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"How Do You Love Garbage?" Atticus Lish Interviewed
Lauren Oyler , April 19th, 2015 14:10

Lauren Oyler sits down with PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novelist Atticus Lish to discuss a simultaneous influence and eschewing of minimalism, the secondary nature of language, and the gift of autonomy in relation to his full-length debut — Preparation For The Next Life — via sartorial guidance and looking for ninjas in the phone book

There is something unsettling about Atticus Lish. We met in an unpretentious café near his home in unpretentious Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife, whom he’s been with since they were teenagers. After two and a half hours, I left feeling buoyant and positive: Lish is smiley and generous and accessible, as well as shorter than I expected, and I felt that his much-publicised story checked out. I had met one of those increasingly rare (maybe) regular-guy writers who, despite avoiding a boring/standard education–higher education–career trajectory, had emerged in middle age with a great book actually worthy of the blurb-y platitudes heaped upon it. Lish’s debut novel, Preparation For The Next Life, was released in the US last year to resounding praise from people who know what they’re talking about. (Joy Williams: ‘Powerfully realistic, with a solemn, muscular lyricism, this is a very, very good book.’) Although I’d expected to dislike it—much had been made of the violence in the book, and knowing the press, I thought it would espouse an alt-y style I don’t believe in—I loved it, too.

A few hours after our talk, though, I began to doubt myself; it was a much weirder interview than I had given it credit for. Part of the reason the novel has gotten the attention required to turn great books into great books recognised as such is Lish’s story, which, while inspirational, is also full of gaps that lend him some mystery. A rough outline: Born to storied ‘Captain Fiction,’ editor-to-the-stars Gordon Lish. (You can’t have a name like that and not come from somewhere interesting.) Grows up in Manhattan, reads dictionaries. Prep school at Andover, studies Mandarin. Goes to Harvard. Drops out of Harvard. Becomes estranged from editor-to-the-stars father. Lives in a basement in Queens and works in fast food. Joins the Marines. Honorable (but unexplained) discharge from the Marines. Some other stuff involving martial arts and security guard–esque jobs. Finishes Harvard in his thirties. Moves to China to teach English. Moves back to New York to become a Chinese-to-English technical translator. Starts writing Preparation seriously. When it’s mostly done, he gives it to his friend Giancarlo DiTrapano, publisher of the indie press Tyrant Books, who’d put out a joke-ily political collection of Lish’s drawings in 2010. About the brief, grungy, and unlikely Queens-set love story between an illegal Uighur immigrant and an Iraq War vet suffering PTSD—or: between one hopeful and one hopeless—Preparation is either a ‘very, very good book’ or a great book. DiTrapano totally blown away; they work on it; and now here we are. Last Tuesday Preparation won the big-deal PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, which carries with it a $15,000-dollar prize and company like Don DeLillo, Richard Ford, and T.C. Boyle, all of whom are very impressive—and have been edited by Gordon. (Joy Williams, too.)

If it weren’t for the beginning of this story, in this jujitsu hobbyist and Brooklyn-accented regular guy we would have a powerful lesson we all want to believe is true: that hard work and life experience mean more than privilege and education when it comes to making great art. You can spend your twenties fucking up and trying to get by; you can love your wife long-term and monogamously; you can wake up every day before sunrise to eat a cheese Danish and drink a homemade cappuccino and wear sweatpants.

Reading the true crime and nonfiction he’s drawn to, Lish professes another regular-guy trait: ignorance of the contemporary literary climate. In a previous interview, he said he didn’t know who Jonathan Franzen was. In this one, I cut the part in which I try to explain modernism—Lish: ‘Do you mean that vaguely?’ Me: ‘No, I mean the literary movement of the 20s and 30s? Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, “make it new”?’ It was too embarrassing for one of us — which one of us, I don’t know. On one hand, I feel like I may have been tricked into gullibly launching into low-level lit snobbery by a subversive indie press cohort—fuck the canon, etc. On the other hand, there are those gaps in Lish’s history. I try to imagine how they might have allowed Lish to get through his childhood, or Andover, or Harvard’s general education requirements, without hearing about modernism.

Back to the first hand: I can’t.

Wary, I asked a series of friends if they thought he was serious. Do you think…? He’s fucking with you, they all said, and I still don’t know if I agree.

Did I read that your interest in China came from a movie?

Atticus Lish: It came from watching kung fu movies as a kid. They were on on Saturdays usually—there was something calls Fists of Fury Theater. That stuff sticks in your head when you’re a kid—you start to attach your fantasy life to it. I was kind of blown away—this was the 80s, ninjas were very big, and I wanted to be a ninja very badly. I would have gone to a ninja-related school if that were possible.

Now you could probably find one.

AL: Well, now there’s everything—you could do anything now. Back then I would look in the phone book under “ninja” and I remember calling some guy who I heard from somebody else was a ninja teacher—

How old were you at this point?

AL: Oh, I was probably 12 or 13. I was desperate to be a ninja. I called this guy up, and he was like, ‘Well, I’m not taking students right now, but catching tennis balls or playing ball—that’s hand-eye coordination, you need that to be a ninja, too. So why don’t you go play some ball.’

That’s kind of lame, just playing with a ball. But I ended up channeling that [desire]—I had the opportunity to take Chinese when I got to prep school, so I jumped on that. Chinese was a second choice; if they had offered Japanese I would have taken that, because that was the language of ninjas.

Did you find it challenging?

AL: Part of the attraction to taking the language was avoiding a challenge—I didn’t want to learn conjugations or declensions, the grammatical armature that comes with the romance languages, which I’d had some experience with—I took French and I took Latin. When I heard Chinese didn’t have that, that was a big draw. People said, ‘Well the characters are complicated,’ and I said ‘Yeah, but they’re also fascinating,’ and the sounds, they’re hard to make—that’s true, but they’re also fascinating again.

Did you come back around to grammar? Because I feel like one of the things about your book—the sentences are so tight.

AL: I actually did read some Stephen Pinker, and what I got from him was that there’s the grammar that you get tsk-tsked about—where you’re supposed to, say, not end a sentence with a preposition—and then there’s the grammar that someone like Noam Chomsky does, where they simply describe what’s the model of language in your head, your natural grammar. That was a very attractive thing to me—that has changed my thinking about language ever since then.

It’s made me believe that the spoken language is primary, and I want it to be primary. Everything should pass the reading-aloud test; that became a real theme with me before I even was aware of it. I said, ‘Don’t write like a writer; write like a talker,’ and then that was reinforced by reading Hemingway. Sometimes I would look at a Hemingway sentence on the page, and I would say, ‘I don’t know what that means.’ And then I would say it out loud, or say it in my head, and realise that I do know what it means.

Were you doing this while you were writing the novel? I read that you came to writing when you took a fiction class or something?

AL: As an adult the first time I tried to write was in that fiction class, and that was in 2004 during summer school. I had to take an elective. I’m really glad I did—it gave me some good pointers I’ve hung onto since then. The best models [the professor] put up in front of me were Flannery O’Connor and Flaubert, and I’ve stuck with those two. Flannery O’Connor in that I always look for the country, the oral tradition. I used Flaubert to help me solve a problem.

What was the problem?

AL: In Preparation, I didn’t know how to do the relationship—I didn’t how to show the evolution—

It was amazing!

AL: Thank you! I appreciate you saying that. And the thing is, it was very hard for me to figure out, because I kept thinking Well, if you just keep the camera on two people, it’s going to be boring. We don’t want to be stuck watching grass grow. So like I said, I studied Flaubert because this is a book [Madame Bovary] about a relationship. You know, a woman whose life is sort of going south, options are closing off, it’s headed to a crisis, it’s related to various love affairs—I studied that book pretty closely.

What do you mean by ‘studied’?

AL: I probably just read it—okay. I’ll be honest, I read it, despite not being that into it. That’s why it felt like studying. I didn’t love anybody in the book, but that’s a separate thing. I loved the writing; I was in awe of the transitions that Flaubert does, the way he’ll move through a section, the way he’ll hand off dialogue to a little bit of narration, the way he’ll move characters around very elegantly without wasting a lot of time with scene setting—I thought it was a real clinic.

I would say you have a lot of scene setting, though. I mean, you have a lot of New York.

AL: What I mean when I say scene setting: if you’re already in the scene, you already know what’s going on. Stuff where you move around the characters, all the stuff that some people do that’s sort of like stage directing—a lot of that stuff can be pulled out, you don’t need it—a more elegant approach can be achieved, I’ve noticed, when you just don’t really mention that. Hemingway doesn’t do a lot of that stuff. He leaves it to you to figure out when they’ve moved to a different room. He doesn’t give you an atomic description of what’s going on; he sticks with the big important things. I’ve noticed that better authors, from Jane Austen to Flaubert, do that. They don’t give you unnecessary, like, reaction shots of people. I say, ‘But I love the hot cocoa?’ and the narrator says, ‘Her face reflected agony when he said that.’ That kind of thing.

Did you have a rigorous reading program on your own after you finished Harvard and came to New York?

AL: No, not exactly. I’ve always been really choosy, and I’ve always felt like there wasn’t enough to really keep me entertained—in fact, I used to joke with my wife, half-seriously, that why I was writing a book was so that she and I would find it fun to read, because there isn’t enough that would fit exactly our bill.

Would you ever write a book review or nonfiction or an essay or something?

AL: I have tried to write some nonfiction, and I read a lot of nonfiction. I wouldn’t rule it out. [But] I see my mission—I’m mission-oriented—this’ll sound like megalomania. My goal is to write 20 novels.

Why 20?

AL: Well, it’s a round number, and I also have a theory that because a novel has got so many moving parts and it’s uncontrollable to a great extent—you can’t get exactly what you want most of the time—I have this theory that it’s like rolling the dice. And with novels you have to roll the dice and roll the dice until you finally get that perfect score. And what put that in my head is the example of Cormac McCarthy. This guy’s written a lot—a lot of books, a lot of big books—and later in his career along comes The Road. Now The Road is a perfect book. In my view. You can’t correct The Road. So I said, ‘You’re gonna have to try this a bunch of times, and it’s always going to be a little wrong, a little wrong, and then suddenly—’ It’s a matter of chance. The pitch has to come in at the right direction, you have to swing the right way, you’re gonna get that three-run homer.

So I do have a mission, and it’s based on writing novels, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write other stuff along the way. Good cross-training.

Well, okay, but—Preparation took you five years to write, yeah?

AL: [Laughs] I have to hurry. I have to live to be 300 or I have to hurry. I’m not saying this’ll happen, but we gotta dream.

Are you working on one now?

AL: Yes, I am.

Do you have a regimented writing routine?

AL: Yes, I do. I write 2000 words a day. They’re not good; I’m going to throw away most of that.

How long does that take?

AL: First of all, I’d like to be in a zone where I’m doing it unconsciously, just ripping it. And if that happens, it could be kind of fast. What is it, three pages, four pages, something like that?

Single-spaced, yeah. Do you write longhand?

AL: I’ve tried to eliminate that step some of the time because then I have to transcribe, and that slows me down. I actually wrote the previous book 99% longhand. I’ve got notebooks—lots of notebooks—with tiny little writing.

It stresses me out.

AL: I did it to avoid the stress of staring at a computer. And the distraction. You know, the internet is on the computer—evil comes out of that box.

Are you on the internet very much otherwise?

AL: Not a hell of a lot. What I do is I either watch Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or if I had access to it I would watch Workaholics more.

What’s Workaholics?

AL: It’s a comedy show with three guys and they smoke a lot of pot—which I don’t do—

Everyone in New York smokes so much pot!

AL: Don’t look at me! I live clean; I’m a clean-livin’ guy, and I don’t do that.

You don’t drink?

AL: I do drink, but I don’t, like, really drink. I like to get drunk, but I don’t unwind that way. I usually unwind through, you know, other things.

Do you edit yourself at all?

AL: I think if you can get into that golden state where you’re not watching yourself, you turn off the editor, and you’re just intuitive and natural, that’s a good way to do it. But then you do have to follow that by printing it out and chopping it up on a piece of paper and seeing what’s good. Then you print it out again, and I show it to my reader—my reader is my wife Beth—and we’re a two-person team. She knows her job in this; she expects at the end of the day I’ll hand her something, she’ll read it, and she’ll pass it back to me and tell me what she thinks. I’ll implement those changes. We work together. It’s not going to be done yet, of course, because there’s big issues—something might not really click, and you know it doesn’t click. What’s going to happen is you’re going to come back later and realise there’s a much better way to do that part. You can imagine.

Yeah. It’s horrible. It’s torturous. Do you feel like it’s torturous?

AL: Well, I’m trying to avoid torture, because I read something by Atul Gawande which made a very sensible point: if something is painful, you tend to avoid it, and if something is pleasant, you tend to do it a lot. And things you do a lot, you get good at, so I said, ‘You have to make yourself love writing.’ If you want to be great at it, you have to find a way to want to do it all the time. I’m going to a martial arts gym right now, and my coach is totally obsessed with what he does—he loves what he does. He’s there from seven in the morning until 11 at night, seven days a week. Writing has to be that way. You know, there are two things that are important: this mission and my wife. And everything has to converge, what you do with your body, what you do with your heart, it all has to come to a point. That is how I feel.

So you decided you wanted to be a writer—that this was your mission?

AL: When I was younger, I was a very academic-y type of kid—taking Chinese, [and] I always had a book in front of me. Then those days kind of stopped, and I pretty much just lived physically for years. I didn’t kind of get cerebral again until I was much older. It was just part of clicking back over?

What made you click back over? Well, what made you click first, and what made you click back?

AL: Well, I’m not going to tell you, because some of it’s real personal. And I don’t mean to be snotty by that, but I keep it to myself. Basically, I just went one way for awhile—everything was about certain sports things—and when I got later in life, I think those things had served a purpose for me, and at the end of the day, that wasn’t my true calling. One way or another, deep down I knew that, and I started to come back in this direction. And also there’s economic things—I needed to make a living. I’ve never had a real job, like a job-job that could create a better standard of living for my wife.

That’s why I went back to school—I had dropped out years ago. I wanted to tie a bow on it and get it done. But it was during that process, once I was in view of getting done, that I realised: this is it, this is what I wanna do, I wanna keep doing this.

In view of getting done with what—this book?

AL: That’s correct.

At what point did you feel like you were getting close?

AL: It would have been not this past August but the one before. That was the time that Giancarlo saw it, but even after that there was more key stuff that had to drop in, insight into what piece should go where. That comes late. That was a real learning thing for me, seeing: if you wait on it, you do realise eventually that, oh, you can solve that problem.

Did Gian help you with it?

AL: The best thing he did was [be] pretty hands off. Originally I had done the death of Mrs. O’Conn—Mrs. Murphy—I’d done her death differently, and he told me [not to] do that.

I was glad for the autonomy. This thing was real personal: it was just me and my wife who knew about it, and I was so used to that that I don’t know how I would have reacted to a really involved editor. I didn’t want to share control with anyone else.

Do you still feel that way?

AL: I have an agent now. When you have an agent, you basically kinda work for them. They call the shots, and that’s great! Let somebody else handle the business. I don’t have a big head, though — I know better than anybody that 99% of what I do is garbage. You just gotta wait on it until the insight finally comes and you can get the good stuff, but that’s so rare. It’s like feeling good after 40—you might have to wait six weeks to wake up one morning and go, ‘Oh yeah, I’m ready for the day.’ If somebody has to step in and say, ‘You gotta cut 100 pages; you gotta rewrite this section; it’s boring,’ God forbid that you would say, ‘No, I’m not going to listen.’ I listen to the coach.


AL: How do you love garbage? What you have to do is you have to believe that this is all for a good purpose. I’ve struggled to understand this, and I think I’m getting to the point—I’d like to believe—that I can. It’s a mental game; you have to not get demoralised; you have to know: this is exactly what you go through to get gold. And then it frees you to just wake up, feel like crap, be fat, be unshaven, be wearing your sweatpants for three days in a row—it doesn’t matter because you’ll be pretty in the end.

It sounds similar to sports, right? Do you have the energy to do that with sports and with writing, to have that sort of idea that you’re going to achieve greatness?

AL: There’s only room in life for one war. There’s only one thing in life you can connect yourself body and soul to. If I was going to be an athlete—that was a path that I was on when I was younger, and I got off it, because I’m not a competitive person, you know, like, a business/sports guy—there are certain people that have to win at stuff. Play a game of pool: have to win it. Play a game of ping-pong: they have to win. The rest of the time they’re playing football to win. I have a competitive side, but that’s very different from being somebody who’s going to go home and sleep unsoundly because he didn’t perform well. That’s not my path. I have one mission, you gotta stay focused on that.

However, I do think that athletics, being fit, and living through your body—it expands your consciousness, and it may help you to stay vigorous enough to do your job. In my mind, this is a physical job. I compare it to something like Homer, where he has to stand up and sing that whole book. That’s a feat of endurance. Now, in practical terms, nobody actually does that, but my fantasy is that I get up on stage, like Axl Rose, and I’m gonna sing the whole thing for 24 hours.

When I feel good about writing, it’s a different feeling from beating somebody in wrestling—it’s a different type of triumph. People who want to make something, something that looks good, something nice—making something and having it work, to me that’s a slightly different feeling than when you win a race. I can lose in every athlete thing in the world

Do you feel competitive in writing?

AL: I would avoid that. I think what you want is to celebrate what the civilisation is doing—these are cultural products. The more people who write, the more people who produce something good, the luckier we all are. I’m not just a writer, I’m a reader, so I want to go out there and see great stuff on the shelves. We’re all better off if everybody’s getting lifted up. If that feeling’s even there, which it usually isn’t, I don’t let it grow.

Do you feel like you’re improving the culture?

AL: No, I think that would be a little puffed up, if I imagined I was improving the culture. That truly would be arrogant. And besides, my motives really are kind of personal. When you try to make something, you just wanna make something you like. It’s great getting good reviews, but if my wife didn’t like what I wrote, I wouldn’t be happy. We were just trying to do something in our little home that we were proud of. Now, don’t get me wrong: that it got published, that was the biggest thing.

This all seems very good in theory—I would love to not feel competitive.

AL: I don’t have a big problem with hatin’ on people. I honestly don’t.

Have you ever?

AL: I really don’t think that’s me! If we do need to talk about some things that are wrong with my character, I’ll let you know—I do have some problems. But I don’t actually think that’s one of the things I have to worry about too much.

Okay, so what are your problems?

AL: Let me give you an honest answer that’s not too honest.

I don’t dress nice?

Would you like to dress nice? I’m sure your agent could help you out with that.

AL: She would look at me and say, ‘Okay. So what I’m seeing is, like, urban slob. What we wanna do is we wanna tweak the donut-stained sweatpants—‘

I do have a fantasy of what I would look like, and it’s a total fantasy. I wanna look like a Russian gangster, an Albanian gangster. I wanna get the long black trenchcoat—like a duster. Basically Lorenzo Lamas’s duster—I would like a black leather duster. Under it, I see a tracksuit—a new one. I had one, and it’s old and crappy. I would get, like, brand-new adidas.

What color? Black?

AL: No no no. I like navy and I like red. Run-D.M.C.’s colors?

You can’t wear navy with a black leather trench coat.

AL: You see why I need help?

But that doesn’t count as a real fault. Many people would say that that’s a virtue, to not care about your appearance.

AL: I’ll tell you what’s a virtue: my wife has been putting up with this for a long time. I don’t know what she really feels about it, but she says she doesn’t wanna change me, so God bless her.

I really want a fault, though.

AL: Okay, alright.


Do you get angry with other people, or do you get angry with yourself? Or both?

AL: At my worst, I’ve been a little volatile. I’m not that way anymore.

How did you stop?

AL: I probably got a little older, and you get in trouble if you do enough stupid things. You start figuring out you shouldn’t be an idiot. It’s good to be a calm, peaceful human being.

Did you get in fights?

AL: Probably some stuff I wouldn’t want on tape. Nothing that sexy, but things that were not getting me anywhere and that weren’t good for the people around me. This is all ancient history.

You mentioned Cormac McCarthy and Hemingway, both of whom are pretty minimalist, and you’re speaking sort of reverentially about being able to strip things away that are unnecessary—

AL: I don’t want to be misheard here—I’m not actually talking about—you say a word like ‘minimalist,’ it might mean different things to different people. To tell you the truth, I don’t 1000% know exactly what it means.

I mean it in a vague way.

AL: Okay, well, I would not have said that Cormac McCarthy is minimalist myself—

I would say The Road is minimalist, don’t you think?

AL: Maybe? I just thought it was elegantly done? What I do want to say is I think if you carry minimalism to an extreme, it’s almost neurotic. I think you’ve gotta give somebody a nourishing experience, too. You sit down to eat, you want a big plate. I like gravy and potatoes. I don’t want to give somebody a zen line and go, ‘You know what that means.’ All I meant was that I think that if you can remove what is unnecessary because it clots up the language, that’s good. Is Flaubert a minimalist? You wouldn’t say so. I was looking at Jane Austen, too. They do nice jumps, but they’re jumps that people can follow.

Stephen Pinker says you want to give people a sentence they can process easily. I believe in readability—you don’t want to give people too much information because it slows down the wheels in their head, and you don’t want to give them too little because they’ll be confused. When you say minimalism, I put the brakes on. I go, ‘Whoa, I don’t like the sound of that.’ First of all, I haven’t really studied literature, and I don’t exactly know what that means, and second of all, I just don’t like the sound of it. I don’t follow any school like that — I do it to my own specs, and I don’t want the reader to ever think, ‘I need more here.’ I don’t believe in giving somebody mannered writing.

What about challenging the reader?

AL: That never has occurred to me. I don’t know what people mean by that—maybe you mean it vaguely? I’ve heard the expression, it never appealed to me, you want the reader to never be confused. As a reader, what I like, is when I totally forget myself. You’re just in the story, you don’t notice the language.

You don’t want anyone to notice the language?

AL: I don’t shoot for that. I’ll be honest—if something comes out nicely, I’ll notice it. But basically, if you were saying it out loud to somebody, you would want it to be clear, you would want them to be into it. You don’t want to distract them. Easy and pleasurable. And exciting! Never boring. I really feel like, you don’t wanna frickin’ bore people. That’s the worst.

How do you feel about David Foster Wallace?

AL: Wait a second—oh, yeah, I know who he is. I was prepared to say that I didn’t know who he was. Somebody mentioned Jonathan Franzen, and I hadn’t read him, and I didn’t know who he was. It turned into this big joke—I think I know who he is now. There was a problem with him going on Oprah?

Yes. Do you want me to explain it?

AL: I think I know what it is—he said he didn’t wanna go on because he wanted men to read his book, or something like that?


AL: David Foster Wallace, I know the name. One time in the Brooklyn Public Library, I happened across one of his books, and I noticed the huge footnotes, and Beth and I kind of talked about footnotes. I have never read him. I think I’ve seen his photograph on Wikipedia, and I know he committed suicide.

Sorry—you were going to ask me something about him.

Well, everything you’re saying is pretty much counter to everything he thinks. He’s not as difficult as some kind of obscure academic writer, but he’s got very long sentences, uses a very big vocabulary. He uses those footnotes, so you have to flip constantly. And he writes a lot about things that are just boring, but it’s very much a stylistic experiment, or an application of a theoretical aim. I mean, some of his stuff is very accessible and beautiful—and he’s pretty much considered an unequivocal genius—but it’s hard. You have to sit with the books and read it very slowly and look things up—do you see a place for that at all?

AL: I definitely see a place for it. God bless the guy. It is not what I would want to do.

But I think you would probably like Jonathan Franzen? Do you read a lot of contemporary stuff?

AL: Lately I’ve been reading a lot of true crime. I’m very interested in crime, criminal psychology, criminology, profiling stuff. In the past I’ve read a lot of history, and I’m trying to read basic chemistry and physics and know what the world is made of. For fun I read a lot of investigative journalism.

Is there a reason you don’t read a lot of contemporary stuff?

AL: I pretty much just read whatever [I feel like]. It’s like when you browse on Netflix. If you’re me, you’ll pretty much always click on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: I just click on the same things I know I’m going to get a bang from every time. For years I’ve always gone after something that I know is going to be lurid. I read all these war books, books about crime, I used to read books about animals that would eat you—I just would read anything that would kind of be exciting. I rarely read something that would feel more like homework.

Did you interview people for this book?

AL: I made friends with a lot of people. I went to a couple of sweatshops; I was in Queens all the time; I talked to a soldier here and there. I talked to a lot of cops—cops did not want to talk to me. But I worked on them and sometimes they let a few things out. A lot of cops could not say anything—I’m not that good of a reporter.

It’s scary. Did it make you nervous to be writing about immigrant communities and other races—a mindset for which you don’t have a direct experience?

AL: I don’t have those hang-ups. First of all, psychically, I was in the third person, so I didn’t have to impersonate anybody.

It’s a close third.

AL: Yeah. I do ask myself if I’d be able to write from the first-person standpoint of a woman, and I think the answer is yes. That’s what you gotta do. I wouldn’t want to read a book about me. I truly, truly would not.

Preparation For The Next Life is out now, published by Tyrant Books in the US and Oneworld in the UK

Lauren Oyler is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. She is a staff writer at VICE Broadly and runs the blog at Bookslut.