What was the spark that set you writing “Dead Fads”?
I wrote “Dead Fads” because a friend was thinking of doing an anthology based around the idea that there was a technology that could resurrect the recently dead but that it left them “tainted.” I lived in Cleveland then and his first story was set in Cleveland. So that’s where I set mine as well. (He’s still working on the idea, creating more stories.)
How do you see this work fitting into the larger conversations about cultural appropriation?
It’s not so much the larger conversation about cultural appropriation (although since it’s published now, I guess it is) as an exploration of my own issues. I don’t want to write fiction exclusively about middle-class white people. Although I do want to write about middle-class white people because I am one. But my experience of life is more complicated than that, so I want to write about working class, Asians, queer folk. I live in a world like that and want my fiction to reflect it.
On the other hand, I don’t want to write badly about things outside my experience. I’m very afraid that I will write a Dominican-American guy who doesn’t feel right as a guy or as a Dominican and I’ll offend people who care. I am resigned to offending people for some things because I have positions and opinions on divisive issues like globalization or reproductive rights or health care and that is going to inform my writing.
So what happens in “Dead Fads” isn’t so much about how I feel about appropriating as what I’m afraid of. It’s the place where I have questions. I don’t know if the art PD is making is appropriating or if it is a legitimate subject for her.
Was the research for this project extensive? How far out of your own experience did you have to go?
I didn’t do a lot of research. Some on Henry Darger, but I was already fascinated by the drawings and watercolors that go with his giant manuscript, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. I knew artists when I lived in New York who were trying to break into galleries, so I had a sense of how that worked, and I spent years writing without being published. Without having lived any of these events or experiences, the story is an emotional memoir of my twenties.
How closely connected do you think obsession and art are?
I don’t think you have to be obsessed to be an artist (and I include writers as artists), but it helps. Imagine you wanted to be an accountant and so you went to school for accounting. When you graduated there was no such thing as an accounting job, so you got a day job and you practiced accounting and went to people and submitted your accounting samples to them and finally someone let you do their taxes for free. After a decade or so of getting incredibly good at accounting, you finally started getting some accounting jobs. Most of the people you knew who did accounting never made a living at it, but a few people did and a tiny handful got rich.
You can see how it would help to be obsessed with accounting.
A lot of art is fun. A lot of it is not. Obviously it feeds something in us that accounting doesn’t, but the truth is that a lot of the experience of making art is just work. Painting. You stretch canvas, you prime it, you prep. You spend some of the time in the painting trying to fill space in an interesting way, working the edges of the painting, perhaps. It’s physical. Painters are like carpenters in a lot of ways. Get painters together and they talk about the materials they use because a lot of it is making a thing.
On the other hand, there have been times in my life where writing really was important to just getting through the week. Having the piece to work on structured my life in a way that was really important to me.
What are we going to see next from you?
I’m working on a story about de-extinction and dire wolves. But I just got a ton of paying work, so it may have to wait awhile.
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