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The Future of American Fiction: An Interview with Grace Krilanovich

If you haven’t noticed, we spend a lot of time thinking about literature here in the Flavorpill offices, digging through its past, weighing its current state, and imagining its future. Take a look at our bookshelves and you’ll find us reading everything from Nobel Prize winners to age-old classics to paperbacks printed at the bookstore down the street. Call it Chick-Lit, Hysterical Realism, Ethnic-Lit, or Translit — if it’s good fiction, we’ll be talking about it. So this summer, we’re launching The Future of American Fiction: an interview series expanding on that endless conversation about books we love, and yes, the direction of American fiction, from the people who’d know. Every Tuesday from now through August, we’ll bring you a short interview with one of the writers we think is instrumental in defining that direction.

This week, we spoke with Grace Krilanovich, whose hallucinatory first novel, The Orange Eats Creeps, stealthily invaded and then completely blew our minds when it slunk across our desks two years ago. One of the most interesting and original young voices in contemporary American literature, Krilanovich is one of those authors that we think could change the way we think about fiction, language, and the literary landscape in the years to come, probably with little more than a well placed phrase. Below, Krilanovich talks to us about her feelings on e-books, the art of juggling books and babies, and her upcoming novel (!). Enjoy.

How would you characterize the state of American fiction today? What do you love or hate about it

To be honest, I’ve been feeling out of touch with what’s happening in the world of books lately, partly because I’m trying to finish a novel and partly because I’ve got a seven month old baby girl at home, which pretty much guarantees that I only have one arm free at any given time. So I read tiny, lightweight books.

But I can say that the thing I love so much about the state of American fiction at this moment – speaking as someone who has written a book but is not in any substantial way savvy about the publishing industry, beyond reading reviews and the occasional Publishers Weekly article – is the incredible array of small presses we have. It’s dazzling, and would say seems to be a somewhat recent phenomenon. I love what presses like Dorothy, Exact Change,and Siglio Press are doing with the book as physical object, with their consideration of visuals and details like quality binding and paper. I’m not a fetishist if I simply appreciate craftsmanship and quality in an object — a book — right?

It’s good to be a book person when we have presses today that publish covetable books in series or reissue forgotten gems (I’m thinking NYRB obviously, Melville House, Overlook’s Wodehouse series), whose books have a uniform, instantly identifiable look.

That said, I wouldn’t exactly say I “hate” ebooks, but I’m certainly not drawn to them in any way. I mean, if I was traveling a lot, or commuting by bus or subway it might work out, but at home in my reading lair it just goes against a basic factor of the reading experience for me — that being the active absorption of a work of literature, having all the leaves simultaneously in your hands. I wouldn’t go to Trader Joe’s or my car to listen to music. Not to really appreciate it. If I’m sitting at home watching the record go around then I’m taking it in. Otherwise the “content,” divorced from its object-body, is so ephemeral it just floats off like fog.

The Orange Eats Creeps is an astoundingly original novel — it terrified and captivated me all the way through. Can you talk about the genesis of the idea a little bit? Also, a Part B to this question: When you were writing it, did your thoughts sound like the sentences in the book, or is the wild diction a gloss, or a little of both?

My idea was to devise something shlocky for a premise and have some fun. I was pretty sure that the combination of slutty, teenage, hobo, vampire, and junkie hadn’t already been “done” before. There was no big dumb vamp zeitgeist to contend with, because it was 2004. I wanted well-defined boundaries because I’d never written any fiction before, but something fun so that it would be entertaining to write. Nobody would ever actually read it! (was my thinking at the time). I clicked into the protagonist’s voice early on, and it became very easy and comforting to write like that. I could’ve gone on and on for another 200 pages of that kind of Orange Eats Creeps-style thinking, but it was always supposed to be a short book.

What are you working on now? Do you have any big plans?

I’m in the wilds of novel number two, I Love You Little Girl. It’s heavy immersion, even though I’ve been working on it for five years now. This has been the most challenging phase so far, because I’ve got the baby, so I do all of my novel writing late at night in bed while she’s sleeping on my lap, either holding a notebook awkwardly up in the air like a waitress taking down your order, or with the laptop perched on my knees, getting really hot and gross, typing with my arms fully extended. Not ideal! But I’ve come to cherish my writing time each day, even if it’s only an hour, and I stick to my schedule religiously — way more than I did when it was just me alone in my apartment with two cats and very few demands on my time.

Where do you see American fiction headed? Or perhaps, where do you hope and/or dread it will go?

I hope American fiction continues to nurture and recognize those on the path of lonely innovation, the next generation of genre-of-one kind of writers that we love, even if sometimes it’s only after they’re gone. Small presses are the reason this kind of writing will have a place in our lives.

I’ve read some articles about how today’s literary heavyweights produce less, maybe a book every five or seven or ten years (as opposed to those of the past, who churned out one every year or two throughout their careers) and part of the blame was placed on the demands of teaching and other jobs and even the distraction of the Internet. I’m not sure if this is absolutely the case, but I am aware of how hard it is to fight all the time sucking online activities I make room for in my writing day. It’s hard to just turn it off, but I feel like I have to, otherwise there goes the day. This is related to the thing they say about books having to compete with the panoply of media — movies, TV, and the Internet — for people’s leisure time, and books losing. This is something that makes this moment in history very different from any other for authors. Perhaps it will embolden us to push the envelope even more! Looking on the bright side here…

And the fun question: what’s the last good book you read?

Steve Erickson’s latest, These Dreams of You. It’s as close as novels get to living, breathing things. I adored it.

Illustration by Geoff Mak.

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