Jess Walter [Interview]

Jess Walter is undoubtedly one of the finest American writers living today.  His whimsical and explicit position in the world of fiction has been solidified with a terrific perception of the tyranny of the world around us.  Comedy is definitely infused into the world of modern American literature these days.  Walter’s work isn’t entirely funny in a Judd Apatow or Sinbad kind of way, but maybe more like George Carlin in his prime.  The idea that “it’s funny because it’s true” has turned more into a “funny because it’s sad” sort of atmosphere.  And since the mid 90′s, Jess Walter has proven himself a master of such new-found idealisms and eccentric glory.
In his decades spanning career, Jess Walter has proved himself to be one of the finest novelists of the latter-day generation.  When Bukowski passed along his last novel, Pulp, in the early 90′s and later died in the most fashionable of senses, there was probably some confusion on what the hell we were going to read next.  Thankfully we have Walter to pick up the pieces of a drunken man’s rage towards beauty.
Walter may not be, in the literal sense, a poet or (as far as we know) a sex crazed drunk, but his style is definitely a combination of the beauty of Bukowski, and the wit of Carlin.  And with great fortune, I was able to get a few incredible responses from one of the finest authors of our time.  Here I talk with Jess Walter about everything from his love for his hometown of Spokane, basketball, and what is in store for this amazing writer to include is work in film and literature.
You’ve been praised, awarded, and praised again for your amazing work.  How have you handled literary stardom?

Ha! That’s an impossible question to answer, since I’m not sure I believe in “literary stardom” and wouldn’t know it if I saw it. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything like that. It’s nice to have people know the books, but I really just concentrate on the sentences and hope the rest takes care of itself.

What sort of influence does your almost like long residents and/or connection with the city of Spokane have on your writing?

Spokane’s a great source of inspiration for me. It’s a REAL place and I love its work ethic, its unadorned sense of itself. I think when I was younger I had a more difficult relationship with the city, wanting it to be something that it wasn’t. I recently wrote an essay for McSweeney’s recently (Statistical Abstract for my Hometown of Spokane, Washington) that dealt with my obnoxious youthful antagonism toward the city and came to the conclusion, in that piece, that hating where you’re from is just another form of self-loathing.I hate to use comparisons that might hinder an unknown reader’s interest, but I’ve heard many times that you are to Spokane what Palahniuk is to Portland.  Do you believe these are justifiable comparisons, not only as city reps but as writers overall?

Ha, that’s another funny question. I don’t think our styles are much alike at all, and I don’t think Palahniuk even lives in Portland any more. I doubt any city would claim to have a novelist as a representative for the city. Thankfully, writer is an unelected position. But I did just read his newest, Damned, and it’s very funny.

Is there any subject you haven’t tackled to date that you desperately would like to write about?  Any subjects you just plain won’t touch with a ten foot stick?

I can’t think of a subject I wouldn’t write about, and there are dozens, maybe hundreds I’d like to write about: more Western stories, more stories about class and wealth and income inequity, more crime stories, more humorous novels, more satires, farces and scary things, more short stories about basketball … I’ve got far more ideas than I have time or fingers to type with.

It’s been a while since you wrote Every Knee Shall Bow (or Ruby Ridge if so preferred), any thoughts on working on a new non-fiction project?

I do have some ideas for nonfiction books, but I haven’t researched any of them enough to really talk about. I sort of feel like the fiction mine has turned out to have a deep vein of material so I’ll just keep digging there for a while. If I run out of stuff, I may go back to mining nonfiction for a while.

Through a bit of research, I learned that you landed the elite role as “Spokane Basketball Player #3″ in the 1999 film The Basket.  How did this come about?

My friend was one of the writers and producers of that film and they asked me to round up basketball players who looked like they could be from the early 1900s. I’ve played basketball all my life, but apparently, to the casting people, my game was all throwback. My acting is bad, but I’d love to try again, and if there were an Oscar for handlebar mustaches, I’d have been in the running.

What might have been more reasonable research notes, is that your amazing book The Financial Lives of The Poets is soon to be made into a film directed by the man behind the cult classic 24 Hour Party People (and an Angelina Jolie movie) Michael Winterbottom and starring Jack Black.  And most importantly, you wrote the script!  This is very cool stuff!  Any news on this you might be able to let us in on about the progress of the film?

Films take a long time to get from conception to screen (and often they never make it.) Right now we’re in the place a number of movie projects end up, waiting to get everything in place and, hopefully, start filming. But there are still a few hurdles to clear. So, unfortunately, nothing new right now, although I may know more in the coming weeks.

Any chances of seeing more film adaptations?  Shouldn’t George Clooney have hit you up for the rights to Citizen Vince by now?

The film rights for The Zero and Citizen Vince have been scooped up and there are scripts for both films out there, with producers trying to get them made. As of right now, neither one has the momentum that The Financial Lives of the Poets has, and I’ve yet to hear from George Clooney.

And you knew it was coming….what’s next for Jess Walter?

I have a novel coming out in early June called “The Beautiful Ruins,” which is a big, I guess I’d say ambitious book about 1960s Italy, present day Hollywood and the Donner Party. Oh, and it’s funny. And romantic. One of those.Finally, the most important question of all…..  what was the last thing that made you smile?

These questions, I suppose. I had one of the last tomatoes from my garden today; that was pretty swell. And my kids all the time.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

One Response to Jess Walter [Interview]

  1. Pingback: Two Years of Trainwreck’d [Exclusive!] | Train Wreck'd Society

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