Thursday, September 2, 2010
Interview with Justin Kramon, author of Finny
The main reason is that I love reading coming-of-age novels, especially ones that span long periods of time, like A Prayer for Owen Meany or Great Expectations. It’s so much fun to watch a character grow up, and.there are so many opportunities to have familiar faces appear unexpectedly. When a character returns after you haven’t seen her for a long time, you feel like you’re coming home, to a person you know and love. I think there’s a sense of wonder and possibility in coming-of-age novels – the feeling that anything can happen – and that’s a beautiful feeling to have as a writer.
2.) What is it about Finny, the character herself, that you like so much? (Personally I like her outlook on life and her humor.)
I agree with you: her humor is the first thing that grabbed me. I remember writing those early scenes at the dinner table with her quirky family and just laughing at things Finny said. I’ve joked before that writing fiction is a little like being crazy. (How strange is it that I sit in my study and laugh at things that imaginary people say?) But when I get a character as strong as Finny, there really is a feeling that I’m watching someone outside of myself, someone who fascinates me and makes me want to find out what will happen to her. When a writer creates a character, it’s like opening up a whole new window on the world, so I love the fact that Finny has this eccentric perspective, always seeing things from a slant. I think that’s part of what makes the events in the book funny – the fact that Finny can see the humor in them. I love the fact that Finny can look at something that would bother me in my life, but see it as funny. In that way, she’s a better version of myself. I wish I had her generosity and patience and humor.
3.) All of the secondary characters are memorable, funny, and mostly endearing in their own right. Do you have a favorite and if so, which one and why?
That’s a tough one. I’d hate for anyone to feel slighted. I love Mr. Henckel, his self-assured strangeness and also his childlike openness to the world. And Poplan is also a wonderful mother figure for Finny, and genuinely kind during some tough times. I love the fact that Carter can say just about anything – it’s such a wonderful thing for a novelist to have a character like that. But I have affection even for the characters who do some questionable things in the book, like Judith, since I can see where some of Judith’s insecurities come from, even though on the surface she seems so beautiful and smart and put-together.
I think George Eliot said that a novelist’s role in the world is to expand sympathy. I hope to sympathize with as many of my characters as possible, or at least see the humanity in their faults. But that doesn’t always happen. There are characters in Finny whom I’m not particularly fond of. (I’ll let you guess who they are.)
4.) What made you want to become a writer? Is there a little bit of you in Earl, or is it just coincidence that he is also a writer?
There are some things that Earl says about writing that I also feel. Sometimes, when you’re writing a novel, you get these little chances to sneak yourself or your ideas about the world into a book. But Earl’s personality and life experiences are really different than mine. I think the real reason I became a writer was that there were things I felt that I had no way of getting into the world. I played music for a while – piano, actually, so you can see where Mr. Henckel’s interest came from – but I knew I wouldn’t be good enough to be a professional. Writing became a vehicle for me to be able to express these subtle things I felt that I never could find a way to express in my everyday life. So, for example, Finny deals with the feeling of being in a romantic relationship over a long period of time – both the joy and sadness of that, the excitement and disappointments – and I don’t know how I would express all of that outside of a book.
Ha, that’s a good question. The feather in the book (which is actually blue and silver) captured some of the whimsy in the story for me. The feather is a real object, but it has this almost unnaturally bright color – and that’s the feeling I wanted the book to have: realistic, but with a sense of whimsy, characters who were slightly larger-than-life, a world that was a little more colorful. This writing style allowed me to slightly accentuate certain things in the real world, to help me to bring more attention to them. The cover designer and web designer picked up on the feather as a central image, so they used it to create the designs for the book and website.
6.) Now for some fun facts about you, do you have hobbies or interests that can distract from writing?
I don’t have too much to distract me from writing. I think that’s a big reason for becoming a writer – the fact that you don’t have a lot else going on. In a lot of ways, I’m really like a 75-year old man. I enjoy pretty low-key things: reading, going on walks with my fiancee, dinner with friends. I do enjoy playing jazz piano, but unfortunately we don’t have a piano in our apartment right now, so I don’t get to play very much. I also like to cook. Did I mention I was 75 years old?
7.) Who are some of your favorite authors and what books have you read recently?
I love Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami, John Irving, Alice Adams, Naguib Mahfouz (especially the Cairo Trilogy), and a bunch of others that it would take too long to name. Recently I’ve been reading Meg Wolitzer, who is amazing. I really loved The Wife and The Position. Very funny and insightful books, in my opinion.
8.) What would be your ideal way in which to spend a lazy day?
Probably a big meal would be involved. But let me back up. I think I’d spend the morning reading or watching a good movie. Then lunch. Then a nice walk outside somewhere – preferably in cool fall weather. And then a really good dinner with my fiancee and some close friends.
Then we bring out the crystal meth. Just kidding – about the fall weather...
9.) What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I’m working on a new novel about a close friendship between two men that’s based on their mutual love of food. Both of them have traumatic experiences early on in life that lead them to a kind of obsession with food and cooking, and the book follows the life decisions they make, and also a mystery surrounding the death of the main character’s parents. And of course there are a lot of colorful characters and a dark humor running through the book.
Thanks so much for chatting with me, Justin. Colorful characters make life interesting, so I look forward to more stories from you. Plus I like you're 75 year-old sense of humor :-)
For more information about Justin please visit his website
And here's the book trailer:
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