Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Q&A with Andy Mozina


Photo by Kaitlin LaMoine



Andy Mozina is the author of the new novel Tandem. His other books include the story collection The Women Were Leaving the Men. He is a professor of English at Kalamazoo College.


Q: What inspired you to write Tandem, and how did you create your characters Mike and Claire?


A: I was driving in northern Michigan listening to an NPR story that involved a drunk-driving hit-and-run. It seemed the worst imaginable situation for everyone.


I thought of how horrible it would be to lose someone that way. A sudden stupid accident—and someone is gone. For the perpetrator, how awful to be responsible for such a horrible thing.


So there’s awfulness on both sides but from different, opposing directions. Everyone’s losing. It was such a harrowing feeling, but I couldn’t let go of it.


As far as creating the characters goes, I didn’t want Claire to be a perfect victim, so I gave her some annoying edges, some wayward desires, and an over-the-top liberal earnestness that for me is both sympathetic and at times funny. I thought her job as a museum curator was interesting.


I made Mike an econ professor because I wanted his cost-benefit-analysis style of thinking to be a plausible path to a type of virtue and also his undoing. I wanted him to be a desperate, absurd rationalizer but not purely evil.


I was an econ major in college, and I think econ is an interesting combination of quantitative analysis and subtle human psychology. In one way or another, economists are talking about our desires and motivations, and Mike’s desires and motivations are questionable at best.


Q: The author Bonnie Jo Campbell said of the book, “Reading Tandem is an education in crime, punishment, and the dark side of human compassion--and somehow it also manages to be hilarious.” What do you think of that description, and what do you see as the role of humor in your work?


A: I like what she says about the dark side of human compassion because I think just about any good human emotion or impulse can be mis-purposed into something bad, and maybe the opposite is true as well.


As far as the role of humor goes, humor is almost always about something being wrong or out of whack; in fact, it’s one of the best and most interesting ways to say “something is wrong.”


And there’s a lot of wrongness in this novel. Not that everything that’s wrong in the book is treated humorously; the tragedies in this book are not funny.


But some of the wrongness in response to the tragedies seemed best treated with irony or satire, and at other moments the novel actually explores when humor is and isn’t appropriate. Claire, for instance, is not a fan of the dark humor of the Coen brothers, and it causes conflict with her husband.


Humor also has a fascinating doubleness to it—it’s both the pain and the relief. We talk about humor that bites, needles, and even kills (as stand-up comedians say). And it also brings relief, or at least release, through a complicated acknowledgement of what’s going on.


So it makes sense to have humor in a novel with a lot of pain and to also have the novel interrogate the role of humor during times of tragedy.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I’d say there were four major versions of the second half of the novel, the last two driven by some super astute suggestions by my editor, Jerry Brennan.


For the first draft, I thought I had a pretty good idea of the general direction of the ending when I started and did write that version, but it ended up feeling more like a short story ending than a novel ending, if that makes sense—something on the too-sad-and-subtle side.


The new endings were all about making the second half more dramatic and giving the ultimate ending as much impact as possible. And I got to some more worthwhile character stuff for both Mike and Claire in the process.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title occurred to me when I was about a hundred pages into the first draft. It was almost too obvious, but once I hit on it, I never even considered another title. I like the sound of it and the simplicity of it and the suggestiveness of it.


The first sense of tandem, of course, refers to the type of bike Mike hits with his car. I also liked the idea of Mike and Claire as a pair working in tandem without always knowing it. Plus the tandem bike is an emblem of breezy romance—a bicycle built for two—and that led to some productive ironies.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Publicity! Every smart writer is well into their next book by the time they have their most recent book go through the publishing process. I am a dumb writer. I didn’t start Tandem until my previous novel was published and out there. Please email me if you have any ideas for stories/novels.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes: why are people the way they are? We need to figure this out!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment