Monday, August 3, 2009

George Dawes Green

Ravens by George Dawes Green is one of my favorite books this year. It's been 14 years since Dawes, the author of The Caveman's Valentine and The Juror, has published a book. Although, way, too long, it has been worth the wait. His writing is intense, his plotting perfect, and his pacing non-stop. I had the opportunity to interview him recently.

JR: For you, what can the crime novel form accomplish that other types of literature cannot? Perhaps, I should have started with, do you think of yourself as writing crime fiction?

GDG: I like effrontery of being a 'thriller writer'. I like braiding together skeins of contingency, conjuring up atmospheres of peril and shadow and passion. Thomas DeQuincey talks about the Literature of Power -- which moves you -- as opposed to the Literature of Knowledge -- which teaches you. Sails rather than rudders. Most American fiction leans toward the latter form, and has limited interest for me. But the urgency of any thrilling novel cleans out our minds, rinses out the nonsense and allows God's grace to come pouring in.

JR: What have you been doing in the 14 years since the publication of your last book?

GDG: One night I remember vividly. It was already July in NYC and the fireflies had not shown up in any strength, and we thought maybe they weren't coming this year at all -- and then suddenly one evening there they were. Millions of them flashing in ragged unison in Tompkins Square Park. Their own city of lights, with the East Village neighborhood folks crowding against the fences to watch the silent concert.
Some of the other evenings are hazier in my memory.

JR: What do you do when you're not writing?

GDG: I love playing tennis with my friend Ariel Janzen, watching the yellow ball arc up against the perfect blue. The two of us cackling merrily as we watch it go sailing over the fence.

JR: What do you like best about the actual writing? Not publishing, just writing.

GDG: Well, there are moments of great incandescence. But I really don't like sitting indoors when everyone else is outside watching the flight of the yellow ball. You may begin to suspect, by the tenor of these answers, that I have a streak of laziness.

JR: Do you have any quirks when writing?

GDG: I write in bed. Often I write all night and into the next day.

JR: Do you finish every novel you begin? If not, how many unfinished manuscripts do you have on hand? Any unpublished novels that might get dusted off and sent around?

GDG: I've put aside a couple of books. I'd like to finish them all some day. It's easy to imagine myself as just that sort of industrious writer. Meanwhile I lie in bed and gaze outside at tennis balls in flight, and then fireflies in flight, and the time just slips away ...

JR: What is The Moth? And how did you get involved?

GDG: The Moth is an astonishment. I started it some twelve years ago -- after the success of the Juror. Famous people and people you've never heard of tell stories around a given theme. The stories are unscripted, personal, kitchen stories. Utterly absorbing evenings. If you're tired of the manipulations of Hollywood executives you're never heard of, if you'd like to experience the great simple elemental one-to-one power of the raconteur, come join us!

I had more questions, and as in most interviews they went from general to more personal and specific: questions about his life, movies, actors and evil. I always feel the interviewee has the option of answering any or all.

My final question was "Have you ever bought a lottery ticket?" He didn't answer that one, but I think we all won the lottery with Ravens.

To watch a video interview with author George Dawes Green, go here.

Sarah Weinman has an excellent review of Ravens in the L.A. Times.

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