Let’s get started. With this new book, Banshee and the Sperm Whale, you got a little more, what’s the right word, illicit? As in, there’s some Rated-R stuff going on. It’s not so kid friendly, if you know what I mean, maybe a tad transgressive. Did you do any “fieldwork” for this novel?
I’m afraid so. (Nodding head slowly) I’m afraid so.
Can you elaborate?
I’m afraid not. (Lips pursed) I’m afraid not.
Fair enough. How would you compare your first novel, Facticity Blues, to this one?
Well, as suggested, Facticity Blues is a lighter, more comic sort of read, whereas Banshee and the Sperm Whale is darker. Also, Facticity takes place on the surface of the sea and is more oriented towards the outward experiences of the characters. Banshee, on the other hand, takes place under the sea and is a more direct exploration of the inner psyche. So, they are different in a lot of ways, but I’d say that Banshee and the Sperm Whale couldn’t have been written without Facticity Blues.
One of the starting points for Banshee concerned being dissatisfied with what I was able accomplish with Facticity. Like, it bothered me that I wasn’t able to probe the unconscious with more depth. So this novel is an attempt to accomplish certain things I wasn’t able to do with the first one.
So, you’ve called the book an allegory. Without spoiling anything, can you tell me a little bit more about this? How is it an allegory? What kind of allegory?
Basically, the book has two parallel narratives, and one of the narratives in particular is epistemological in nature, as in, what we can know and can’t know. In this way, it’s partially an attempt to express our epistemological predicament as humans, if that makes sense.
Kind of. Do you think we can know whether or not God exists?
No. I personally have strong skeptical leanings.
And is it fair to say that the novel critiques certain religious ideals?
Yes, there’s critique, but there’s also sympathy.
For people who struggle with the meaning of life question and who find solace in religion.
And where do you stand on the problem of evil?
I stand at full attention. I think it’s a much more difficult argument to overcome than is often supposed. The suffering in this world is so deep and wide and particular, that, to my mind, the very best we can do is to sort of throw our arms up in the air and plead ignorance.
What’s your favorite novel?
Tough call. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is up there. Kafka on the Shore made a big impression on me. Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar is a favorite. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was a fun one. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was big when I was younger. More recently, I really enjoyed George Saunders' short stories in Tenth of December.
Do you like olives?
Changing subjects, but do you have any pet peeves about society today, something that really irritates you and you wish would change?
Yes. The increasing popularity of the arguments against the person (critiquing a person’s character or circumstance instead of the argument, i.e., the ad hominem fallacy). Sadly, such attacks are now so common that people actually think it’s a good way to reason. One very prominent politician in particular sets a glowingly bad example in this regard.
Okay, so there are some parts of the novel that, how should I say this, could be offensive to certain people. What would you say to these people who might take exception to certain parts of the book?
Well, if the novel caused someone to think lesser of me as a person, I’d say I’m disappointed and possibly even saddened, as I have respect for all people. However, I’d also say that I don’t believe art should be subservient to various political sensitivities. Obviously, we live in a politically charged climate. And there are pressures on artists and thinkers of all kinds to not be too provocative, or to not use certain words, etc. I reject that line of thought. If a story calls for using certain words or conveying characters or situations in controversial ways, if it is within the writer’s natural way of being to do so, he/she should not feel pressured to water down a story for political reasons.
So it sounds to me like writing isn’t just about telling a story for you. Is that fair?
That’s fair. For me, writing is about adding value to the world and connecting with other minds, trying to feel less alone. I’d also say it’s about attempting to fully be myself, or discover myself, or maybe create myself, which can be scary and humbling, but very real.
Who’s your favorite musician?
Favorite Dylan album?
If someone were holding a gun to my head, Blonde on Blonde.
Okay, in your first novel, a dog named Keeler made an appearance. In Banshee and the Sperm Whale, a cat named Mazzy was present. Are you a dog or cat person, and can you please make a general statement on dog and cat people?
Given the either/or nature of the question, I’d say a cat person. However, let me be clear about something. I like dogs. What I don’t like are people who judge people for not liking dogs. I find that pretty obnoxious.
I think I smell what you’re stepping in. So, I had a question about the Nietzsche quote/epigraph at the start of Banshee and the Sperm Whale? Why did you choose it? Did you think it would look impressive?
Yeah, I kinda did. Did it work?
I’d say so. Very erudite-appearing. Any other reason for the quote?
Well, aside from the fact that it paints a certain picture of the human animal that is in line with the spirit of the book, the epigraph did motivate me in a funny kind of way, in that sometimes I’d imagine Nietzsche reading the book. You know, like I was one of his students or something. The basic hope was to not embarrass myself in front of Professor Nietzsche, to not have him roll his eyes and scoff at what he sees as a boorish attempt to illuminate philosophical ideas.
(Smiling) Are you working on a third novel, and if so, what can you tell me about it?
I’ve been hesitant to start a third novel, but I have indeed taken the plunge...or so it seems. With this one, I’ve decided to write in the first person, and I’m starting with much greater emphasis on character over plot and ideas.
And why have you been hesitant to start a new novel?
Because of the difficult nature of it all.
And how would you sum up the difficulty?
Maybe with another Nietzsche quote: “When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks back at you.” Meaning that when a person embarks on the novel journey, it can be intense and demanding, and can change one forever. And I don’t think a writer can assume that the change is all good.
Because the abyss is a chaotic, alluring and unpredictable place, with a bunch of spikes along its sides, and strange echoes and such.
Any parting thoughts...on cooking ingredients??
Yes, this year I’ve decided to buy a bushel of Pueblo green chile and a bushel of Hatch, and instead of going for medium, I’m buying the hot.