Author Q&A: Douglas Lain
I’m so excited to introduce you to Douglas Lain, the author of Billy Moon, which was the Book of the Week at the end of last month. In the future, I’d love to include author interviews as a regular feature of lifebythebooks, and as my inaugural interview, Lain was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his writing and about Billy Moon.
For more information about Douglas Lain and about Billy Moon, check out his website at douglaslain.com. To read the first paragraph of the book, check out my Sneak Peak. Other than that, enjoy the interview!
KP: What inspired you to write ‘Billy Moon’? Why write about Christopher Milne?
DL: In 1969, after the student/workers strikes of May 1968 were defeated, people in government asked the question: “Why did that happen? What inspired that madness?” The students were asking themselves the same question. “Why did we do that?”
Writing a novel is not as much of a mystery as a spontaneous uprising, but it is a bit of a mystery.
What inspired me to write Billy Moon? Somehow, as I grew up in the 80s and struck out on my own in the 90s I became interested in the events of May 1968. I read books like Greil Marcus’s “Lipstick Traces” and Sadie Plant’s “The Most Radical Gesture” and ended up siding with the people who asked “Why did that happen?” because they wanted it to happen again.
Christopher Robin Milne was the right person to insert into a story about ’68 because he was a real man who was conscious of how a fiction had influenced and changed his life. One of the prerequisites for a mass movement, like the one that happened in ’68, is that a widespread understanding of the fictional nature of the current social order takes hold.
KP: What was the writing process for this book? Is there a resource that helped you in your writing/editing?
DL: My writing process is pretty much the same for most all of my writing. First I create an outline using images I Google up to create sets of juxtapositions that I think illustrate the idea in the section I’m working on. For instance, when I was writing about Christopher Robin’s first meeting with the young student who invited him to Paris, a meeting that took place in jail, I set photos of a middle aged Christopher Robin beside photographs from the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964. I found snapshots of the young men and women who’d been taken from a campus sit-in to jail. Underneath these photos I wrote something like: “Christopher might be the only one who isn’t proud to be in jail.”
KP: What parts of Christopher Milne’s life did you include in your character? How did they influence the overall story?
DL: There are several scenes in the novel that are fictionalized rewritings of moments Christopher Robin wrote about in his memoir “Enchanted Places.” For example, Christopher wrote about his cat Hodge, but in my account Hodge becomes a bit menacing and unreal.
KP: What is the significance of the moments of magic realism? How did they play into your vision for the book?
DL: The book is about two characters who understand the fictional nature of the society or world that they’re living in. The first is Christopher Robin, and he understands that he’s living in a fiction because he grew up in the shadow of his father’s fictional version of him. The student Gerard, however, understands the fictional status of the world because he has a peculiar precognitive power, some type of mystical ability that allows him to see the past inside the present. What Gerard understands at the outset is that we are the authors of our own fictions, or that we are the authors of the authors of our own stories.
KP: What is your favorite book/favorite few books? What are you reading right now?
DL: My favorite novels and short story collections include: “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, “VALIS” by Philip K. Dick, “The Trial,” by Franz Kafka, “The Dream Years,” by Lisa Goldstein, and “Lost in the Funhouse” by John Barth, and many others.
I am currently on my book tour for Billy Moon and I’m reading Terry Bisson’s “Any Day Now,” McKenzie Wark’s “The Spectacle of Disintegration,” Mary Ann Mohanraj’s collection “Bodies in Motion,” and “The Phenomenology of Spirit” by GWF Hegel (a book I’ve been slowly making my way through for over a year.)
KP: If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would you suggest?
DL: Write the stories that you’d want to read and ask the questions that plague you because you can’t quite answer them.
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