Cobalt: Michael, hi. Thanks for doing this with us. It’s great to have an excerpt from your new book We in our first issue of the third year! To begin with, can you set us up for what we’re about to read?
Michael Landweber: Thanks for having me. And congrats to Cobalt on your third year!
I’ve been saying my book is literary fiction with a splash of genre. It is the story of a 40-something who wakes up inside the brain of his 7-year-old self. He’s not in control – he’s just a hitchhiker who can observe the world through his younger self. The man, Ben, just wants to get away from Binky, which was his nickname as a child. That is, until he realizes that it is three days before his sister is going to be attacked, a crime that destroyed his family. Ben realizes that he has to convince Binky to do something about it. The problem is that Binky doesn’t like his older self very much. Ben doesn’t always have the best judgment, and one of the ways he has been trying to win Binky over is by helping him answer some of Binky’s classmates questions about sex. This has made Binky a bit of a elementary school celebrity. But it also leads to the trip to the Principal’s office in the excerpt.
Cobalt: You’ve established yourself pretty well in the local literary scene, publishing work in various Maryland and DC journals. What do you think are some of the strengths to living in such a rich literary scene?
Landweber: It is awesome to be living in an area with so many great outlets for writing. Cobalt is a wonderful addition to the literary landscape. As you mentioned, I’ve been lucky enough to land pieces in local journals and websites like Gargoyle, Big Lucks, Potomac Review, jmww and Barrelhouse. But this only happened for me and others because there are so many great writers and editors promoting the work of their peers. It is tough out there for a writer to be heard. Having such a collaborative atmosphere in the DC/Baltimore area helps amplify all the rich voices found here.
Cobalt: Madison, Wisconsin, eh? What brought you here to Maryland?
Landweber: Well, the short answer is that I’ve been following the same girl around for twenty years and she brought me to DC. But the long answer starts a bit before that. Madison is a terrific place to grow up, but like most kids I was ready to try something new after high school. I went to Princeton for college and then ended up moving to Japan for a year. Turns out that girl, who is now my wife, lived in the apartment next to mine in Tokyo. She hasn’t been able to shake me since. When she decided to leave Japan and travel in Asia, I tagged along. When she decided to go to law school in Ann Arbor, I found myself two grad programs that would cover three years at Michigan. And when she decided we should live in DC, I got myself a job at the State Department. Stalking her really has made my decisionmaking process much less complicated.
Cobalt: How does being a bureaucrat inform your writing/hinder it?
Landweber: Well, everything I do informs my writing in some way. I think that’s the case for all writers. There are aspects of how things move through a bureaucracy that appeal to my sense of the absurd. At the same time, for all the flak that the federal government gets, the policies and programs that come out of the complicated system have real affects on people and I would argue that they are often beneficial. Anyway, that’s my defense of bureaucrats. But, that said, I don’t really write about anything that I work on. As for hindering my writing, that is more a function of having a full time job than being a bureaucrat. There are only so many hours in the day.
Cobalt: I always enjoy a good psychological read, and you even get into sci-fi (which has been on a serious upswing as far as pop-culture seems to be concerned). Can you speak more to these elements within the book?
Landweber: Including genre elements in literary fiction does seem to be on an upswing. There are some amazing writers that have always used them, such as Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami. But now it seems that many writers are more willing to blur the lines, including some of my favorites like Kazuo Ishiguro, Karen Russell, Michael Chabon and Kevin Brockmeier.
In We, I wanted to send my main character back in time, but I didn’t want to do something that I’d seen before. I didn’t want a straight up time travel story. And I didn’t want to have him just take over the body of his younger self. I was more interested in the psychology of how would someone interact with an earlier version of themselves. So, that’s how I ended up with two manifestations of the same person occupying one brain. It made for a lot of fun dialogue to write. I also enjoyed going down the path of envisioning what a physical representation of the superego and id might look like. Particularly the id, which turned out to be a nasty piece of work.
Cobalt: And where can our readers obtain a copy? Do you have any local events coming up?
Landweber: I’m encouraging people to order a copy through their local independent bookstore. It may not be on the shelf, but any store can get a copy for you. It is also available on any of the big retailers’ websites or through my publisher, Coffeetown Press.
I’ll be in Baltimore reading at the 510 series on November 16. Also, let me put in a good word for the new Waterbear reading series which is held at One More Page books in Arlington, VA. I had a great time reading there in August.
About Michael: Michael Landweber is the author of the novel, We (Coffeetown Press, 2013). His stories have appeared in Fugue, Fourteen Hills, Gargoyle, Barrelhouse, American Literary Review, Big Lucks and a bunch of other places. He is an Associate Editor at Potomac Review, and writes reviews for Pop Matters and the Washington Independent Review of Books. Find more about Mike at mikelandweber.com.