Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday Musings: Author Interview: Daniel A. Blum, author of 'The Feet Say Run'

Daniel A. Blum grew up in New York, attended Brandeis University and currently lives outside of Boston with his family. His first novel Lisa33 was published by Viking in 2003. He has been featured in Poets and Writers magazine, Publisher’s Weekly and most recently, interviewed in Psychology Today.

Daniel writes a humor blog, The Rotting Post, that has developed a loyal following.

His latest release is the literary novel, The Feet Say Run.



About the Book:

At the age of eighty-five, Hans Jaeger finds himself a castaway among a group of survivors on a deserted island.  What is my particular crime?  he asks.   Why have I been chosen  for this fate?  And s
o he begins his extraordinary chronicle.

It would be an understatement to say he has lived a full life.  He has grown up in Nazi Germany and falls in love with Jewish girl.  He fights for the Germans on two continents, watches the Reich collapse spectacularly into occupation and starvation, and marries his former governess.  After the war he goes on wildflower expeditions in the Alps, finds solace among prostitutes while his wife lay in a coma, and marries a Brazilian chambermaid in order to receive a kidney from her. 

By turns sardonic and tragic and surreal, Hans’s story is the story of all of the insanity, irony and horror of the modern world itself.  


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Thanks for this interview, Dan.  Can we begin by having you tell us about yourself from a writer’s standpoint?

Perhaps the most interesting part of my background is that my entire family – both parents and both siblings – are either psychiatrists or psychologists.  My father is a well-known psychoalanalyst.   This affected me in all kinds of ways, although I hope I keep it all well-concealed in my fiction – which I want to be fun and full of life, and free of self-reference, over-analysis, and all the other the sins of contemprary literature. 

I always get a smile when I read Nabokov’s many anti-psychoanalytic comments.  In the preface to “King, Queen, Knave,” he wrote, “As usual…the Viennese has not been invited.”  I read that and think, “I’m quite familiar with that delegation.”   In an interview, Nabokov once said, “I don't want an elderly gentleman from Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his dreams upon me.”   I grew up with that elderly gentleman.  I get it. 

As for my fiction, I took one or two classes in creative writing along the way, but I have to say I found them to be essentially useless.  I am still unsure, after two published novels, what exactly, ‘show it, don’t say it’ even means.  So I suppose I am essentially self-taught.  My interests range from literary fiction to humor and back again.  Art and its inverse, I suppose.   My new novel, The Feet Say Run, is finally a synthesis of the two – existing in some Limbo between comedy and tragedy, veering perilously from one to the other. 

When not writing, what do you like to do for relaxation and/or fun?

I relax with family and friends.  I play tennis and chess and do crosswords.  I like to travel when possible.   I write a humor blog, “The Rotting Post,” which helps keep my inner artiste in check. 

Congratulations on your new book! Can you give us the very first page of your book so that we can get a glimpse inside?

If there is an actual name to this island, it is unknown to us.  We have chosen to call it Illyria.  We’re not exactly sure where the name comes from.  Some book perhaps.  But it no longer matters.  The name has become our own—mythic and melodic-sounding.  As though, if we keep calling this place Illyria, keep pretending it has some magical allure, people will want to come.  Someone will come rescue us.  
I am not complaining, particularly.  Well, maybe I am.  But I probably shouldn’t be.  So far fate has proven a fair enough agent.  The beaches are sandy, the water clear and turquoise, the reefs plentiful.  The island is wreathed in a soothing white foam.  On shore there is the shade of palms and palmettos and eucalyptus.  At least we think it is eucalyptus.  We call it eucalyptus.  Maybe it is just some kind of fancy magnolia though.  Who the hell knows? 
There are fruits in relative abundance—though what they are, we aren’t sure.  Some are purple.  Others are yellow.  Some vaguely sweet, others sharp and abrasive on the roof of the mouth.  There is a variety of coconut that grows in conjoined pairs to look like the buttocks of an African woman.  We call this ass-fruit.  When I offered some to Conrad, he said to me, “I’m not into that shit.”  As though I were suggesting something perverse.  As though fear of this fetish object outweighed the need for sustenance. 
“What shit are you not into?” I asked. 
“Ass fruit,” he said.  “Ass.”
“It’s not real ass, Conrad,” I said.
“Well, it’s not a real fruit either,” he said. 
“What do you think it is then?” I asked.
“A joke,” he said.  “A sick joke.  Like the rest of this place.” 

God is playing a joke on us.  That is a common theme here. It was funny the first time someone said it.  Now it is just annoying, like a child saying, “knock-knock” to you over and over, more and more emphatically, as you refuse, just as emphatically, to ask, “Who’s there?” 
The other common theme here is that none of it is real.  We all died when the boat went down.  And this is all just a dream.  Conrad suggests this a couple of times a day, each time choosing a different angle, a different inflection, in a vain attempt to keep the joke fresh.  If you suggest, gently, that this joke no longer strikes you as uproarious, Conrad will immediately jump into a long denial that he is joking.  “I’m not fucking kidding,” he will tell you.  “I really mean it. I think this is all a dream.” 
Perhaps Conrad is right.  Because honestly, I did not believe, until my current predicament, that deserted islands still existed.  I thought these islands were all owned by former tennis pros and former tyrants, or inhabited by caricatures of primitive tribes who sell carved bamboo flutes to flabby tourists in checkered shorts. 
If it is a dream, if this is my Land of Oz and I am soon to wake up, then it is curious how, from time to time, little bits of Kansas wash up upon our shores.  Whenever we wander further down the beach, away from our settlement, we find Styrofoam packing peanuts, Styrofoam bowls, #3 plastic take-out containers with their familiar, triangular recycle symbols (apparently the previous owners of these containers ignored this particular environmental imperative).
The restaurant take-out containers are the most distressing.  More mockery from The Almighty.  More of his levity.  Ha ha.  We bring them back to our camp and wonder what twenty-first century foods they once held.  Pad Thai or Kung Pao Chicken or Shrimp Korma.  From some restaurant from the other world.  Thank you, God, for delivering us this practical joke.  Ha ha.  You’re fucking hi-lar-ious.

Would you say it’s been a rocky road for you in regards to getting your book written and published or pretty much smooth sailing?  Can you tell us about your journey?

My previous novel, Lisa33 was an avante-garde sex comedy set on the internet.  I had received a large advance for it, but in the end the publishing experience was quite disastrous.  So I wanted to get as far away from it as possible.  A harrowing war story set in Nazi Germany was surely about as far from an internet sex farce as one could get. 

Of course, there is more to it than that.  I had grown increasingly interested in the idea of literary fiction that also made for a gripping page-turner.  And I was drawn to the idea of telling a big, epic tale of human comedy and tragedy, of cruelty and compassion and blindess and brilliance, through a single, long life.  Gradually, from these disparate threads and ideas, the book began to take shape.  I honestly never had a moment where I decided, “I am going to write another novel.”  I just began poking around.  And then I was in too deep, immersed, and – to borrow a war metaphor – there was no retreating.  The only way out was forward. 

As fas as finding a publisher, that is itself rather interesting.  I had lost most of my supposed connections in the publishing world.  And of course, with a book to my name that had received a large advance and few sales, I represented something rather awkward, something not to be mentioned.  I was a mistake, a failed experiment.  Worse than an unknown.  So I had to more or less start over. 

As it turned out, my new publisher found me.  I had posted a few poems on a public website, and the publisher had admired them and commented.  This started an email exchange and my forwarding, The Feet Say Run.  I have to believe I am one of the few writers who was “discovered”, then entirely forgotten, then once again “discovered” for something new, with no awareness that I was already a published novelist.   

If you had to summarize your book in one sentence, what would that be?

All of the greatness and tragedy and comedy and foibles of mankind, in a single, long, war-weary, extraordinary life. 

What makes your book stand out from the rest?

I feel strongly that too much serious fiction is just too slow, too ponderous.  It fails the basic artistic test, “Did this novel draw in the reader at the start, and hold the reader until the end?”  The Feet Say Run is a serious novel that is taut and suspenseful, that is emotionally gripping and difficult to put down.  This was what I wanted to create because it is what I most love to read.  I’m already seeing many readers really excited about it in the way I had most dearly hoped. 

If your book was put in the holiday section of the store, what holiday would that be and why?

Well, at it’s heart is a war story, and a rather harrowing one, so I suppose it would be Memorial Day.  Although…I am not aware of any great book-buying surrounding Memorial Day, so this is not a serious recommendation.

Would you consider turning your book into a series or has that already been done?

I always want to be experimenting and doing something new.  I never want to write the same sort of book twice.  So I do not see a series here.  What’s more, the story is complete as it is - unless characters miraculously come back from the dead. 

On the other hand, I do have someone looking at film rights for it, and here I could easily see that it could be a mini-series of sorts. 

What’s next for you?

I have a couple of things nearing completion – one serious and one much lighter.  I’m unsure which I will want to publisher first – or which my publisher would prefer.  So we’ll have to see.  

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