A Hungarian fatalist convinced that the human race is a blemish on God’s otherwise
beautiful universe; a statistician who has determined that we completely exhaust the earth’s resources every 30 days; a failing novelist whose nihilistic fiction has doomed her halfhearted quest for tenure; an Ultimate Frisbee-playing man-child who has discovered a fractal pattern contained within all matter, but is nevertheless obsessed with the chase for a National
Championship; a banished race of mole people preparing for a violent uprising; a factory filled with human heads being mined for information; a former philosophy professor with ALS who has discovered, as he becomes “locked in,” that he can make things happen simply by wanting
them badly enough; and a trio of vengeful, superintelligent robots secretly imprisoned in an underground hangar in Iksan, South Korea, patiently waiting for some gullible human(s) to
This is a partial cast of Anthropica, a novel that puts Laszlow Katasztrófa’s beautiful vision of a
universe without us to the test. Because even if Laszlow believes that he is merely an agent of
fate, a cog in God’s inscrutable machine, he’s nevertheless the one driving this crazy machine.
And once he has his team assembled, it turns out that he might—against all odds and his own
expectations—actually have the tools to see his apocalyptic plan to fruition.
David Hollander is the author of the novel L.I.E., a
Young Lions Fiction Award Nominee. His work has
appeared in McSweeney’s, Conjunctions, Fence, Agni,
Unsaid, The New York Times Magazine, and Best
American Fantasy, among other reputable and
disreputable publications. He lives in the Hudson Valley
with his wife and two children and teaches writing at
Sarah Lawrence College. www.longlivetheauthor.com
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I grew up mostly on Long Island, but it was a pretty lousy childhood and I don’t associate myself with that place. In fact, my first novel, L.I.E., was in part an attempt to exorcise my childhood demons and then leave them behind forever. I often just tell people I’m from Brooklyn, because that’s where I lived for 15 years, where I was living when I met my wife, where my kids were born, where life as I now know it began. About 10 years ago my nuclear unit packed up and moved north to the Hudson Valley. As I write this, I’m staring at a mountain rising up from the far shore of the Hudson River. A woodpecker is pecking away at a nearby tree. My kids are upstairs goofing around in their respective bedrooms. My wife is humming and getting bowls of ice cream ready. I’m sitting here at my desk in the pinkish light of dusk, thinking about my book and how to represent myself in these here interview questions, and it occurs to me that, even though as I was typing the words “I grew up mostly on Long Island” I felt a little wave of nausea, I’m now—at the end of this paragraph—feeling grateful that my impoverished adolescence gave way to what is a pretty decent adulthood, all said and done. If you want to wait out a global pandemic in high style, the Hudson Valley is the place to be. Who wants ice cream?
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
There are a lot of possible ways to answer that question. One is to admit that, after I couldn’t sell my previous novel, I started writing what I was calling a “g-chat novel,” where I’d paste bits of text in the status box of my g-mail chat box, for my most frequent correspondents to see. I think I was afraid of trying to write another novel, and this silly conceit made it possible for me to write bits and pieces of Anthropica without feeling any pressure. But after these bits of text started to amass and I suddenly had like, 100 pages or something, I realized I’d been kidding myself. A novel was happening.
Another way to answer would be to say that it got started when I woke up one day at age 8 and thought to myself: How can there be enough stuff on planet earth for us not to have used it all up by now? I’ve always felt bewildered in the face of our insatiable consumption. I was a pretty weird, quiet kid. Long Island wasn’t a good place for me to work out my thoughts. So in some ways, all these decades later, Anthropica became a way for me to explore an incredulousness that had shaped my childhood.
Another way to answer would be to say, Somehow the book happened, I have no idea how. Everything baffles me. All these pages… where did they come from?
How do you create your characters?
From felt and yarn, mostly. Occasionally I use glitter.
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
I read a lot of what we would now call “speculative fiction” as a kid, especially the stories of Harlan Ellison, which got me through some bad times. I would be so moved and haunted by Ellison’s stories and I wanted to make something that could have that effect on others. So I wrote a lot of science fiction and speculative fiction stories, and in high school that was sort of “my thing.” But then I basically had a nervous breakdown, forgot about writing (and everything else) for a bunch of years. By the time I made it to college I was already in my 20s. That’s when I took a class with Rick Moody, whose expansive views on writing moved me and reignited my desire to make things from words. What inspires me now is any book that is unlike all the other books I’ve read, anything that has a powerful enough vision that it seems like it could only have come from the person who wrote it. When I encounter such a book, I feel that old thrill. “I want to make something that has an effect like that.”
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I can write anywhere. When I was younger I would claim to need very specific conditions (quiet, solitude, and a large block of time so as to settle into the work). Then I had kids. Now I can write a paragraph while they’re brushing their teeth and getting ready for bed. Writing has become a crime of opportunity.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
There is an idea service in Hoboken. You send them a check for $25 and they send you three ideas. I recommend it to writers everywhere.
What do you like to read?
As touched upon above, I’m always looking for a New Thing. I like books where language is sort of front-and-center (Cormac McCarthy), or where unlike things collide and create friction (Anne Carson, Italo Calvino), or where you feel lost in someone else’s dream (Clarice Lispector, John Hawkes), or where someone seems suddenly inside your own head (David Foster Wallace), or where an author refuses to compromise their vision to make you feel safe or welcome (Elfriede Jelinek, Thomas Bernhard), or where trick-box structures subvert your expectations of story (David Mitchell). I’d describe my tastes as literary-eclectic with a twist of genre-subversion. Basically, I know the good stuff when I see it.
What would your advice be for authors or aspiring authors in regards to writing?
At first writing should be fun. If it’s not fun you’re doing something wrong. Later on, as you start to learn more technique, it gets less fun. But eventually, if you write regularly, without putting too much pressure on yourself, what you are learning about technique (or “craft”) will combine with that original fun, and you will become yourself on the page. And that’s when the real fun, the “serious fun,” starts. It’s a long-haul vocation, and since you won’t be getting a lot of external validation for a while, you have to write to please yourself.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Yes. This: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6mevE0rcpQ
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