1/2 Dozen for Michael Griffith
and, yes, he chose the bitter alternate Q and A
for which he earns points.
With us, he discusses failure, writing ecstatically (and DAMN can Griffith write ecstatically, as well as beautifully oddly and oddly beautifully),
and confesses he's a BOOK-CLUB VIRGIN.
I'll invite ANY book club in the Cincinnati area
to DEFLOWER HIM with his latest novel, TROPHY, which is already getting rave reviews.
1) Where do you get your stupidest ideas?
The fiction that I tend to want to write begins with an outlandish and playful premise (synonym for “stupid idea”), one that throws up all kinds of barriers to emotional engagement. The trick, then, is to figure out a sneaky, sidelong way to poignancy through dippiness and puns and jokes and absurdity. The new novel, for instance, takes place in one second, and starts from the proposition that cliché has it right, and your life really does flash before your eyes in the moment of your death. If that’s so, then for as long as you can keep memories flashing across the screen, you can’t die; you have a kind of split-second immortality. That stupid idea presented a couple of challenges that seemed interesting: How to make a novel made all of so-called digressions, in which the only plot point (Howdy, Mr. Reaper, sir) is given away in the first line; a novel in which the protagonist announces immediately that his intention is to waste as much time as possible, and then asks the reader, for almost 300 pages, to pretend not to recognize whose time it is that he proposes to waste; a comic novel about (OH ho ho) dying? It’s boxcar upon boxcar of stupid ideas, arranged into the prettiest wreck I could make.
2) Tell us about your failed projects.
I suppose I’d say not only that all my projects are failed projects (I’m sure my readers will readily agree), but that I reject the possibility of a successful project. Some people seem to have the idea that novels are projects, that life is a project. The very word “digression” implies this kind of thinking, implies that there’s a right and proper gress from which one has strayed. But whose life is a linear narrative? Whose consciousness runs along a string? How to tell progress from regress from digress? We are poor, bare, forked animals who live most of our lives in a state of ungress.
Trophy is a more fully realized doomed idea than most—a project failed in every way I could think to fail it over six years. But I have a zillion stupid ideas that I might still figure out how to botch at length: There’s the novel about a band of grammar terrorists who rove the countryside to avenge sins against the American language; there’s the love story about two shy devisers of crossword puzzles who communicate through their grids; there’s the tale of obituary writer who thinks herself a knight whose job it is to take public revenge for her obituees against all who wronged them in life.
3) Do you believe, deep down, that you're pretty much a fraud?
Of course. What else is writing for?
4) What books/other authors do you consider to be wearing the Emperor's New Clothes? Who is completely overrated? What classics really blow?
The world is stocked full of overrated writers, several of whom have the first name Jonathan and the last initial F. (Also: The Old Man and the Sea? Seriously? And while I’m at it; The Iliad is a Robert Rodriguez bloodbath in verse. One severed limb per work of literature/film is my iron-clad rule. No matter what the soundtrack sounds like.)
5) If a slow writer -- one who takes a good ten years to write a book -- do you think it's all about crafting the exact right sentence or are you just kind of lazy?
It’s about lazily crafting the exact right sentence.
Probably my favorite bit of literary praise is the one John Updike gave my beloved Vladimir Nabokov when he said that VN “writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically.” That seems dead-on to me, and the fact is that you can’t gin up ecstasy most days, no matter how hard you try. Ecstasy has so many enemies, ranging from famine and injustice to hangover or hangnail. That a writer is having a blast while writing is certainly no guarantee that the reader will, too (there’s plenty of self-indulgence in the world), but it seems to me a near-certainty that if the writer is bored or disengaged, the reader will be as well. I long ago came to grips with the fact that I won’t produce thirty books, though I very much admire those who can and do.
6) Have you ever cried on the way home from a Ladies' Book Club where they got a little drunk and caustic? Did it hurt your weedle feelings?
I’ve never been invited to a book-club meeting of any kind, even though I live to be in the company of people feeling drunk and caustic. And have easily hurt weedle feelings. And cry more often than John Boehner. And love cake.
THE SKINNY ON GRIFFITH:
Michael Griffith’s previous books are Bibliophilia (2003) and Spikes (2001), both from Arcade. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Ninth Letter, Salmagundi, Oxford American, New England Review, Shenandoah, Ninth Letter, Southwest Review, Five Points, Blackbird, The Washington Post, and other periodicals, and he is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (2004) and the Louisiana Division of the Arts (2001), among others.
A native of Orangeburg, SC, Griffith earned an AB in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Princeton (summa cum laude) in 1987 and an MFA in Creative Writing from LSU (1992). From 1992 to 2002 he served as the Associate Editor of The Southern Review. He is now Associate Professor of English at the University of Cincinnati and teaches in the Sewanee School of Letters as well. In 2004 he became founding editor of Yellow Shoe Fiction, an original-fiction series from LSU Press, and he is Fiction Editor at Cincinnati Review.
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