In Boys in Gilded Cages, you reference Westboro Baptist Church quite a bit. Any particular reason?
Well, I don't just reference them, I sort of create a whole world around them, and Christian extremists in general. But, yes, I do name them. I started writing this book before Fred Phelps died, and for a while I thought I might just scrap it, because I assumed the church was on the wane. But quite the contrary! They are very efficient attention-hogging machines, now more than ever. Look, no one takes them seriously; and yes, they're easy targets. But it is my belief that while they may be good for a laugh, they are detrimental to humanity, every time a news corporation decides to give them any attention. I have the same disdain for the Westboro Baptist Church that most of America has for the Kardashians. It's the same thing to me.
What are your five favorite books? Why?
Oh, geez. Okay! I'd have to say number one, hands down, is 'Light in August' by Faulkner. His execution of symbolism, the way he handled such heavy themes - Isolation, racism, self-actualization...the prose is perfectly balanced. It's so very controlled. He was truly the master of his universe, and his craft.
Number two would have to be 'The Bluest Eye' by Toni Morrison. Can you tell I'm a fan of first novels? She experimented in such a way that was a pretty big gamble - the use of primer books to illustrate an epidemic of illiteracy. It doesn't hit the gut of race and culture much harder than that. Plus, it's a real heartbreaker.
Number three is probably Mysterious Skin, by Scott Heim. I often found myself comparing that book to 'Lolita,' which isn't apt or fair at all, but underage male hustlers are probably the last taboo, except they don't seem to be taboo at all for whatever reason. The book examines child abuse in a way that is unflinching, but tender. It's a beautiful book, and the film by Gregg Arraki is definitely worth seeing, as well. Joseph Gordon Levitt should have won some awards for that, if he didn't.
I'm picking number four purely out of nostalgia: Catcher in the Rye. I don't think I could read it now, but when I was sixteen, that was the book that inspired me to write. I'm absolutely sure I'm not alone.
Number five: Candide by Voltaire. I love incendiary satire.
The protagonist in Boys in Gilded Cages, Eric, seems a little unbalanced.
Well, he's a drug addict! And I make no bones about it being a Missouri thing. Meth is everywhere, and I don't see it going away any time soon. If you've ever known any speed-freaks, Eric will remind you of people you know or used to know. But you know what? His predictions in the book, strange as they may seem, are probably correct.
Describe your desk
I'm having trouble staying in one place, so usually my bed. I spend a lot of time in hotels, and I have a few residencies - on the west coast, in Atlanta, and here in Missouri. And they're all tiny. So any work I usually get done, gets done on my bed.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I have always written about Missouri, and I probably always will. That's where I earned every scar on my mind and body. How could I not write about Missouri? I have a co-dependent relationship with partners, and it's no different from my place of birth. I love it, but I really, really hate it at the same time.
What's the story behind Boys in Gilded Cages?
So, the entire story is narrated by Eric Redmond. He's a preacher's son, but he's also addicted to crystal meth. You might say he's an unreliable source, until you start reading and realize he's actually got pretty persuasive powers of observation. It's an ensemble cast of characters, and Hawthorn Missouri - a fictional town, is the true protagonist. Boiled down to a byte, it's about teenagers suffering being teenagers, living in a town that they hate. Eric's not satisfied with that, though. To him, every day is a countdown to doom. The entire novel is his folklore - to him, it's leading up to the end of the world. Or at least the end of Hawthorn.
As for what's "behind" it - nothing and everything. No one character is analogous to someone I know in real life. Certain behaviors, like speaking in a twang, cynicism, and like it or not, meth use, are pretty common to rural Missouri, but these characters were strangers to me before I wrote them.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on my next novel, "The Healer," which should be out this time next year. I'm also writing and starring in my first feature film, "Ferguson," about the happenings in Saint Louis. I play a military guy. My directorial debut, Smoke Colored Light, is still making the festival rounds, and I have two more short films slated to begin production pretty soon. Film work takes up most of my time. I just finished doing some marketing work for Gone Girl, and I've always got screenwriting assignments to finish. There are a lot of films I've written out there in the ether. I get a little impatient, but they will eventually come out.
What do you read for pleasure?
Honestly? Celebrity blogs. Sometimes sports blogs. I really can't bear social media anymore. I read Dlisted and Deadspin a lot - and if you say you don't, I know you're lying. I do read books, but that's for personal growth, and also so I don't lose my writing mojo. I consider other fiction authors my competition, so it's hard to read their books for pleasure. Of course, I do enjoy some of them, but I'm always plotting how to 'out-write' the current champion.
'Gilded Cages' contains some pretty dark subject matter. What does your mom think?
She hasn't read it, and she probably won't until the hardcover is released. I'm serious! She is absolutely, 100% anti-technology. When or if she does read it, I'm happy to answer any questions she may have!
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