The Rumpus Book Club chats with Matthew Specktor about American Dream Machine, embracing disbelief, and the impossibility of saying no to Robert DeNiro.
This is an edited transcript of the book club discussion. Every month The Rumpus Book Club hosts a discussion online with the book club members and the author, and we post an edited version online as an interview. To learn how you can become a member of the Rumpus Book Club, click here.
This Rumpus Book Club interview was edited by Lauren O’Neal.
Brian S: Well, top of the hour. Who has the first question for Matthew?
Betsy: Matthew—I am excited to hear you are going to be at the LA Times Festival of Books. I plan to attend your panel if I get my way, which is likely.
Matthew Specktor: I hope you will.
Brian S: How long did this book take you to write? It has an epic feel to it to me.
Melissa: Really thought you did a fine job with the POV in the book. Happy to say I finished near midnight last night. In the hands of a less skilled writer, the POV could have been jarring…at least for me as a reader.
Matthew Specktor: OK, first things first. I worked on this book for a long time, in one sense. I was circling the character of Beau for years. But I could never quite figure out what to do with him. It was actually when I came upon the character of Nate—whose affection AND disgust, both, could operate inside the narrative—that’s when the book came together quickly.
Noah: What does a long time entail?
Matthew Specktor: Well, I find dry runs on certain scenes—the scene at the very beginning, where Beau walks into the agency in the ’60s—in my files dating back to 1998, 1999.
Brian S: Oh, and if at any point the questions come too quickly, just pick and choose. I’ll edit it together later.
Betsy: I have never had the experience of reading a novel that pretty much covers my turf from 1976 through about 1982. Streets, schools, buildings, restaurants, on and on, over and over. I kept going, NO WAY! So, yeah. Cool.
Matthew Specktor: But when I came upon Nate…when I had that voice in my head, I wrote the whole first draft (800-odd pages) in four months. I feel like I shouldn’t admit that. But I was kind of…out of my skull with it, at that point. In a good way. I’ve never written anything that furiously. Revision, from there, took about 18 months. But it’s surprising how much of the book was intact from the beginning.
Betsy: I hadn’t thought that about Nate’s perspective. There were a couple of people in the discussion group who wondered about your choice of narrators.
Rebecca: Okay. I have a question for Matthew: You reference Joan Didion early on, Joan Didion whose California is iconic. When I think of Joan Didion, I also think of her “Goodbye to All That,” which many writers have nodded to when they wrote about living in New York (and leaving). How aware were you that your novel would be added to the iconic California literary landscape while you were writing this? Or was it more of a thought afterwards?
David B: I saw a little of Lethem in Nate.
Matthew Specktor: I’ll circle back to Nate, and choice of narrators in a sec, but…Rebecca, I don’t think I was conscious that the book would be added to any kind of iconic landscape. Who could be conscious of that, exactly? But I was certainly aware of what, and whom, that landscape includes (Chandler, Didion, West, etc.), and of allowing all those influences into the novel, for sure. Allowing the influences and my quarrels with them both.
David, it’s funny that you mention that. Severin actually has a fair amount of Lethem’s biography. He was sort of my playful homage, there. As Bellow did to Delmore Schwartz in Humboldt’s Gift, I thought I’d let Nate’s “brother” be a Jonathan-type.
Rebecca: Yeah, that makes sense. If I were writing something like that and conscious of it, I wouldn’t be able to move or to type a sentence–which is part of my current writing problem, I think: being conscious of what I’m trying to do. But I just wondered if you could do that, if anyone could do that? And if you became conscious of it later, in revisions?
Brian S: Seems like that could be intimidating, writing a place that so many other big writers have already plowed over.
Noah: How did your love and knowledge of film affect the way this book turned out?
Matthew Specktor: But what’s odd, circling back to that question about point-of-view, is that Nate was NOT Beau’s illegitimate son in the first draft. He had a different father. Beau was just Severin’s dad. And Lethem, who was one of the book’s first readers, said to me, “You know, you could cut out that character of Nate’s father. Beau is THE father, in the context of the book. Nate’s dad seems a little pale and redundant, beside him.”
Noah: Why the decision to change that up? What drew you to making a familial relationship?
Brian S: Was Teddy Nate’s dad in the original, or was it a completely different character?
Melissa: I liked the tension between Nate and Severin, so it seems like it was a really good choice to make him a half-brother. Their relationship was interesting to me.
Matthew Specktor: I think—and I’ll get back to that question about film too, Noah—but I think anywhere you write, anywhere you set a piece of writing, you’re aware of your predecessors. (Teddy was a different character too. That was an interesting graft I had to make, Brian.) But didn’t Welty say that writing about the South after Faulkner was like pushing your little mule cart waiting for the big locomotive to mow you down? Something like that.
It’s always a challenge not to be intimidated by those who’ve come before us. But I think…well, that’s the postmodern condition, isn’t it? What do we do with all this stuff that’s already been written?
Brian S: Yeah, but there have been plenty of people who came along and proved Faulkner left lots of space to write about the South.
Rebecca: Oh God. Now I really want to go look that Eudora Welty quote up!
Matthew Specktor: I’ll find it for you. I think it’s in her Paris Review interview.
Rebecca: Ooh! I love the Paris Review interviews, but I think I only have volume one.
Brian S: (I think the interviews are available for free in the Paris Review app.)
Rebecca: I guess you just try to tell it as true as you can, right? Go back to what Hemingway said and write one true sentence? I think that’s what I’m seeing.
Matthew Specktor: But that question of Nate as the narrator. I was struggling so hard to deal with my own feelings about the movie business (and, I’m sure, about my dad). It’s a world that’s been parodied, mocked, derided, etc., etc. forever.
Noah: Yeah, how do you stop yourself from believing that all you’re doing is following in the footsteps of someone bigger and better?
David B: Have you ever met Bruce Wagner?
Matthew Specktor: Bruce Wagner, Michael Tolkin, Didion in her way—everyone contemporary who’d represented it represented it as horrible. And it IS horrible. But it’s not ONLY horrible. So the question was, how could I let the narrator, or rather the narrative voice itself, vent both extremes? And once I realized the third-person narrator could also be a character, and that Nate could also be reduced to speculation at times, could be limited in his own knowledge…that was insanely freeing. Since before that I felt like, well, how do I write about the ’60s (before I was born) or about certain types of corporate settings without just falling asleep at the switch, or being clobbered by my own partial but incomplete knowledge?
Brian S: Which brings us back (in a strange sort of way) to what Betsy Crane did in her last novel, We Only Know So Much.
Matthew Specktor: Yeah. I like that novel, We Only Know So Much, quite a bit. It has a wonderful narrator, I think, too.
Brian S: Another Book Club selection!
Matthew Specktor: You guys and your good taste. (Ha.)
Rebecca: That’s the complexity of any place that you really love and really know: it’s awful, but it’s wonderful. I find that about Kentucky. The people who are from here are fiercely proud of this state but also deeply ashamed at times. The pride, I think, is sort of reaction to the fact that no one else is going to be proud of this state, so we have to be.
Matthew Specktor: “Also deeply ashamed at times.” I think we all are, unless we’re in New York (where we cover our shame with self-congratulation, maybe). Much as I love New York.
David B: Do you read much while you are in the thick of writing?
Matthew Specktor: I do. It varies. I’m not afraid to read while I’m writing, if that’s what you’re getting at, David. But I will avoid certain writers, if I think they’re too close.
Rebecca: Ha! I think you might’ve seen my tweet the other day. I was in Whole Foods and someone said something about how surprising it was that people in New York were so nice. And I love New York and New Yorkers, but I snorted.
Brian S: For me, it’s not place so much as it’s religion—I still find myself defending my old church even though I left (in a bit of a huff) 16 years ago.
Melissa: I’m sorry that I don’t know more about you as a writer and your experience, but I’m assuming much of the work was based on your own experience in the film industry? Or, could you talk more about that?
Matthew Specktor: Hi Melissa—for sure. I DID work in the film industry during the ’90s. I was based in New York. In a way, I gave a little of my own experience to Emily White. But I was never a very conscientious executive. I’d spent my life trying to ESCAPE the movie business, and only when I was offered a job I just couldn’t say no to—Robert De Niro asked me to come to New York to work for him, to try and find novels to adapt into films—did I go to work in the industry.
Brian S: I guess no one says no to DeNiro.
Rebecca: Matthew, that’s an extremely cool job.
David B: Did you hook DeNiro up with Nick Flynn?
Matthew Specktor: Nope, that wasn’t me. I never found anything that he actually wound up making.
Rebecca: Matthew, do you ever feel that you read to procrastinate in writing?
Matthew Specktor: Ah, not anymore, Rebecca. I think the only way I procrastinate in writing—and I do, of course, all the time—is by avoiding the computer, and avoiding language, altogether.
Ann: Matthew, will you talk about the title a bit?
Matthew Specktor: Ha. Yeah, I will. The title came to me early. I was midway down the second paragraph of the first draft (it was still that Clooney scene), and I thought, “This book will be called American Dream Machine.” And I thought, “Ridiculous title.” Loud. It sounds like a gearhead magazine or something. Hot rod aficionado. But…it stuck. It just seemed to suit the mood. And of course, the name of the agency is one thing, but I think it’s about Nate being such a daydreamer as well.
Brian S: Yeah, I expected something about cars when I first saw the title.
Rebecca: I expected a lot of ambition from the title.
Noah: There was a lot of big scenes related to driving. The overdose, the meltdown.
Betsy: Noah—it’s LA! There has to be driving!
Noah: Where did the character of Williams come from?
Matthew Specktor: Williams. Good question. I guess Beau needed an antagonist. And I had in mind someone who’d be a different kind of outsider in Hollywood: Ivy-educated (which was less common in the ’60s and ’70s), cerebral, a little sinister.
Brian S: If you ever want to write about another place where driving is integral, check out south Florida.
Matthew Specktor: Well, we do spend a lot of time in our cars. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s also something that’s shaped me (as a Los Angeles native). I like driving. I spend a fair amount of time spacing out with the radio dialed way up. That’s a nice pastime for a writer, actually. Lots of kinks get worked out. Your reptilian brain goes to work and the rest of you is wide open.
Betsy: Gazzarri’s. Nailed it. Westside v. Valley. Nailed it. Your descriptions are so right on. I was transported. It meant something to read a really good story set in the place of my teens/twenties.
Rebecca: I know that. I drive around a lot, too, and think. The shower is also nice for that…but then I forget or doubt myself later.
Brian S: How do y’all think while driving? I’m too busy watching out for the morons around me. Or at least I was before I moved to Iowa. There’s not as much traffic up here to worry about.
Betsy: I do some heavy thinking in traffic, commuting downtown. I LOVE driving past the Capitol Records building. I just love that section of the dreaded 101.
Ann: I try out opening lines while at stoplights…in my car.
Noah: I think a lot on my bike, but then I get distracted and then it gets dangerous.
Rebecca: They did some study recently that said our brains turn off doing things we do a million times, like driving. It’s scary, but my brain does seem to turn off on drives that I’ve driven a lot of times before.
Melissa S: Sorry to join late, and sorry if this has been talked about already, but the pacing of this book—whoa. It’s impeccable. So much time passes in the book, it works so well, how do you control it? And hi everyone!
Ann: I noticed quite a bit of foreshadowing. A bit less subtle than others maybe, but okay. Williams I had figured out early.
Matthew Specktor: Re: pacing and foreshadowing. First off, thanks Melissa. It was a sort of big unruly narrative, not easy to control. I handled it almost altogether intuitively. I would spend some time with Beau, or inside the industry itself, and then feel the need to come out of it. I didn’t want the book to feel insular, which is the problem with narratives about the movie business (and with the business itself, sometimes). So I’d sort of weave back and forth between industry stuff and things—like skateboarding, drug use, etc.—that had nothing to do with it. That was one key to pacing the book.
The foreshadowing…yeah, occasionally people will figure out Williams pretty quick. It’s always tricky, wanting to maintain tension and at the same time not wanting to give too much away. Managing the flow of information can be tricky. Although I didn’t KNOW what would happen to Will until the end.
Ann: Yeah, how did anyone really know what happened to Will? I thought about that a lot.
Rebecca: I like that kind of writing—it’s so much better when you’re writing your way toward something but not knowing what. You’re not teaching us all a lesson; you’re learning with us.
David B: Do you write much in coffee shops?
Matthew Specktor: David, not usually. These days I write at my big ass dining room table. But ADM I did write, for the most part, in a coffee shop. Not typical of me, but my living situation was chaotic, and it was the best I could do. A place that had no wireless signal, it turned out. So that was a plus.
Rebecca: Matthew, how very Jonathan Franzen of you! (I think he said in Time that he writes in a room with no Internet, and that maybe he’d destroyed his ability to connect to the Internet on his computer.)
Betsy: Some of us didn’t want Rachel to reappear. I was ambivalent, but I didn’t mind that she had simply disappeared, prior to learning she hadn’t.
Matthew Specktor: That scene—Rachel—was written a couple different ways in different drafts. I feel like there were better versions of it in earlier drafts, but that the version I ultimately used was better in relation to the whole.
Noah: I’m curious about Rachel as well, why the decision to bring her back?
Matthew Specktor: The characters are so benighted in their attitudes toward women at the beginning. Beau is, obviously (and pretty much remains so). But Nate is a lunkhead that way too, and I thought he sort of demonized Rachel so thoroughly at the beginning, that I needed her to reappear to say, “See? You think you know how it is, but you do not.” I liked letting her come back and assert a sort of personality, however briefly, that isn’t the one Nate attributes to her early. She’s so inscrutable and strange.
Noah: I loved her character at the beginning, was actually sad to see her and Beau separate.
Matthew Specktor: I suppose on some personal level it was absolution for my own mother. A way of saying, “I didn’t really understand you too well, did I?” Not to get all armchair Freudian or anything. She probably came off better in later drafts. In the early drafts, Nate was sort of vengeful toward her. I may have overcompensated.
Brian S: I was really impressed with the way you kept so many characters going at the same time.
Matthew Specktor: Thanks, Brian. It took a lot of time, a lot of circling back to try and keep the minor characters from seeming too merely functional. A couple of them still do to me.
Noah: While reading epic time-spanning books I always find myself the most interested in the ’60s and ’70s and the least interested in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Are there eras that you were more interested in writing about?
Brian S: I’m interested in why you feel that way, Noah.
David B: Beau really spanned several eras. Was that hard to write? I liked the ’70s references.
Matthew Specktor: Well, I think a lot of us—those of us who are old enough to be “adults” at this point—tend to remember the ’60s/’70s/earlier ’80s pretty warmly. I’m old enough to remember the early ’90s that way, even. I think that’s what we DO to the past. Which we often deride as sentimental or nostalgist, but that’s honest. We lose things and then we miss them. That’s natural, to miss those earlier—earliest—times in our lives. The light gets a little harsher as the novel proceeds, however.
Brian S: Perhaps, though I still blame Michael J. Fox on Family Ties for the rise of conservatism in my high school class. He made Reagan seem cool-ish to my graduating class.
Ann: I really liked Nate’s mom. She was tough and cool and everything we moms wish we were.
Matthew Specktor: Ann, thank you. Nate’s mom in many respects is my own mother, with whom I had a not-necessarily-easy relationship, and who had a fairly troubled life. But she was an amazing person (my mom). Means a lot that that character has some strength.
Melissa S: I also love the way you would write a scene that seemed sort of unbelievable, and then have Nate remark about how it seems crazy but it’s true. I really just accepted him as the narrator right away. Also, I am amazed at how the many lives of Beau were equally compelling. I’m just really impressed with how you handled this much story.
Ann: I second Melissa on handling it all.
David B: I liked the signed Dusty Baker baseball, nice touch.
Betsy: Melissa—I agree with that last line. I, too, am impressed.
Matthew Specktor: Melissa and Ann, that’s lovely. There’s a lot of narrative material in this book to DIStrust, in that way. Stories that seem a bit…like stories. Figuring out how to compass that feeling was something I worked at, also.
Ann: I hope my son says what you did about your mom someday. We’re in a fragile place just now.
Melissa S: No better place for those “stories” than in a novel about men who essentially live their lives telling lies.
Matthew Specktor: Ann, I hope so too. I sometimes think what makes fiction tick—what makes any book we like seem “real”—is an element of DISbelief. Like, not “suspension of disbelief,” but almost the opposite. A narrative has to be a little distorted, somehow obviously NOT “true” to be believable or interesting. Does that make sense?
Melissa S: Complete sense.
Ann: Yes. It hooks the reader.
Deborah: Yes, it makes sense to me as it’s distorted partially through the lens of our memory.
Melissa S: And I’ve just read two back-to-back memoirs so I needed some fiction.
Matthew Specktor: See, that’s the thing, Melissa, Deborah. I think of the memoirs I really love—Anatole Broyard’s Kafka Was The Rage, Stop Time, etc.—and I think…these are plainly distorted and full of lies. They’re not literally true. They can’t be.
Brian S: Who are you reading right now?
Matthew Specktor: Brian, I’m reading Mailer’s The Deer Park, Joshua Cohen’s recent book of stories (Four New Messages). I’m also sort of circling different books about Iraq, for a new novel I just started.
Ann: Wondered what was next.
Matthew Specktor: Good question, Ann, as to what’s next. It’s not a book “about” the Iraq War in any sense. There’s just some material in it that (probably) pertains. I’m just out of the gate with it—75/80 pages of rough draft. Very different kind of story. A little bit of overlap with ADM, but context is so different—and it’s not a book about the motion picture industry—that it’s an altogether separate entity.
Brian S: Lies or just subjective tellings of stories? Like they’re being the hero of their own narrative? Or is there a difference?
Matthew Specktor: Brian, I think…distortions. A sense that the material is being invented. You can always feel that in the language, just as “fiction” can get really clunky when it feels insufficiently imagined.
Rebecca: I actually think the worst kind of memoir is the one where the writer/the “I” of the story is the hero. The best kind is the complicated, honest, complex kind of creative nonfiction narrator.
Brian S: I agree.
Matthew Specktor: Rebecca, I agree. Not just in memoir. There’s something about the peripheral narrator—the hero who isn’t actually the hero in his own story—that feels very central to the fictive endeavor. I tend not to like protagonists who are the heroes of their own stories in fiction either.There are exceptions. Some of Bellow’s big narrators. Eugene Henderson, Herzog, etc. But that can get tiresome.
Deborah: Agree. In fiction and in life.
Rebecca: Ooh. That’s pretty true of fiction, Matthew. Sometimes it works if you have sort of a naive but wise child narrator—but not an adult who’s the hero.
Noah: I’ve got to run early folks! Thanks so much for your time, Matthew. Good luck on the next book! See you guys next month!
Matthew Specktor: Bye, Noah. Thanks for being here.
David B: Do you feel lost beween novels or a sense of relief?
Matthew Specktor: David, both. I’m happiest when I’m writing a book. Can feel very bereft when I’m not writing. I suspect that’s not uncommon. But I’ve been at this long enough now to know when I’m not writing, I’ll definitely circle back to it. Not writing used to be enough to trigger a full-on depression for me.
Rebecca: I’m so glad you just said that, Matthew (“Not writing used to be enough to trigger a full-on depression for me”). So honest, so true for me right now.
Brian S: What’s the longest you’ve ever gone without writing?
Matthew Specktor: Well, I’ve gone a few years sometimes between books. I mean, between finishing something—finishing the bulk of it anyway—and starting something that feels new. I think I “finished” ADM—barring a good nine months of editing, tinkering, copyediting, etc.—sometime in late 2011. And I didn’t start a new book until January of this year.
Rebecca: Matthew, do you write very much short fiction? Stories, etc.? Especially between novels?
Matthew Specktor: I wish I did write short fiction! I’m so attuned to the rhythm of the novel. Which sounds weird with only two published. But I spent twelve years writing two long books I didn’t publish.
Rebecca: No, that makes sense!
Rebecca: Do you feel yourself wanting to push it into something longer?
Matthew Specktor: No. Not this time. It’s a response to a particular editor’s invitation to write one. It might suck. But I’m going to try and keep it a story.
Rebecca: I’ll be really interesting to see how that works!
David B: Was ADM easier to write than That Summertime Sound?
Matthew Specktor: “Easier”? Nah. It felt more fluid, more…me, for want of a better descriptor.
Brian S: Have you destroyed those unpublished novels so no one publishes them after you die in a spectacular accident? 🙂
Matthew Specktor: No, they’re around. I wouldn’t want to publish them, particularly, but they’re not terrible. I’m not ashamed of them. Both of them were very close calls, very nearly published by fairly prestigious houses. But no one could get enough support. Which depressed me, for a while. Then I came to understand: that’s what happens for (most) writers.
Brian S: I have poems I hope no one ever sees. Published a couple in tiny journals that don’t exist anymore.
Rebecca: That’s so great that you’re not ashamed. I have this tendency to look at things I wrote earlier and think they’re awful.
Matthew Specktor: Well, there are things IN them that make me cringe. But there’s good stuff too, I think. They’re not missing masterpieces, by any means. That’s the writing life too, though, right? We tend to outgrow our work? Or to shrink in relation to it also, maybe. Who knows?
David B: Would you want any work published posthumously?
Brian S: Oh yeah. I think in Seamus Heaney’s Selected Poems, there’s like 4 poems from his first collection, and he’s a Nobel Prize winner.
Matthew Specktor: That Summertime Sound is a book that still makes me cringe a little. Not because I don’t like it, or think it’s “bad.” It’s a book ABOUT embarrassment, in so many ways. It’s like a photo of me at nineteen with terrible hair.
Rebecca: I wonder if you get more novels out there if someone, some publishing house, will ask if you’ve got anything earlier. “For the fans.”
Matthew Specktor: Rebecca, I would be shocked. Maybe if I were the kind of big deal that writers tend not to be anymore, or rarely are—if I were Franzen or DeLillo or whatever. But I don’t exactly imagine people lining up for my own juvenilia. (Thank God.) Sometimes the early work IS what’s great though. I mean, you never know.
Brian S: I can’t let myself believe that. I have to believe I’ll get better. If I’ve peaked already, well, fuck.
Matthew Specktor: Exactly. I suspect when it’s best, it’s in those cases when the writer gets rewarded accordingly. You know, I suppose it isn’t fashionable to say so now, but Less Than Zero [by Bret Easton Ellis] is still a hell of a book. We’ll all hope not to have peaked too soon.
Ann: Distance from the work sometimes shocks me with its clarity.
Rebecca: I have not read it.
Deborah: It’s killer.
Brian S: I haven’t read that since high school. I should probably revisit it, since I was only in it for the drug-use scenes and the band names like Scraping Fetus Off the Wheels. That’s what stuck for me out of that book.
David B: Are people really afraid to merge on the LA freeways?
Matthew Specktor: It’s good! I think people knock Ellis for his persona—and his Twitter feed doesn’t particularly help—but he is, and was, a pretty interesting writer.
Rebecca: I think the earlier work can sometimes be great because it’s sort of naive and you can see the ambition, but the later work usually delivers more.
Matthew Specktor: I have more trouble with the later books. Didn’t finish Glamorama; love bits of Lunar Park. But Less Than Zero and American Psycho? That’s some primo stuff, for the most part.
Brian S: I’ve been reading some early Alan Moore comics lately, and it’s interesting to see glimmers of his later work being hammered out in the early stuff.
Jack W: Arriving almost in time to miss it all, so I will combine some questions: At times it felt to me that perhaps heroin-induced short-term memory was synecdochic of the story’s structure, i.e., recursive, short-circuit happenings. Births, rebirths, etc. Am I trying to make something of nothing, or did you try to convey something like that?
Matthew Specktor: Hi Jack—no, definitely not something out of nothing. The overdose thing was funny. Something like that happened to someone I know. So I wove that into the story without really thinking too much of WHY I was doing it. But you’re right: that sense of recurrence, pastlessness (in a book that’s almost obsessive in its renderings of the past), regeneration, turned out to have a great deal to do with what I was actually doing. It surprised me.
Rebecca: That hammering out thing that Brian just said—I think that goes back, in part, to a writer’s worldview that’s always there. Maybe it’s just that the older writer often knows how to make it translate onto the page better? Maybe?
Brian S: I love when writers admit that they’re surprised by their own work. My undergrads never believe me when I tell them that.
Matthew Specktor: Yeah, Rebecca, I think it depends. I’m always fascinated by writers—there aren’t very many of them—who do/did strong work at all stages of their career. Philip Roth has written some lousy-ass books. But he also wrote great ones early, in mid-career, and relatively late.
Rebecca: Matthew, I like those kind of surprises—and it’s cool when you admit it.
Brian S: I think it’s part of writing yourself into knowledge, you know? You don’t figure something out until you put it down. About five minutes left—any lurkers want to get in some last questions?
Ann: Matthew, thanks for a compelling read. All the best in future writings.
David B: Do you keep a journal?
Matthew Specktor: David, in a very haphazard way. Not a “journal.” Just notebooks full of very intermittent jottings that most often make little sense when I rediscover them years later. I’m a highly disciplined, but not a very organized, writer, I’m afraid.
Rebecca: When I was in photojournalism school, they used to tell us to immerse ourselves in that world—always carry our cameras with us, always look at those famous, amazing, genius photos. Eventually it would seep into our consciousness. I think that’s what happens with writers, too—things just seep in if you live a life where you’re constantly observing and thinking about art.
Brian S: I have files like that on my computer. I open them up and say, “What the hell?”
Matthew Specktor: Yeah. I’ve got oodles of them. Little aborted paragraphs and such.
Rebecca: Sort of like Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook”—you have that desire to write down, because you’re a writer, but often you don’t know why you wrote something later.
Jack W: Cool. I really dug the book—I was also obsessively straining to find connections with Velvet Underground (Sev) and Tool’s Aenima album (LA). Those albums served as the score to my reading.
Matthew Specktor: Jack, thanks. The “Severin” thing was funny. That character had a different name in the early going, and I was asked (by a friend) to change it, for personal reasons. So I had to find something that would work, that would have the same number of beats and a very similar sound. I came up with “Severin,” and I thought, hell, is that even a real name? Then I decided, if the Velvet Underground says so, I guess it is.
Brian S: You’ll get no argument from me.
Deborah: It’s like “broken” or cut.
Ann: Also a church in the 5th in Paris.
Matthew Specktor: Exactly. I realized in a book so full of severings and severances, the name actually worked out.
Brian S: And that’s the hour. Thanks for joining us Matthew and for writing such a terrific book.
Matthew Specktor: Thanks all for participating. Means a lot to me that you were here.
Rebecca: Thanks, Matthew!
Deborah: Wonderful book and great chat. Thanks all.
Matthew Specktor: Bye Rebecca—bye everyone. xx
David B: Thanks!
Featured image credit: Lisa Jane Persky