The OF Blog: February 2005

Monday, February 21, 2005

Jonathan Carroll Interview

Once again special thanks go to Lotesse for contacting Carroll (author of books such as The Land of Laughs and White Apples, which I've enjoyed greatly over the years) and conducting this short interview. Hopefully, many of you will enjoy reading what Carroll has to say here and maybe will consider reading his books in the future. And now, without further ado, the interview itself:

1. If you don't mind, could you give us a brief biographical sketch to give us a clearer image of the person behind the pen? What led you to choose a career as a writer and what effects, if any, has writing had on your personal life?

I'm not interested in who I am and neither should the reader. Read my books if you want to know who I am. There is no better autobiography. I'm an American who has lived in Vienna for 30 years. I used to be a teacher until I was lucky enough to make enough money from the writing to do that as a day job. I'm married, have a very handsome and talented 25 year old son, a very ugly but charming bullterrier named Jack the Idiot, and a new book due out in English in the Fall. That's enough about me.

2. How do you react to comments from readers and critics alike that tend to place your body of work into categories such as "fantasy" or "magic realism?"

Read the books again because you misunderstood them the first time. People are quick to call stories fantastic when they have talking dogs or flying children in them but that's too easy and dismissive. Do we call Kafka a fantastic writer because he wrote a famous novella about a man who woke up one morning and discovered he had turned into an insect? Do we call Günter Grass, the Nobel Prize winner, a fantasy writer because his most famous book is about a midget who has supernatural powers? Or Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster (who wrote a book about a man who could fly), Gabriel García Márquez? The list goes on and on. There are fantastical elements in my books too, but that is not what they are "about," any more than Kafka's "Metamorphosis" is about a man who turns into a bug.

3. One common theme I've noticed in many of your novels, from The Land of Laughs through White Apples is the talking dog. Is this just an incidental thing, or do you try to work it in like Jerry Seinfeld worked in images of Superman in his sitcom?

You write about what you know. I live with dogs and always have, so they are part of my living geography. All writing is organizing your personal chaos. I like dogs, beautiful smart women, fountain pens, coffee, thoughtful people... etcetera. All of these things occur again and again in my novels because they matter to me, not just dogs who talk... or don't.

4. How do you develop the scenes - do you start with an idea, or do the memorable scenes appear only after you're writing?

I feel that I can start a book when I find a first sentence or title of a piece. The beginning of my next novel, GLASS SOUP, came about because a magazine in the US asked me to write a short story for them. I waited and waited until finally a title rose out of my perpetual fog-- "SIMON'S HOUSE OF LIPSTICK." I had no idea what the story would be about, but I just started writing it. Halfway through, another title came to me-- GLASS SOUP. I had no idea what THAT meant either but I knew this short story I was writing was going to be part of that longer piece. And it was.

5. How soon can we expect a sequel to White Apples and will there be more tales starring Ettrich?

In September TOR in the US will publish the sequel to WHITE APPLES, which is called GLASS SOUP.

6. Reflecting back on White Apples, I can't help but feel as though there was something personal about this tale. What life experiences, if any, went into the writing of this tale?

Thinking about my parents' death, as well as the death of the person the book is dedicated to. Thinking about what might happen to all of us after we die. Creating a vision of an afterlife that is both positive and hopeful. The nicest thing about WHITE APPLES is the amount of mail I have received from people who say reading the book comforted them because they had just lost someone they loved. And twice from people who were dying who said that they only hoped what I said about the afterlife was true. If it did, then they wouldn't be scared.

7. How much do you write per day?

I like to write so I usually write every day but it is not necessarily the book I'm working on. I keep an almost a daily blog at my website and sometimes that takes a surprising amount of time to do. Then there are book reviews, introductions to other people's books, stuff like that. And if I'm not in the mood, I don't write at all. Instead I go to a cafe instead or walk the dog. Vienna is a nice town to walk in.

8. If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

Donner, Blitzen, Rudolf, etcetera. Then I would harness them all to a sled and whip them into the sky, all along pretending I was Santa.
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