Ghostman in Japan! Interview for Bungei Shunju
GHOSTMAN comes out in Japan this month, from publisher Bungei Shunju! I did an interview for them that should go on their site sometime in the next week. Here are some excerpts--
Could you tell me how you were “discovered” and finally became an international author?
I got my first major break when I was nineteen years old. I wrote a short comedic play that got picked up and was performed at a couple of festivals. I'd written several novels by that point and sent out hundreds of query letters to agents and publishers, but didn't have any success. I kept trying, though. The next year, when I was 20, I landed my first major publication in The New York Times. After that I landed a movie deal in Hollywood. That summer I tried to write and publish as many short stories as I could. The man who is now my agent, Nat Sobel, noticed one of those stories and asked to see my unpublished novels. He didn't like any of them-- but he was willing to look at my next book. I spent the whole next year writing the first draft of Ghostman. I turned it in on the day I graduated college, and within weeks I had a publishing deal.
I believe that what makes GHOSTMAN outstanding is your voice/style/prose. How could you learn such a skill? It is just you are gifted, or did you train by yourself?
My motto is a quote from Ernest Hemingway: "The most essential gift for a writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector." If I have a gift, it's the ability to tell when my writing is good and when it isn't. I'm totally self-taught. I write, save the good stuff, throw away everything else, and repeat. I never got much out of writing groups or classes, in part because I found them pretentious and self-congratulatory. Too many writing groups are full of people who think they're brilliant, and I think that's counterproductive. I don't want to be satisfied with my writing-- I want to be better. In order to become a better writer, I have to keep my shit detector running at all times. I have to be my own worst critic. I will never think of myself as a great writer, and that's a good thing. I want to keep getting better. I learned to write a certain way-- alone, in my room, every day, for years and years. They say every writer faces seven years of rejection, and I think that's true. I just started early.
Jack the Ghostman is very unusual character. How did you create him?
The idea for the Ghostman came from my own life experience. I wrote the book during a very tumultuous period of my life, when I was about to graduate college into one of the worst job markets in American economic history. I didn't have any prospects. I spent my whole childhood working and studying as hard as possible based on the premise that if I graduated from a good college, I could get a good job and have a happy life. Now that I was about to graduate, I felt tricked. I felt like none of my hard work had amounted to anything-- even with a first rate degree, I couldn't even get a job flipping burgers. So I wrote GHOSTMAN in order to turn my biggest weakness into a strength. I felt like a nobody, so I created a character who was a nobody professionally. I wanted my character to enjoy being a nobody. The Ghostman is a very well-educated young man, like me, who uses his intelligence and his low social standing in order to get away with theft. I felt powerless. The Ghostman took that powerlessness and turned it into strength. Plus, who doesn't sometimes fantasize about leaving their old life behind and starting fresh as someone new? The Ghostman is completely unburdened by the past. He can be anyone he wants to be, and I find that appealing.