citizen michael

Posted on March 30, 2006

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shortcut talks to michael scott moore, berlin contributor and budding novelist

1. You’re a writer because….?

Not writing depresses me.

2. Your first novel "Too much of nothing" – how did the book come into existence?

The book started with a memory. One scene in the novel, where two kids chop down a tree, is semi-autobiographical. Everything spun from that. Soon I had a story about two delinquents in California that would make a pretty good satire of American counterculture, especially if I pushed it — which is why one kid, the narrator, winds up dead. I had no idea until my manuscript was making the rounds in New York that someone else had a book with a ghost narrator. That was The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold.

3. Ich bin ein Berliner – does that apply to you by now?

"I am a jelly donut." Yes.

4. Role models? Or do you recommend not having any?

Robertson Davies and Julian Barnes have their fingerprints all over Too Much of Nothing. Davies’ second-to-last book is Murther and Walking Spirits, and that’s where I got the ghost-narrator idea. But he pulls it off a lot better than me (or Alice Sebold), mainly because he really believed in ghosts. I don’t.

The writers I like best are Mark Twain, Günter Grass, Denis Johnson, Bellow, Faulkner, Derek Walcott, and Iris Murdoch. But I read everything.

5. Balanchine, a choreographer, once said: I don’t want people who want to dance. I want people who have to dance. Do you have to write?

Some people still love the idea of a novelist driven by demons with whips, so it’s romantic to say, "If I didn’t write, I’d go nuts." But that’s vain. I don’t really know my own motivations. Walcott says he’s only a poet when he sits down to write a poem. That’s the opposite of Edgar Allan Poe with his demons or the legend of Céline writing in a white heat.

6. Your favorite passage in "Too much of Nothing":

The narrator, Eric, has done a lot of brooding and reading in the afterlife, so his voice is grown up, and he’s looking back on his time as a kid:

"In those days I was just growing out of shlemielhood, out of a fierce and boyish devotion to rules. Rabbi Gelanter used to call Judaism the oldest world tradition founded on the ‘principle of freedom,’ but I was skeptical. Six hundred and thirteen commandments listed in the Books of Moses — some of them forbidding us cheeseburgers — and our rabbi argues that the legend of freedom from Egypt is the metaphorical basis for the whole religion. Obeying those rules, he said, was how Jews became free, and I guess it made sense if you took the laws as a survival guide for the ancient desert. But in California we didn’t have to worry about survival; ‘freedom’ had a different meaning. We wanted the kind of freedom that impresses every American kid — a kinetic, undirected individual liberty, defiant but lively. Freedom from what? Didn’t matter. Our country’s founding rhetoric of freedom from kings and taxes had altered, fermented, but never died, and Americans ever since the Revolution had been rolling west to be free of Old World stodginess, Eastern class-consciousness, urban congestion, bad wages, slavery, poverty, rotten weather. California was the far edge of the frontier, host to the Gold Rush, breeding ground for hippie culture, the start of the Pacific Ocean. Freedom was the whole point of our state as well as our nation. And from the end of our pier you could stand like one of Melville’s sentinels and look even further west, across a salt expanse that covered the barnacled cities of aircraft carriers lying only half-ruined on the ocean floor — or glowing fish, or island-spewing volcanic vents — things you heard about but couldn’t quite believe. You imagined how it might feel to sail to Australia with the wind in your face, and ocean mist stinging your eyes; you wondered about tidal waves, the Marianas Trench, or the lost continent of Atlantis (different ocean, but never mind) — and then, as an overwhelmed fifteen-year-old, you mounted your rusty ten-speed and rode home in time for dinner."

Want to read more about TOO MUCH OF NOTHING?

You can buy the book here

 

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