This is your debut novel. Well, how does it feel?
I’m someone who, when going on a trip, doesn’t get officially excited until I’ve arrived at my destination; in the back of my mind, I’m assuming that the plane will probably crash en route. So, I would say that I am very much tentatively excited, but I’ll have a more concrete answer in April 2012, once the book is actually printed and available at fine bookstores everywhere (if they still have bookstores at that point).
The title. Anything to do with Bosch’s painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights?
I’m a big Bosch fan, but I didn’t intend it as an overt reference to him or his painting. That being said, I realize that anyone familiar with his work will probably immediately think of him when they hear my title. My dream is that future generations will associate the phrase ‘Earthly Delights’ with the name Dojny rather than Bosch. (Game on, Hieronymus.)
How did you wind up going with Dzanc? They cover a lot of ground for a publishing house, it seems—events, courses, prizes, a mentoring program, etc. and have been cropping up a lot in the news. They purport to “champion those writers who don’t fit neatly into the marketing niches of for-profit presses.” Do you feel this is you?
I think it’s accurate to say I wrote a book that’s difficult to pithily pitch from a marketing perspective. Yet, it’s also a novel that Oprah Winfrey would probably very much enjoy. Dzanc Booksis a unique publisher: they’re wildly ambitious, and are involved with a variety charitable endeavors as well as supporting the work of a lot of exciting writers (including Laura van den Berg, Hesh Kestin, and Jonathan Baumbach). I’m proud to be associated with them.
You have also worked as a graphic designer, a cartoonist, an illustrator, a painter. Do you have a primary pursuit?
I used to be an artist who wrote a little bit, but now I’m more of a writer who also draws a little bit.
How do you and John [Wray] know each other?
John lived down the hall from me during my Freshman year at Oberlin College. Back then, he had an extremely righteous ponytail.
You’ve done at least one cooperative piece with John–the Impossible Sightseeing in A Public Space. Forgive the first part of this question but—it is… true, isn’t it? These are all real places with accurate descriptors?
It reminds me of being a freshman in college and trying to scope out all the secret niches of a new place. I love the way it re-mystifies New York… I feel like people are moving here constantly in search of excitement and discovery, and then within a few months, we develop a routine and avoid tourist destinations like the plague. This piece reads like a tourist map for natives. Whose idea was this and where did it come from? Are you interested in exposes or do the two of you go looking for trouble?
The piece was John’s idea—I’m pretty sure it came to him in a dream, but you’d have to confirm that with him. My wife is a Historic Preservationist and works for the Parks Department, so she was a great resource. She clued us into many of the coolest places, including my personal favorite, the Underground World Home. I personally do not like to go looking for trouble; I’m too old.
Also, you’re both writing Twitter novels. What inspired that?
I started writing mine as something to do when things were slow at work. I haven’t worked on it for a while—I’m thinking of resuming it, although I’m not really convinced that Twitter is an ideal way to consume long-form narrative fiction. (It seems much better suited for reading Kanye’s cufflinks recommendations.)
For your 8th grade English class, you wrote a short-story called “The Latch-Key Child” and received an A+ for creativity, an A for Irony and a B/B+ for Mechanics. Do you feel that you have an unconventional approach to the mechanics of writing/storytelling? Or has your approach changed since 1985?
In the case of “The Latch-Key Child,” I’ve always felt that the B/B+ grade more reflected Mrs. Wilkes’ overly-traditional approach to paragraph breaks rather than any unconventional mechanics on my part. I’m not really interested in any kind of postmodern pyrotechnics (at least in my own writing); I’m primarily interested in telling a good story.
Is it true you were married in a cemetery?
Yes! But it wasn’t as ‘Goth’ an event as it might sound. My wife used to work at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and we’ve both always found it to be a really beautiful place—it was the inspiration for Central Park. The little chapel there was designed by the same guy who designed Grand Central. If you’ve never been, I strongly recommend a visit.
Why do you write?
When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader and writer; I even wrote a novel when I was in sixth grade, and attracted the attention of a literary agent who shopped it around (garnering a stack of very considerate rejection letters). But, in college, I had a creative writing teacher who was deeply unenthusiastic about my work, and a drawing teacher who was very encouraging, so I changed my major to Studio Art.
When I first moved to New York, I spent a fair amount of time trying to make it in the art world, but at some point—about six years ago—I began to grow tired of that particular scene. I found it depressing to have piles of unsold paintings cluttering my small apartment; and, when I did sell work, it made me sad that I was never going to see it again—it felt like selling off one of my kids. I started thinking about doing something different.
A while back, I’d spent some time living in Southeast Asia, and had written my friend John (Wray) some extraordinarily long letters that he thought might be good fodder for a novel. I liked the idea of making a reproducible object such as a book—something that wasn’t a precious singular entity like a piece of art. (Also, I figured that if my writing turned out to be unpublishable, at least it could remain hidden inside my hard drive rather than taking up closet space.) However, by that point in my life, I didn’t really consider myself a writer, and the idea of undertaking a novel seemed somewhat ridiculous. I decided to give it a shot anyway.
I originally was thinking of making some sort of art-book that had a bit of text in it, but, once I began writing, I found that I couldn’t stop. I felt like I was 13 years old again, and could just sit and write uninterrupted for hours at a time. To me, the most exciting thing about writing—when it’s going well, at least—is that I feel as though I’m having a kind of lucid dream, watching the narrative unspool before my eyes. (I realize that this sentiment is probably a major cliche, but, like most good cliches, it happens to be true.)
I also find that the creation of a fictional world makes more engaged in the actual world. I’m very intuitive when I work, and have a superstitious (and possibly narcissistic) belief that the world is constantly sending me clues as to what should be included in a story. (Recently, I very randomly came across a biography of the musician Warren Zevon, and he has now become a major character in my new novel.) Crafting a fictional universe gives me a satisfyingly god-like sensation, and I recommend that everybody give it try.