James Greer

LITnIMAGE interview with James Greer, author of The Failure

Your new novel is The Failure, which like your California Book Award-winning debut, Artificial Light, is published by Akashic Books. Gathering from the reviews we’ve seen The Failure’s actually a big success. Tell us about it.

It’s a pretty breezy and (I hope) funny book. There’s more to it than that, but I was trying to go for something lighter after Artificial Light, which was kind of a dense, literary sad-pill. I’m glad people seem to like it.

The Failure’s protagonist, Guy Forget, is a slacker’s slacker who finds himself in one snafu after another. Who or what inspired such a character?

No one in particular. I stole his name from a fairly well known French tennis player from the ‘80s-‘90s, because I always thought it was a funny name if pronounced wrong, which is to say as it appears in English. I suppose there are bits and pieces of people I’ve known over the years in Guy, probably, but no real person (I hope) could be that smart and that delusional at the same time.

Humor and satire play a large role in your writing, to great effect. Has your sense of humor been influenced by life in L.A., with all its comedic fodder?

Not really, because I rarely leave the house. For whatever reason, I seem to have trouble taking anything seriously, ever, which can be problematic in life, but I suppose has benefits for a writer.

You’re a creative artist on several fronts. As a writer—with work as music journalist, as a screenwriter, as a novelist. As a musician, playing bass for Guided by Voices. Is there a form of art that particularly appeals to you? Do you find a symmetry or symbiosis between forms?

There’s definitely cross-pollination among the various things I do. The Failure was probably influenced more by film than literature: I was watching a lot of Jean-Luc Godard and Robert Bresson at the time I was writing the novel, and someone has pointed out that the non-linear fractured narrative style I use also resembles Soderbergh’s The Limey. Which is maybe true, though I didn’t consciously steal from him. As for music, I arranged the chapters like you would arrange a set list for a show, or the running order for an album. In other words, pacing and rhythm were more important to me than sense, because the story is straightforward, and the reader will know what happens, in terms of plot, by the end of the first chapter. Plot or story in the traditional sense is the least important element in the book. For me, it’s about the digressions from the story, and the way the story is told.

Recently, you’ve been collaborating with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, writing the screenplay for a rock musical based on the life of Cleopatra. Sounds amazing. Anything you can say about it at this point?

It will be amazing. But I’m under orders not to say too much about it. I wrote the script about two years ago, and it’s essentially the story of Cleo’s life, and death, and loves. It’s set in ancient Egypt, not in the 1920s as has been wrongly reported by some. Most people know Steven is a huge Guided By Voices fan, and he picked like eleventy-two songs from the GBV/Robert Pollard canon, and we slightly re-wrote the lyrics, and we’ve gone as far as recording the backing tracks in a big Hollywood studio under the direction of Stephanie Sayers, a really great musician/producer (and songwriter) who has collaborated with Bob on a couple of things in the past. The tracks sound incredible.

Do you still follow the music scene closely? If so, are there any contemporary bands that you’d include among your favorites?

Not really. There are some musicians/bands I admire but I always draw a blank when asked that question.

Can you let our readers know what projects you have on the near-horizon…?

I’ve been working pretty hard on my next novel, which may or may not be some kind of post-apocalyptic epic with a particular focus on botany and Thomas Aquinas. I’m doing another project with Soderbergh, but I’m also under orders not to talk about that. There’s other stuff, but it’s not really interesting enough to mention. My writing day starts at 5:30 AM and I go straight through until around 9 PM or I physically/mentally burn out, whichever comes first. Seven days a week. The older I get, the less tolerant I am of disruptions to that schedule. Except for this interview, of course. This was sheer pleasure.


Click here for James Greer's bio