Cobalt: In a recent conversation you told me that your debut novel, Garden State, “sucks rocks.” If you could produce a new edition of the book, would you change it? If so, how?
Rick Moody: It would be really fun to produce an annotated edition that is so heavily annotated it occludes the actual edition with extraneous addenda. That’s actually sort of a good idea. It would seriously improve Garden State, I suspect. Maybe I should do that. Do you know of any publisher who would want to publish it?
Cobalt: Do your other books “suck rocks”?
Moody: I am not an unrestrained fan of The Ice Storm either.
Cobalt: You dedicated Four Fingers of Death to Kurt Vonnegut. Why?
Moody: Because Four Fingers is really a book about the kinds of things I liked to read when I first became a fan of fiction for adults (as opposed to a fan of The Phantom Tollbooth and The Hobbit). In my early teens. I was reading a lot science fiction, in those days, and some bestsellers, and also a bit of what I think of as the commercial fiction of the counterculture. Be Here Now and Richard Brautigan and Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and, above all, Kurt Vonnegut. He may have been the first writer of whom I electively read every single extant word. And I admired a lot about him, and I still do. I don’t think he was fairly appreciated in his later career. The people who disliked his work were sort of uptight naturalists. And I think those people should fuck off. Vonnegut had a beautiful funny humane voice, and the shapes of his books were groundbreaking and intuitive. Vonnegut was a true American – an improviser, a moralist, a keen observer, and more like Twain than he is given credit for. He leaves behind a great legacy. So I thought I would do my part to help dramatize this.
Cobalt: Vonnegut often referred to Kilgore Trout as his “alter ego.” How did Montese Crandall come about; and how does he represent Rick Moody?
Moody: No, he’s not Rick Moody, really. Although he may have a couple of my worst traits exaggerated slightly. He came about because I auctioned off a character name (on behalf of the First Amendment Project), and the name of the winner of this auction was Montese Crandall, and I loved the name so much I decided to make it utterly central to the book. Turns out she was a woman, though, fromVero Beach,FL. And she was incredibly gracious about my turning Montese into a larger than life tragicomic character with his own interests and ambitions. I apologize to her, herewith, for doing so so loudly, and, on occasion, clumsily.
Cobalt: Tell me about D. Tyrannosaurus. Do you have a D. Tyrannosaurus in your life?
Moody: My characters are all me. Except when they are not.
Cobalt: The details of Four Fingers of Death are astonishingly real. How do you keep grounded in a realistic future, without venturing too far into science-fiction?
Moody: I don’t mind venturing into science fiction, really (though speculative fiction is perhaps the better term). I think the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is to be found in attention to detail and in ambitious language. So I wrote about science fiction subject matter in Four Fingers, but with literary-fiction intentionality. Perhaps that’s what gives the book its alleged “astonishing realism.”
Cobalt: You spoke once about loving to have limitations placed on you (particularly “Drawer” being exactly 650 words, no more or no less). In what ways did you limit yourself when approaching Four Fingers of Death, and how do you feel these limitations contributed to the end product?
Moody: There was no word-count limitation in Four Fingers, self-evidently. The only limitations were the basic outline of the story, which is borrowed from a very disagreeable b-horror film from the early sixties entitled The Crawling Hand. That is the scaffolding of the whole. I added quite a bit to it! Insofar as there was a structural requirement it was to tell the whole of The Crawling Hand.
Cobalt: The Montese Crandall introduction demonstrates a lot of the struggles for every writer, particularly when it comes to line editing. There is one instance when he “pulls out his remaining hairs” when trying to decide whether to keep the word “go.” How was it to put those frustrations into such a hyperbolic character? Do you approach line edits as finely as Crandall does for his one-sentence stories?
Moody: I don’t consider editing problems frustrating, because I have some confidence that editing is going to improve what I am doing. So Montese is more frustrated than I am. I have never cut anything down to a single sentence. My friend Amy Hempel has done so, however, and I admire the compaction in what she does, and it is perhaps the case that Montese’s one-sentence stories are a sort of comic/hyperbolic version of what I saw happening in the writing community recently with the obsession for the short, short story, in Hempel and elsewhere. I like some of that work a lot, don’t get me wrong, but I also think sometimes a short, short is short, short because the writer carved away the entire story.
Cobalt: What are the earliest signs of being a writer for you? Were you encouraged by anyone or anything in particular?
Moody: There were more early signs of being a reader than a writer, and I still have all those symptoms. I suppose in my mid and late teens, about when I started reading Vonnegut (and then Pynchon, and Melville, and Beckett, and Borges), I realized that there was nothing preventing me from trying to MAKE books, in addition to reading them. I kept the ambition to myself for a while, and never thought of it as a career model, but eventually it seemed not impossible to come out of that particular closet. Encouragement came mainly from my undergraduate teachers, especially John Hawkes and Angela Carter.
Cobalt: What are some of the books currently on your “to-read” list?
Moody: Rikki Ducornet’s recent novel, Netsuke; a couple of books about the War in Iraq (research!), Mark Leyner’s long overdue, Sugar-Frosted Nutsack; some Thomas Mann; William Vollmann’s Imperial, etc.
Cobalt: What keeps you up at night?
Moody: Caffeine, and the Republican Party.
About Rick: Rick Moody is the author of five novels, three collections of stories, a memoir (The Black Veil), and a forthcoming collection of essays (On Celestial Music). He also plays music in The Wingdale Community Singers, and has release a solo album, The Darkness is Good.