A Paris Review Style Interview with Tim Chambers
Can you tell us briefly what the book is about?
It's about a vulture capitalist brought down by the economic collapse. As he sees how the other half lives and confronts his own culpability for it, he inadvertently finds the means to bring the nation to its senses. But, feckless as he is, he can't make it work for himself.
So you're saying, "It's about the corruption, stupid," is that it?
Essentially, yes, but I wouldn't want to reduce it to just that, there's an awful lot more to the story that makes it an entertaining read.
Where did you get the idea for the novel?
I wanted to write a kind of blues, but in the form of a novel; a story of loss and disappointment that would, nonetheless, be a joy to read, much as the blues is a joy to hear. I fancied a Wall Street financier, broke and on the road, attempting to live in the world he'd wrought, just like the rest of us. Somehow, he's having the time of his life. In part because he lets it all hang out, but also because it hasn't sunk in that his life isn't a beach anymore, or a game people play, and he thinks everything will just come to him. Eddie belongs to a class of people I feel are in need of a real comeuppance and he does, in a manner of speaking, get his. But not in the way you might expect. The ending didn't even occur to me until some days after I put it on here.
I understand the title, but what do you mean by the subtitle?
It's an allusion to one of my favorite narrative poems, The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Three Fits. But it also represents how the characters feel about the way the country has changed since their youth.
Where can one find it?
There are chapters available online at my website bonalibro.us. More chapters, and hundreds of comments, can be seen at Authonomy.com.
What has the reaction been like, so far, from the publishing community?
It's viewed as literary fiction, but not literary enough, it seems. I emphasized style from the very beginning. There's a cadence to the narrative that reminds some people of Coleridge, though to me it suggests a vehicle in motion. However, the structure is more episodic, suitable for a picaresque. The story is character driven but, as in popular fiction, the characters are developed through dialogue rather than through navel gazing, which might be considered more "literary." In that way, it's the antithesis of stream of consciousness. Eddie has varied personas, and his manner of speaking changes according to his audience. He starts out as a false populist, a poseur who becomes a genuine man of the people as the story progresses. I prefer to describe it as imaginative literature, rather than "literary fiction" as defined by the publishing industry. Most of that stuff doesn't interest me.
What is your creative process like? Do you outline, write back story, do character studies and such?
I used to, but not this time. I found myself impeded by it when I did. I knew what the main elements were; the road trip, the chili, the blues aspect but everything else kind of fell into place. I try to write organically, typing whatever comes to mind and let one sentence suggest what follows. When I run into problems, such as where to go next, it's because I need some clarity on where I have been. So I go back and edit and rewrite, and the problem usually resolves itself, especially if I sleep on it first. It's a process of discovery as much as of creativity. Once I have the skeleton, I flesh it out in the later drafts.
How did you manage to turn the depression into something so entertaining?
Humor is said to be despair that doesn't take itself seriously. I'd seen a lot of hard times myself and managed to keep my spirits up, so I lent that spirit of optimism to my main character. He has great faith in his pot roast chili and his bounteous gift for gab. Feckless as he is, he is bound and determined to make it. His enterprising spirit is something people should identify with, even if he is a trust fund baby and a narcissistic prick, at first.
To me, that's what makes it so much fun, all the bravado and hard knocks, the grandiose schemes that come to naught, the ongoing inflation/deflation of Eddie's self-image.
Narcissism runs in the family, so I'm pretty familiar with how it works and much of the joke is on me. I went through a 12-steps program shortly before I started writing, and was reading a lot of self-help books. The one that made the biggest impression was Iron John.
You mean the book by Robert Bly?
Exactly. It's all about the humbling of the arrogant prince, making him do the dirty work until he becomes a mensch. I realized what I was going through was something that was necessary.
There's a lot about political economy, some of it pretty controversial.
I don't know about controversial. I'm sure it just advocates old ideas that need to be recirculated. But it's not a political rant. The way I envision Eddie, he's more like a court jester. He tells some light and amusing tales, but he also gets his digs in on some fundamental truths, and close to his own truth, as well. Not only has he lost his fortune, he suffers a crisis of conscience over how that fortune was made, and a cris de coeur over Cheyenne. Now that he's trying to make his own way, seeing the world from downside up is an enlightening change of perspective.
You took a lot of risks including both highbrow and lowbrow elements. What is that all about?
A lot of people remark on that. But that's life, isn't it? I think my generation, the Boomers, was the last to be acculturated to the classical canon. Most of us rejected it, especially the music, for a culture that was just as alien to us, rooted, as it is, in slavery and sharecropping. We loved the authenticity that our lives in the suburbs lacked, but could never really make it our own because it wasn't in our experience. We also rejected the literary canon, which is why Eddie's stories are inspired by pulp fiction.
Why is it that your characters have so many identity issues?
Because so many people I have known have similar problems. When you can take it for granted you're going to have what you need to survive, you start seeking other things. I had friends who have been through various cults and exotic religions. They needed to identify with something authentic, perhaps because our corporate media culture and institutionalized religions don't provide such experiences. Mostly, the media churns out is safe, entertaining, market researched drivel, masquerading as culture; or worse, as youthful rebellion. If anything were better designed to keep youth away from the barricades than sex, drugs, and rock'n roll, and then feed them into the system, I can't imagine what it is. But I think identity issues have also poisoned our politics.
That's one of Eddie's epiphanies in the novel, is it not?
He sees that politics should be concerned with assuring the people's well being, and not just his own, regardless of the changes needed in the economic structure. Instead, we're fighting over personal issues of import only to small fringe groups, while the rentiers rob us of our bacon and bread, and holler about class warfare. As if they haven't been waging one for as long as I can remember. The sort of identity politics we've practiced for the last generation have ceded America's destiny to our proud Banana Republicans, hence the title, while most of those who are being hurt are more likely to take to the barricades for the rights of their oppressors. That is because the liberal elite failed them as badly as the radical right, and they have no one they can trust.
What will you do with the Kickstarter funds?
The novel is pretty much complete (at 70,000 words,) but it needs a developmental edit, an expensive and risky proposition for an author attempting a breakthrough book. Paying an editor would be my first priority. Exceeding my goal might permit me to drive the routes my characters take and gain a better feel for the local color. I would also like to interview people who are struggling through the current depression to lend some bite to Eddie's observations.
What is your ultimate goal?
My goal is to gain the attention of a reputable agent and publisher. If I must, I am prepared to self-publish, but only to keep my word to my backers. I seriously doubt it's the way to find readers for this type of book.