Sunday 29 May 2011

Nathan Larson interview: The Dewey Decimal System

The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson

Nathan Larson is best known as an award-winning film composer, having done the music for over 30 films including BOYS DON'T CRY, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, and THE MESSENGER among many others. He cut his teeth in the hardcore punk scene in Washington D.C., was the lead guitarist in the influential prog-punk outfit SHUDDER TO THINK, and currently lives in Harlem, NYC with his wife and son. THE DEWEY DECIMAL SYSTEM is his first novel.
Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?
A haunted, deeply damaged book-loving veteran returns to his profoundly damaged hometown, where he half-heartedly tries and fails to stay out of trouble.
What was your motivation for writing it?
A personal challenge and an intellectual exercise from the outset, but as I filled the thing with more and more of my own private concerns it became (and continues to be) my own grappling with larger emotional and political issues.
How long did it take you to write?
The first draft took 2 months. Rewrites took another 2 months. Happened quite quickly (or so I’m told!) .
How much difference does an editor make?
HUGE! Johnny Temple is an old friend and a brilliant editor…I have a tendency to go off on tangents and digressions and Johnny kept me focused. It would be a far more scattered book (much more of a rant) had Johnny not forced me to stay the course and actually write a story with a beginning and an ending.
How much difference does a good cover make?
I think a massive difference. I wouldn’t have settled for something I wasn’t totally happy with. I just saw an edition of a friends book from the UK ((with all due respect, I love it and have lived over there, will be there this June), it is a crap cover with that crappy font most of your trade paperback thrillers have, and she was very bummed…changes the way I view her book, I can’t help it.
How important is a good title?
Well in my case I don’t recommend naming your book after a “thing” because you will never be able to Google it. You’ll get (in my case) a lot of outdated Library shit. Actually this is probably a positive side-effect cos one should NEVER Google oneself or one’s work unless you're prepared for the worst…another plus is librarians dig my title and they are a good group of folks to have on your side!
How important is a book's central character?
He’s the whole ballgame. He’s it. His issues and his problems and his handicaps make the story what it is.
What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?
Never use anything besides “said” or “says” unless absolutely necessary (i.e. “shouts”, “yells”) and secondly look HARD at ALL your adverbs. Do you really need them?
Also the best plotting advice ever comes from Raymond Chandler: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”
What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?
I learned it early on, in my punk days. Be fair. Split things evenly. Set up a situation where if one party does well, the other party does equally well. This is the way my publishing house is set up: 50/50 deal, tiny advances…if one can deal with that it works out great in the end I think, and there can be no hard feelings.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
That I have no idea what I’m doing and write with my gut as fast as possible, this is both my greatest weakness and my greatest strength.
What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?
Compared to marketing a record or a film, it’s a dream!! Wonderful people who actually give a shit. Little money involved which keeps out the scumbags.
As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?
 I like it hard boiled and straight up, but with a serious twist and the occasionally flash of poetry/ genre transcendence. 
As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?
I would like everyone to process things exactly like me.
What was the last good eBook you read?
Never read one. Are they different than the regular format book?
What crime book are you most looking forward to reading?
Megan Abbott’s new one THE END OF EVERYTHING
If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?
Any Jim Thompson, you can read and re-read his stuff end on end. He is the master from which all things flow. Just re-read THE CRIMINAL, what an ending.
Who's your favourite living writer?
I was going to say J.G. Ballard but he died in 2009! Man I don't know. 
What makes you keep reading a book?
I must be compelled to keep reading it, I must have no choice.
What's the best collection of short stories you've read?
Daphne Du Maurier’s DON’T LOOK NOW
What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?
A deluge of bad stuff to compete with and very little money. Same old thang really.
Ever tried your hand at screenwriting?
Yes, it’s good fun but I know plenty of miserable screenwriters. 
Ever tried your hand at poetry?
Well I (used to) write lyrics for bands, but that hardly counts. Not really.
How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?
What could be wrong with that? Wait I can think of a lot of things wrong with that...look anybody can make a record too, it’s just more bullshit to sift through, but that which rises up is frequently worthy.
Which author should be much better known?
Do you read outside of the crime genre?
Oh yes!!
Do you enjoy writing?
Absolutely. I can’t think of much I’d rather be doing.
How do you feel about reviews?
I try very hard not to read them. I fail at this. For every 10 good reviews I will remember only the one bad one, that’s the cruelty of the brain and is an issue whenever you produce a product, whatever that may be.
How do you feel about awards?
When I get one I will let you know!
Was this your first experience of writing a novel?
Indeed it was. It was like a car accident. I only remember snippets. Very strange and wonderful experience.
Any lessons learnt during the course of writing it?
Write fast, before the little bastard in your brain who says “you suck” and “you can’t” gets the better of you. Write fast, write ecstatically.
How did you go about finding a publisher?
It was kind of a insider situation…I’ve know the publisher since we were about 16, we were in punk rock bands together. So I got to skip the whole step that involves shopping the book etc. I don’t have an agent…I realize now how lucky I am and am very thankful.
Megan Abbott's blurb invites comparisons with Jonathem Lethem, Charlie Huston, Philip K Dick and Chester Himes. Which writers would you say have been most influential?
Philip Dick is one writer I return to time and again for different reasons…I really feel emotionally attached to him, both strictly as a writer and with respect to his tragic amazing life. I can relate to the impression that you are somehow possessed, or being visited by an alien intelligence, his famous “pink laser” or what have you. I am probably 5 degrees more functional and luckily I am able to push through these feelings when they come, but I have experienced such things and known that kind of existential fear, not nearly thank God to the degree Philip and countless others have. I love all the writers mentioned above, but Philip Dick has been with me for longest and has a big place in my heart.
Do you have any other projects on the go?
I compose film music still as my primary job, and am working on 3 films, this is the nature of that work, you double and triple up. Truth be told I would rather be writing, and am indeed about a third of the way into the second book in this series (it is a series), the first draft of which I plan on having completed by July.

The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson

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