|Photo by Michael Turek, courtesy of Scribner|
I reviewed James Boice's new novel The Good and the Ghastly here a little while back, and he was so happy with me being happy with his book that he was happy to do this email interview, which made me happy. Happy.
A Walrus Darkly: When did you start writing and what do you feel formed your style and your outlook as a writer?
James Boice: I’ve been writing all my life. I started making a more concentrated effort at it after I dropped out of college to do it. I figured since I dropped out of college to do it, I should probably do it. And so I did it.
Some writers who I blame for putting it into my head at 13-18 years old to do something so stupid and absurd and futile as devoting my life in late 20th- early 21st-century USA to fucking writing fiction: Jack Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Jim Carroll, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, John Fante, Charles Bukowski. That’s who I was into as a teenager.
AWD: Your work is deeply tied to Northern Virginia, even if it's often a futuristic, crime-ravaged
Northern Virginia. What's the significance of that part of for you and why does it keep finding its way back into your work? America
JB: Because I hate
Northern Virginia. No I don’t. Yes I do. No I don’t. Yes I do.
Virginia is the quintessence of the : a carefully designed, affluent, soul-sucking, uber-convenient, super-striving, cut-throat, safe place in which nothing happens to you that you have not chosen to happen to you. United States of America
AWD: Critics have compared your writing to Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk. What writers have influenced you most?
JB: I don’t know if critics have compared me to them. Critics—whatever that means today—have compared me to some of the most outlandish contradictory people, some of whom I have never heard of. Sometimes I wonder where the hell they get this stuff. My publisher, however, has made those comparisons and that is only because publishers spend a lot of time coming up with such comparisons and find them very important to make, no matter how true they are. I have a complicated relationship with both those two writers, as a reader. Then again I have a complicated relationship with everything and everyone except my wife, who is my number one partner in crime. Other influences: Faulkner, Shakespeare, Cormac McCarthy, Don Delillo, Hemingway, Hubert Selby, Kurt Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace, Bruce Wagner, Joyce Carol Oates, etc
AWD: What inspired The Good and the Ghastly?
JB: The life and 16-year-long search for Whitey Bulger which ended one week after the novel’s came out. Also George W. Bush's illegal, bloodthirsty, empirical “presidency.” I started the book in 2005. Whitey Bulger was free and, it turns out, living the high life on a beach Santa Monica, Osama bin Laden was living the high life in Pakistan, George W. Bush was living the high life in a big white house in Washington DC: A stink was in the air. Doom. Everywhere you looked there was some ghastly evil guy doing some horrible evil thing followed by a big cover-up to make sure he did not pay the price for it. WMDs, Tillman, Abu Ghraib, every word out of Rumsfeld’s and Cheney’s mouth, and so on. The ghastly were ruling the earth. The good were pawns. It was a horrible fucking time. Just depressing as hell. I wanted to express everything I felt about the state of the world and the way the country had just become thoroughly fucking rotten after someone’s act of evil (9/11).
AWD: What was your process for writing this book? Does your working life vary from project to project or are you a more ritualistic writer?
JB: Process: Wrote it. Two years. Big, big crazy manuscript. Sprawling, weird. 1,200 pages. It sat around for two years. I edited it, rewrote it from top to bottom. Made it 288 pages.
Maybe .03% of what I write ever ends up published, in general. The process of how a book begins and how it ends up on a shelf is mystifying to me. So I have to say it varies from project to project. I have nothing figured out. Sometimes I think it’s all a fluke or a mistake that anything I’ve written has been published at all. I try to keep a regular schedule. If I don’t, I become unglued. “I write to keep myself from total madness.”
AWD: Your writing carries a great deal of brutality, both thematically and in terms of its depiction of violence. Is this something that comes naturally to you or is it a deliberate attempt to make some statement about violence, human cruelty or the corrupting influence of power?
JB: If I wanted to make a statement about anything, I’d write an essay or better yet just post something on Twitter—not write a novel. So I guess it’s something that comes naturally to me. It comes creeping out of my media-saturated upper-middle class pampered suburban crybaby white male American subconscious like a monster from a swamp.
AWD: Junior Alvarez, your protagonist in TGATG, is inspired by Alexander the Great to carry out his own conquests. Did you see this story as a timeless sort of parable for all conquerors or did that grow organically during the writing?
JB: Grew organically.
AWD: Much of Junior's life eventually becomes about paranoia, and he lives in a futuristic world dominated by corporate control. Why was paranoia an important theme for you to explore with this book?
JB: Probably because I am paranoid and the world we live in is corporately controlled.
AWD: What are you working on now?
JB: I have two novels finished since The Good and the Ghastly. Will they ever see the light of day? I don’t know. My agent situation is a little confusing and unclear at the moment, so I should probably get that resolved. I’ve been writing short stories recently. My head has been in about 1000 directions, 999 of them not good ones.
AWD: Any advice for aspiring writers?
JB: Read, write, and keep your balls to the wall.
AWD: If you had to sell TGATG to a reader in 140 characters or less, what would you say?
It’s about gangsters and vigilantes and the future and evil. It’s funny and warped and fucked up and good.
The Good and the Ghastly is in bookstores now.