“Attention. Deficit. Disorder.” explores the psychological consequences of abortion from a male perspective. What inspired this story arc?
It started with me wondering how I would handle the situation if I ever had to deal with it in my own life, and particularly at that age-early twenties, right out of college, no real job, no direction and so forth. It’s also rooted in my complicated feelings about the ethics of abortion, and the empathy I tend to feel for people on both sides of the line, and the confusion and passion that the whole thing tends to stir up.
The book’s title seems to be an apt description for your particular style of writing: skipping from topic to topic, vacillating between fictional characters and non-fictional characters, from adventure to adventure.
I’m not exactly sure if the style you refer to in A.D.D. is my style in any kind of official sense, but one thing I can tell you with a reasonable degree of certainty is this: style and content were determined intuitively and often by accident, and many of the quirks and interjections and non-sequiturs and things of that nature that appear in the book are there because they happened organically, and often in an odd, spontaneous instant.
Throughout the story, Wayne seems to have difficulty engaging people and experiences. At Burning Man he says, “The excitement seemed to have a manufactured edge to it” (p.314) and “Aversion to being naked was a strangely depressing thing to realize. It made you realize how uncomfortable you were with yourself” (p. 304). Where do you think this painful self-awareness comes from?
I think it comes from DNA. And experience. And probably Saatchi & Saatchi.
Wayne’s Cuban odyssey is particularly memorable. He befriends a young hooker and together they visit the site of Hemingway’s farm. Do you admit to a low-grade obsession with Ernest Hemingway?
Sure, of course. Hemingway was one of my earliest heroes, just like he is for so many writers, and particularly young male writers. When you’re fifteen and confused by your inclination to be introspective, Hemingway gives you permission to go ahead with it.
I should probably point out that the tail end of Hemingway’s life had a strong thematic relevance to what happens in Attention. Deficit. Disorder. And that, more than anything else, is the reason for any mention of him in the novel.
Wayne comes to terms with Amanda’s suicide in part by deciding that she “didn’t really want to die. She just wanted her pain to end”. Have you gotten any letters from readers who identify with such circumstances?
Yeah, I have. I’ve gotten a lot of unbelievable letters from failed suicides and suicide survivors over the past year, and it’s been hugely gratifying to hear from those folks and to know that the novel has managed to strike a chord and maybe even provide a little relief. It’s hard to put into words how much that kind of thing means to me other than to say that it pretty much means everything.
How much of A.D.D. is autobiographical?
On the one hand, sure, the book is hugely autobiographical, but then I would also contend that pretty much all art is autobiographical in some way.
For the most part, A.D.D. is set in places that I’ve been to before and have some experience with, and a lot of the characters are based on people I know, or amalgams of people I know–friends and relatives, and so on. But ultimately the book is entirely fiction, start to finish, inside and out.
Ultimately, with a novel, it seems to me that you bend the facts to fit the fiction, and not the other way around. Too much concern about adherence to the facts and The Way Things Really Were defeats the entire purpose. If that’s your major concern, then you should be writing straight journalism or a memoir, and not a novel.
Your MySpace blog has attracted a loyal readership. Has it also been a useful marketing tool?
MySpace has been a huge help in getting the word out about the novel, particularly in light of the fact that marketing budgets in the publishing business are rarely in the exorbitant range. I had no awareness or understanding of a site like MySpace a year ago and only opened up an account on the advice of my agent, who was pretty adamant about its possibilities. Now you look around and everyone is involved in the thing, and it’s really kind of taken on a life of its own.
As far as books are concerned, it seems that Myspace has, at the very least, completely changed the way that writers can interact with their readers, and ultimately I imagine that it’s changing how some books are being sold.
In the same breath, I’d have to say that the landscape online is mutating so rapidly and in so many different directions that it’s hard to really calculate what it all means and how it’s all gonna shake out. My suspicion is that the cumulative effect of these efforts online is still building, still taking shape, and so naturally it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out down the road.
For you, is blogging an effective writing exercise or does it sometimes interfere with completing other work?
I view blogging as work. It’s part of my duties as the head of marketing and PR for my book. It might sound unromantic to say such things, I realize, but as far as I can tell it’s simply a matter of necessity. It’s a flooded marketplace out there and the money from above is thin to nonexistent. People can’t read my book unless they know that it exists, and if people don’t know that it exists and don’t ever get their hands on it, then ultimately I won’t be able to make my living writing and doing what I like to do. And that’s intolerable to me.
I also tend to see blogging as its own beast to some extent, its own form, and one that’s obviously in its nascent stages of existence. There seems to be a lot of weird mixed-media potential and poetic potential built into the format, but how much actual literary or journalistic value is ultimately wrung from it is anybody’s best guess. A lot of what’s out there at the present time is static, undoubtedly. But some of it here and there is actually quite good.
What are your writing rituals?
I tend to work best first thing in the morning, and I tend to work everyday.
Were you published before this book?
I did some freelance magazine work, but none of it was fiction, and none of it really interested me much. I was working on the novel all the while and subsidizing that pursuit with these kinds of side jobs, and so on. To me, it was all a means to an end.
As a first-time novelist, how did you penetrate the notoriously cloistered publishing industry?
I worked hard, took a lot of punches, and kept going. But more than anything, I got lucky. I have a great agent named Erin Hosier, and she really dug in and believed in the book and went to battle for it. My editor, Ryan Fischer-Harbage, and his boss, Jen Bergstrom, took a chance on me and gave me a career. The rest is history. I owe these people debts of gratitude that I can’t ever really repay.
On your blog you’ve said you’re not much of a drinker, unlike Hemingway. You do, however, admit to being “highly caffeinated”. What’s the java of your choice?
Well, let me clarify a bit. I’m not an alcoholic, like Hemingway. But I’m also not entirely averse to a good bender every now and again. I like my wine with dinner, and then of course my drug of choice is a healthy shot of caffeine.
If I’m drinking coffee, then I guess it would have to be Kona coffee, Hawaiian grown. I’m also a huge fan of Yerba Mate, the South American green tea. It’s not quite so acidic and has a pretty good kick.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading A Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Are you writing another novel?
I’ve actually just completed a second novel, a Middle American social satire called City of Champions, which will hopefully be hitting the shelves sometime next year.