"Erickson is as unique and vital and pure a voice as American fiction has produced."--Jonathan Lethem
A film-obsessed ex-seminarian with images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift tattooed on his head arrives on Hollywood Boulevard in 1969. Vikar Jerome enters the vortex of a cultural transformation: rock and roll, sex, drugs, and--most important to him--the decline of the movie studios and the rise of independent directors. Jerome becomes a film editor of astonishing vision. Through encounters with former starlets, burglars, political guerillas, punk musicians, and veteran filmmakers, he discovers the secret that lies in every movie ever made.
Questions for Steve Erickson
Jeff VanderMeer for Amazon.com: Could you describe where you are as you're answering these questions?
Erickson: At the moment I'm in my home office in Topanga Canyon, which I can see outside my window.
Amazon.com: How do you feel your fiction has changed over the years, beyond the changes that occur from acquiring greater mastery of technique?
Erickson: Well, being a novelist yourself, you probably understand this is something it's better for a writer not to think too much about. While I do believe I become a technically better writer over time, in others ways writing gets harder because inspiration is finite. On the other hand, though energy and inspiration diminish, experience grows--the theme of parents and kids, for instance, which lurked under the surface in earlier novels like Days Between Stations and Rubicon Beach and Arc d'X, has come to the forefront over the course of my last three novels including Zeroville, just because my own personal experience has become more first-hand.
Amazon.com: Because you've got more ways to tell a story now than when you were first published, does that also make it harder to write? Do you ever find yourself debating the merits of more than one approach to the same material?
Erickson: The material dictates the approach. I tell the stories in the way that feels natural to tell them. Certainly the last thing I want is to be "difficult." In my previous novel, Our Ecstatic Days, a lake has flooded Los Angeles and a young single mother believes it represents the chaos of the world that has come to take her small son. She dives down into the water to the hole at the bottom through which the lake is coming--and at the moment I wrote that scene, I had this idea she should "swim" through the rest of the novel, through the next 25 years of the story, and the reader sees this in the form of a single sentence that cuts through the rest of the text. A lot of people identified this as "experimental," but to me experimental fiction ultimately is about the experiment and I'm not interested in experiments for their own sake, and if anything I've always steered a bit clear of that kind of thing, because it seems gimmicky to play around with text rather than do the work of telling a story and creating characters. In the case of Our Ecstatic Days, it was just a way of conveying the world of that particular novel. A number of people have noted that Zeroville is more "linear" than the earlier novels but that was calculated only in the sense that I thought a novel about the Movies and why we love them (as opposed to a "Hollywood novel" about the movie business) should have the pop energy of a movie. People have mentioned how fast Zeroville reads--that's because I felt it should move the way a movie moves.
Amazon.com: What really sparked Zeroville? Was there a moment where you suddenly realized you had a story to tell?
Erickson: The idea was born in a short story I wrote for a McSweeney's anthology, but the novel really fell into place when the character of Vikar came into focus, when I got a handle on this guy who shows up in Hollywood in 1969 on what happens to be the day of the Manson murders, with a scene from George Stevens's A Place in the Sun tattooed on his head. He's identified by one of the other characters in the novel as not a cineaste but "cineautistic"--movies have become his religion after he's rejected the one his father imposed on him, and he sees movies through the eyes of an innocent. Once I had Vikar I had everything--the story, the approach, the perspective, the tone.
Amazon.com: How difficult was it to layer in all of the movie information that's in Zeroville? For example, you include several real movie people in the novel, sometimes anonymously so the reader has to guess who they are. Was that all there in the initial drafts?
Erickson: The whole novel wrote itself from beginning to end, including the film stuff. It was the easiest novel I've written. I almost feel like I can't take credit for it--it was like the universe said, Here, you worked pretty hard on all those other books, so we're giving you this one. You type, I'll dictate. If anything, when I went back over the novel, I took film stuff out. The stuff about movies had to support the story, it had to support the characters and be informed by them -- the novel couldn't just be a compendium of movies I happen to like. It's not a DVD guide.
Amazon.com: Did you know going in that this was going to be a very funny novel? And do you think reviewers have, in the past, missed elements of humor in your work, or is this new for you?
Erickson: I knew it was going to be funny once I knew who Vikar was. Once I knew we were going to tell the story pretty much from his vantage point, it couldn't help being funny. There are moments of humor in earlier novels like Tours of the Black Clock and The Sea Came in at Midnight that probably are so dry and dark that some people didn't understand they were funny. But with the exception of Amnesiascope, which generally is considered a funny novel, the humor usually hasn't been this overt.
Set primarily in Los Angeles from the late 1960s through 1980s, this darkly funny, wise but flawed novel from Erickson (Arc d'X
) focuses on our collective fascination with movies. Vikar Jerome, whose almost deranged film fixation manifests itself in the images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift tattooed on his bald head, wanders around Hollywood, where he gets mistaken for a perp in the Charles Manson murders and is robbed by a man who turns out to be a fellow film buff. After Vikar becomes a film editor, he's kidnapped by revolutionaries in Spain who want him to edit their propaganda film. Later, he wins a Cannes Film Festival award in France and receives an Oscar nomination, with strange consequences. Vikar repeatedly crosses paths with actress Soledad Palladin and her daughter, Zazi, though ambiguities in his relationship with this enigmatic pair, along with a recurring dream of his, derail this black comedy toward the end. The sudden point-of-view shift and possible supernatural element jar in an otherwise brilliant, often hilarious love song to film. (Nov.)
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