But honest to god, the truth is that my dad read The New Yorker and read The New York Times Book Review, and would get all of his reading suggestions from those two places. So if you weren’t in there, you didn’t really matter. And I think that I internalized that to a very great extent. But honestly, I think that the die was cast when I went with Atria instead of Simon & Schuster. Like way back in the day. When I was choosing who was going to publish my first book. And it’s like, well, Atria is much more commercial. And I knew that I loved my editor. I love my editor still. I love my publisher. They got the book. Like on a really visceral level. They were going to a great job of promoting it. Do a great job with me. But I wasn’t going to get reviewed by the Times. But then again, if you call your book Good in Bed, are you ever going to get reviewed by the Times? I don’t think so.

Correspondent: Unless you name it The Surrender.

(Image: pplflickr)

Categories: Fiction

Dan Chaon (BSS #345)

Dan Chaon is most recently the author of Await Your Reply.


[PROGRAM NOTES: This conversation, conducted in May, was almost lost when a Seagate drive bit the dust. Considerable gratitude to data recovery specialist Wayman Ng, who managed to resuscitate this conversation from the grave. My apologies also to the very kind and patient Dan Chaon for the unanticipated two month delay, which came after an aborted attempt to talk with the man during the book’s hardcover release. Additionally, during a moment in which the conversation shifts to Lost, narrative momentum, and concision, the Correspondent misidentifies Charles Beaumont’s “The Howling Man” as “The Wolf Man.” The short story, not to be confused with the Twilight Zone adaptation, can be found in Beaumont’s Night Ride and Other Journeys, along with several collections and is well worth reading (along with Dan’s books, for that matter).]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Tired of waiting on dying hard drives.

Author: Dan Chaon

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: I have to remark upon the frequency of auto accidents in your work. In Await Your Reply, Lucy Lattimore’s parents die in an automobile accident. There’s the car accident excuse offered by Jonah in You Remind Me of Me. The car accident identity similarly appropriated by George Orson. And all this reminded me of Charlotte Haze’s death in Lolita. Similarly, in You Remind Me of Me, Jonah kidnaps Loomis in a car. And this reminds me very much of Humbert Humbert taking away Lolita. And, of course, the epigraph for the second part in Await Your Reply is from The Real Life of Sebastian Knight: “Whatever his secret was, I have learnt one secret too, and namely: that the soul is a manner of being – not a constant state…” So I must ask you, first and foremost, about the Nabokov influence in these books and whether this preoccupation with cars is sort of a Lolita thing. I’m curious.

Chaon: The car thing is not a Lolita thing. It’s just that I spend a lot of time in cars. And when I was in my twenties, a psychic told me that I would die in a car accident.

Correspondent: (laughs) Really?

Chaon: I haven’t yet. But I have a fear of car accidents. Partially because I do a lot of driving, but I’m not known as the best driver. I’m a spacey driver. My sister has me listed as one of her top five worst drivers that she’s ever driven with. I’m only at five though.

Correspondent: This psychic premonition — were there any other premonitions? Did they have any effect on your stature as a writer? “Go write, young man?”

Chaon: No. It was one of those things where it was like this weird friend of my wife who fancied herself a medium type person and was always making pronouncements and things like that. But it did stick with me. So I guess car accidents are one of my fears, along with being in a house that’s burning down. Which is also something that I tend to write about a lot. Burning houses. The Nabokov stuff though — I mean, I do feel like it’s a big influence on me. I mean, both Lolita and Sebastian Knight. Despair as well. Which is also about identity theft. I don’t know if you’ve — have you read Despair?

Correspondent: I haven’t.

Chaon: It’s about someone who switches identities with a hobo. So, yeah, I definitely think about the big in quite a bit. In terms of people that I’ve read over and over, he’s one of the main ones.

Correspondent: Was Despair one of the guides for this particular book? Or the plot?

Chaon: I guess I had it in mind to some extent. I mean, I don’t feel like I have the same kind of intellectual or verbal chops that Nabokov does, of course. But I certainly admire his work and I think about him a lot as a writer.

Correspondent: I wanted to also ask, since we were on the topic of mediums and the like — I mean, there are a lot of aphorisms contained in this book. The Eleanor Roosevelt maxim “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And these aphorisms are almost out there — little driftwood that the characters can clutch upon. But they don’t actually take heed or comprehend the aphorisms. And I’m curious how that came about.

Chaon: Well, I wanted the book to be full of a kind of webbing of different references and a level of gamesmanship that was thinking about the ways we put together ideas about the self and ideas about our lives through various quotations and mediums, and the way that that’s actually encouraged in our education, right? We’re being presented with various models about how to behave and how to think about ourselves, and so on and so forth. So I had a lot of these things that I was playing with. I mean, there’s self-help stuff. There’s the kind of quotes that you see in high schools to encourage kids to be good citizens or whatever. And there’s the kind of things that people try to pull out when they’re trying to make intellectual pronouncements — some of which are real and some of which are made up. And some of them — I found some interesting quotes that are misattributed. There’s a [Anais] Nin quote in there that is often attributed to her. But she never really said it. And that’s another fun thing. There are all these quotes out there that people get attached to, but they don’t really belong to those people.

Correspondent: This may be an obvious observation, but I wanted to compare You Remind Me of Me with Await Your Reply. You Remind Me of Me reveals, to my mind, how characters cannot fit into the world before them. And then in Await Your Reply, you have a situation in which, well, let’s go further. Now you have to invent an identity to fit within the world. And I’m wondering if the idea here with Await Your Reply was to approach the same idea of You Remind Me of Me in a manner that was (a) more representative of 21st century life and (b) represented a greater pigeonholing of possibility through this invention of identity.

Chaon: Yeah, I think to some extent. You Remind Me of Me is very much a regionalist novel in some ways. I mean, I think I was still thinking about myself in terms of the Midwest and in terms of what the possibilities of the Midwest are. And Await Your Reply, I think, comes out of having, for the first time in my life, traveled a lot. I mean, in some ways, it comes out of book touring.

Correspondent: (laughs) Free research. I know David Mitchell, he keeps meticulous notebooks when he is on tour.

Chaon: Yeah. But I guess I started to think about the way the characters — even in Await Your Reply — would, by this point, be in larger touch with the world. Whether they wanted to or not. In Await Your Reply, people are affected by the globalization of media and by all that stuff in a way that probably the people in You Remind Me of Me weren’t — only because of the time period that they were living in.

Correspondent: I’m curious about this Midwestern jumping point. I’m not sure if that was really a straitjacket for you. But I’m curious if it was difficult, when you’re starting to envelop a larger world with this book, to really keep those limitations which you set up in You Remind Me of Me — the bar and so forth. I’m curious to what degree this was a challenge with Await Your Reply.

Chaon: Well, I wouldn’t say that it’s a challenge. A lot of the energy that I get from the landscape of the Midwest is fed into my inspiration for writing. A lot of times I’ll start out with landscape. And a lot of times, I’ll start out with these isolated places that, for whatever reason, are emotional touchstones for me. That’s the place where I’m usually starting. It was fun to start to branch out and start writing about places that I never tried to write about before. Like the Arctic. Or like Ecuador. Or like Las Vegas. And it was also fun realizing that I didn’t necessarily have to have lived in those places to write about them. I think there was a part of me that always felt that you had to have this deep instinctive sense of a place before you could write about it. And I guess I feel, after writing this, less constrained by that sense.

(Image: ALA)

Categories: Fiction

Dan Ariely (BSS #344)

Dan Ariely is most recently the author of The Upside of Irrationality.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Looking about for Dichter’s egg.

Author: Dan Ariely

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: The question is whether or not there is some kind of maximum threshold. An escalation of that one item that makes something unique before we realize that it’s really a ruse.

Ariely: I don’t think so. I think that we’re actually going the other way in terms of society. A long time ago, we had to hunt and spend time finding food and cooking and so on. And right now, you can do it in thirty seconds. So what do you do with the rest of the time? I think we get conceptual conception. I mean, we’re still occupied with consumption. But it becomes much more about the idea behind it right now rather than the thing itself. You know, we can get enough food. That’s no problem. It’s about: what does the food mean and what do the clothes mean and the vacation that we get. And so on. As we strive more for meaning and ideas and stories, I think that actually we get more and more involved in this aspect of loving what we create. By the way, I also think this has a lot to do with how things turn out in the housing recession. As the housing market was going down and down and down, Zillow — the website — they did a survey that asked people, “Have houses in your community lost value?” People said yes. “Has your house fallen in value?” And people said absolutely no. And I think that the reason is that we have our own house and we’ve tailored it just to ourselves. So we put much of ourselves into it. And we expect other people to value it. Maybe not as much as we do, but to a much larger extent. So people become immune from thinking that other people don’t see things in the way that they do.

Correspondent: We’re talking about that interval between social norms and market norms. Obviously, you’re dealing largely with behavioral economics. But in this case — like, say, a home — we almost have a social and a market norm. And so, as a result, it becomes a dicey proposition when we’re trying to analyze why people place this extraordinary value on their own particular possessions. Because it may not necessarily be interpreted — at least from their perception — as a possession.

Ariely: Yeah. So housing is complex. Again, it’s one of those things that, when you try to get people to think about the house from the perspective of the market, they have a hard time. First of all, they are connected to the price they bought the house at. It’s irrelevant, right? It’s irrelevant how much you bought the house versus how much you can sell it for. But people get attached to it. But on top of that, I talked with many real estate agents. And they say that when they get a seller to express a price, if they get an offer that is way too low, they take it as a personal offense.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Ariely: It’s not a personal offense! But, no, people really get upset.

Correspondent: Well, you were upset when they did the same to your house. When you had taken out the walls and they asked you to put them back in so you could sell the home.

Ariely: That’s right. So assuming that I did lots of changes to a house and made it just so — so we loved it — lots of other people loved it as well, but didn’t want to live in it. And eventually what we did was we put some walls back. We changed some of the beautiful things we’ve done for our purposes. And actually so many people wanted to see it afterwards then. All these changes. It was really heartbreaking.

Correspondent: But there’s also an interesting irony there. About something that you’d customized.

Ariely: Yes.

Correspondent: It becomes off market.

Ariely: That’s right.

Correspondent: So I guess we need to start off with a baseline item for market value. And then we get into a tricky situation where our own personal — the unique qualities we place…

Ariely: The unique taste that you have might also make the house less valuable.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Ariely: But it’s very hard to see it. Because if you like blue, it’s very hard for you to understand that people might not like blue windows. Or blue something. Especially if you spend lots of time and energy on it. And you do it just so. It’s really hard to imagine. I mean, I can tell you as somebody — so I wrote a couple of books. It’s the same thing. I invested a tremendous amount of effort and energy into those things. And if somebody doesn’t like them as much as I do, I don’t understand how can that be. Right? I expect everybody to love these books. In fact, in my view, they’re better than any other book in the world almost.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Ariely: But once you invest so much effort, you get blinded to the projection of other people.

Correspondent: But how does humility factor into something like this? Just from a scientific standpoint. I mean, I don’t think you really believe these two books are the best books in the world.

Ariely: No, I don’t. (laughs)

Correspondent: I’m going to have to break it to you. You know, if I had a choice between your book — which is great!

Ariely: (laughs)

Correspondent: I would choose Ulysses over that. No offense.

Ariely: Well, talk to my mother.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Categories: Ideas

Marcy Dermansky (BSS #343)

Marcy Dermansky is most recently the author of Bad Marie.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Misidentifying French landmarks and attempting to make peace with copy editors in sketchy motel rooms.

Author: Marcy Dermansky

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: I want to touch upon coincidence. Because it does create possibly a problem for a reader who is looking for a plausible reality.

Dermansky: Yes.

Correspondent: And I’m wondering if you can justify the use of coincidences or convenient run-ins because this is a work of fiction.

Dermansky: Right.

Correspondent: Because anything goes in fiction. Because you should be aware that it’s an artifice. Do you think that verisimilitude was just not required for this particular work?

Dermansky: Well, I think to some extent. There are crazy coincidences in life. And why not? I mean, there goes a motorcycle.

(A motorcycle passes.)

Dermansky: You never know who you’re going to run into or what’s going to happen. When I was signing books at BEA, someone came up to my table and said, “I want you to sign this for Alexa.” And I said, “Okay!”

Correspondent: Who was Alexa?

Dermansky: I have no idea. It was like her cousin or her niece. But at the table next to me, somebody walked up and said — and I just overheard; we were right next to each other — she said, “Could you sign this book to Alexa?” And it was just a different person next to me. And I just thought, “How many Alexas are there in the world that other people want?” And so that happened. And that’s not as dramatic as reading a book in prison and then coming out and finding out that your best friend is married to that author. But there are coincidences.

Correspondent: Did you make any efforts to track a third Alexa?

Dermansky: No. (laughs) I should have done that.

Correspondent: I mean, maybe there was a run-in of Alexas. Maybe there are a lot of Alexas in the publishing industry!

Dermansky: I stopped signing the book and said, “Isn’t it strange that there’s another Alexa?” And the woman whose book I was signing thought I was odd. And she’s just like, “Sign my book.” And I kept going on about how I thought that was interesting.

Correspondent: Did you find out what her name was?

Dermansky: No. I didn’t find out her name.

Correspondent: Oh.

Dermansky: Yeah.

Correspondent: Maybe she was Alexa. Maybe she liked to refer to herself in the third person. We don’t know.

Dermansky: Possible. Yeah, you don’t know. The normal people are often that. That’s what I was saying.

Correspondent: But on the other hand, we are dealing with narrative vs. reality.

Dermansky: I know. It’s true.

Correspondent: And while we can accept numerous coincidences, numerous associations, numerous situations, numerous parallels — that’s not necessarily going to line up neatly in a book. And in this, it seems to me, reading it, that you just didn’t care.

Dermansky: I think I didn’t care. I mean, I could put it back on you and I could ask you that. And you could be truthful. If that bothered you as a reader. Did you say, “Oh my god! She’s gone too far!”?

Correspondent: Well…

Dermansky: (laughs)

Correspondent: It did and it didn’t.

Dermansky: Okay.

Correspondent: I mean, I would say that it is rather curious that your book has a lot of outsider characters who are observing the situation. And then they mostly get involved with the narrative. And I wanted to actually ask you about that. There isn’t a single real stranger who’s looking upon all these weird characters — or unusual characters — or characters who came from a normal author.

Dermansky: Okay. (laughs)

Correspondent: They don’t just sit back and express disgust, save for that waiter. And I’m curious why you felt the need to pull in all these side characters into the narrative like this. As opposed to just letting them look at the situation and offer some expression of disgust, some expression of dismay, or what not.

Dermansky: Right. I was trying to remember who’s the waiter. He’s the waiter at the French restaurant.

Correspondent: Yes.

Dermansky: And he’s very disgusted because they put all the food on the table. And the cat on the table.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Dermansky: Well, I mean, don’t you, when you introduce a character to the story, they have to become part of the story?

Correspondent: Not necessarily. I mean, if you’re in a crowd, and these characters are often running into crowded situations when they’re not in rooms, you’re going to have people give them glances or expressions and the like.

Dermansky: Yeah, that’s true.

Correspondent: So to me, it was interesting that you decided any remote run-in with someone, I mean, immediately they become a supporting character or even a minor walk-on character.

Dermansky: Yeah. I guess that’s true. Like there’s that scene in the bathroom in Paris.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Dermansky: Where the woman walks into the bathroom. And she doesn’t just walk in and out. Well, they’re two teenage girls. They walk in and out. And they give Marie a dirty look. But then a woman in a hijab comes in. And she actually helps Marie change Caitlin’s diaper. So she becomes a character just for that scene. I don’t know. I think, if you put somebody into a room, you want to use them. Or why do that? You can’t just have a book with four characters either. It gets very claustrophobic. And so I do that a lot. I feel that as a writer — I’ve taught writing. So I’ve told students that you don’t introduce a major character in the third act of your book. You don’t. You have to have all of the players in there. But at the same point, it gets so flat and stale. Like new people come in. It’s a little bit like life. So a movie star walks in at the very end of the book.

Correspondent: That’s right.

Dermansky: And that seemed okay to me.

Correspondent: Is this, I suppose, the mark of a very socially inclusive personality?

Dermansky: I don’t think of myself as a very socially inclusive person.

Correspondent: (laughs) Just like you like to introduce people at parties, you like to introduce characters in novels? In your writing?

Dermansky: (laughs) No, I’m the person at the party who stands back and just gets introduced to other people.

Correspondent: You’re just defying all the expectations here. This is great.

Dermansky: I think I defy the expectations without thinking! (laughs)

(Image: Rachel Kramer Bussel)

Categories: Fiction