Rick Moody, author of The Ice Storm and The Black Veil, talks to HuffPo about Hollywood, killer bike messengers and The Diviners, his first novel in seven years. Interview by Mark Doten.
HP: In terms of The Diviners' scope, the number of characters and locations -- the sheer heft of it -- I wonder if there's an implicit challenge to Hollywood here: adapt this!
RM: This may be true to some degree. Probably more intuitive than pre-meditated. I like books that are pretty complex, in general, and those turn out to be the ones that are hard to adapt. But I really like films that rise to the occasion too. For example, I love David Cronenberg's adaptation of Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. I just watched it again recently and it still looks really brilliant to me.
Meanwhile, I suspect that The Diviners is unfilmable, yep, but I thought that about my novel The Ice Storm, too, and they did a great job with it, I think.
HP: I was struck by how much fun the book is. Not that you've shied away from humor in the past, but I'd say that the comedy here feels broader, and the laugh-to-page ratio higher, than in much of your previous work. What was driving this?
RM: I just got bored of trying to prove I was the smartest kid in the class (or maybe third-smartest), and just wanted to write the kind of book that I love reading. The kind where you really want to read instead of doing any of the other things you are meant to be doing with your life. The kind where all your telephone calls go unreturned. Those kinds of books made me want to do this for a living in the first place. Seemed like it would be a good time to try to write one myself.
HP: Novels about the entertainment industry -- that's a wonderful sub-genre. Any others that you're a particular fan of or had in mind while writing this?
RM: I really love The Magic Kingdom by Stanley Elkin, which, as it seems, is a novel about Disney World. But probably the real influences on The Diviners, at least in terms of scope and scale are two novels I will never get near to (because they're so good), namely The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, and The Recognitions, by William Gaddis.
HP: All time favorite movie adaptation?
RM: The Dead, by John Huston, from the story of the same name by James Joyce. It makes me sob uncontrollably every time. Huston was a real writer's director. He loved the source material and never did any harm to it.
HP: The Hollywood project in this book -- also titled The Diviners -- starts out as a movie-in-the-works and turns into a mini-series-in-the-works. Your own work tends to bend genres (fiction, non-fiction, memoir, even a mix tape), and I was wondering if that made you particularly sympathetic to the miniseries, which is itself a weird half-movie, half-TV-show hybrid creature.
RM: Yeah, I really like them! In fact, I really like television serial narratives in general! I suppose I was not terribly up to date before writing this book, because I don't actually have a television in my house, just a monitor and a DVD player. But I caught up quickly! There's so much television that is really interesting to me. And sometimes the worse it is -- and most of it is really very, very bad -- the better it is. America's Next Top Model, e.g., I could envision my brain actually turning to mush from watching that show, and yet if I hadn't watched it, I never would have started reading the excellent blog of Elyse Sewell, former participant.
HP: A key character in the book -- an insane bike messenger -- is introduced in a great passage about the bike messengers. I'm going to throw in a quote here, "There was the guilty secret of the industry...Yes, in truth, schizophrenics made good messengers." That sounds about right. As a New Yorker, when's the worst near-death experience you've ever had with a bike messenger?
RM: There are so many I don't know where to start! Usually they are coming the wrong way up a one-way avenue, and they attempt to make YOU feel like YOU'RE the one who gummed up the system.
By the way, I personally avoid the word "insane." Tyrone has bipolar disorder, but so do some really good friends of mine. It's a physical problem, like diabetes, with a mental component. He's a good person, one of whom I am very fond. And so are my friends. They just have troubles.
HP: Central to The Diviners is how much everyone wants from Hollywood. Actors, writers, produces... everyone is driven by this insatiable hunger for money, fame, a masterpiece...something. What about you? What does Rick Moody, in his wildest daydreams, want from Hollywood?
RM: Not a thing. I had my Hollywood moment. It's not that I would turn down an opportunity to be adapted (there are a couple of stories by me optioned at the moment), but I don't need it. It's just icing on the cake. As I said in 1997, movies are a particularly good billboard for a book. Movies need fiction and literature more than vice versa, because literature is where most of the genuine takes place. I don't want more fame, power, or influence. I sort of get uncomfortable with that kind of thing. I just want to be able to keep writing.
HP: You're a novelist, sure, and also in a band -- but don't you really want to direct?
RM: LOL! I don't want to direct at all. But I would like a scene where I'm the bellhop or the front desk clerk. And I want to have an unusual hairdo in the sequence.