Friday, April 19, 2013

Q&A with writer Darin Strauss

Darin Strauss
Darin Strauss is the author of the memoir Half a Life, and three novels, More Than It Hurts You, The Real McCoy, and Chang and Eng. He is on the faculty of New York University's creative writing program, and is married to journalist Susannah Meadows.

Q: You said in a Newsweek interview that "all my books are about the limits of intimacy and how well you can know somebody." Why has this been a theme of your work?

A: I don't know. I could think about it, but that would risk demystifying -- and thus ending -- it. Saul Bellow once said something like: "I don't want to go to therapy, because I don't want to know why I write what I do." So, I'm going to keep that counsel.

Q: Why did you decide to write the memoir Half a Life, which recounts an extremely traumatic experience [an accident at age 18 that took the life of another high school student], and how has writing this book affected you?

A: Many things turned me off about doing an accident memoir—not least my distaste for America’s indulgence of those who turn misfortune into high-yield entertainment.  I never thought I would. 

But, as I say in the book, my decision finally to write about the crash wasn’t a fluke. There was double-barreled starting-gun, comprised of new fatherhood and the calendar. I was 36 when Susannah became pregnant. Kids of my own were coming soon, and the accident had been exactly half my life ago.  That gut sense of how hard it would be to lose a child; and that other, more brain-centered sense that I was avoiding something. That's why I wrote about it. First for myself. I wasn't going to publish it. But as soon as I did, I realized it was a book I wanted out there. 

Q: How did you come to write about Chang and Eng Bunker, the conjoined twins who are the focus of your first novel?

A: My first novel was a while ago now (I'm finishing up book 5, and starting book 6), so I can't say for sure. Something about not wanting to write the kind of first novel everybody expected me to write (auto-biographical). Something about wanting to get as far from the accident story as possible (conjoined Asian twins born in Siam, in 1811). Something about the accident itself, and being tied to the girl who died: the unbreakable connection between these twins, the fact that the girl's mom said: you have to live your life for two now. Who lives a life for two more than conjoined twins? (This reason was something I didn't realize at the time.)

Q: You have written two novels involving historical figures, one novel set in the present time, and one memoir. Is there a particular type of writing that you prefer, and if so, why?

A: No, I don't like to get dogmatic. I just sniff around for a good story. It's hard to find one that'll keep your interest for 300 pages. So if I get ahold of something good, I'm not going to poo-poo it. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: David Lipsky and I collaborated on a YA adventure story. That's almost done. And I'm writing a novel of my own, too.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I play guitar? I'm bad at everything but writing -- and sometimes even that? 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb


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