James Boice, who won New York City Literary Celebrity New York City Literary Trivia at Literary Upstart’s Grand Championship SuperFinal last week, has his new novel, The Good and the Ghastly, out from Scribner this week. Esquire calls it “Great…what we want from a novel.” He was born in 1982 and grew up in northern Virginia. He dropped out of college after three weeks to be a writer. He is the author of the previous novels MVP and NOVA. He writes about pathological people. He lives in Crown Heights and will read at BookCourt on June 16, and at the Franklin Park Reading Series on July 11.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
That it is unnverving and funny. That I deal a slight, sly variation on the world we live in now. Also, a reviewer once observed, “There are savagely funny episodes concerning random sex and one surrealistic orgy of serial vomiting.” Which happens to be true.
What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
The investigative reporting of George Dohrmann. His devotion to the truth at the expense of his popularity quotient must make for a tough, lonely existence at times. It is very inspiring that that does not deter him. Also, he is part of what Bill Simmons might call the James Boice Club, which consists of people whose name rhymes with that of a more famous person’s to comic effect.
Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
Thomas Pynchon’s. Though I would not feel any more ashamed of myself than I would buying The Pale King.
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
Yes. In the past I have subsisted for stretches of time on nothing but Hamburger Helper without the hamburger and made with water instead of milk. That and beer and cigarettes. (I always somehow seemed to have enough money for beer and cigarettes, if not food.) But in those days, long gone now thankfully, I would go into hypoglemic shock at least once a day. I would just sit at my desk in my room in some condemned infested old house sweating and starving and writing. Oh, to be 21 years old again. It helped my writing—because I was writing. Being too busy with keeping yourself well fed to find time or energy to write does not help your writing.
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
If he/she feels I am expressing things he/she already knew but did not know he/she already knew. Or things that he/she thought he/she was the only one in the world who noticed or felt like. But now he/she knows otherwise. And we are both now that much less alone.
Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Four or five years ago, a major national magazine asked me to do a review of the new novel by a hero of mine. Very exciting. I said, yeah, of course. I did not care for the novel. It happens. I should have told them, sorry, but I could not do a review of it because I did not have much good to say about it. But I was too excited about the opportunity and they were offering me as much money as I was making in a month. So I wrote the review. I let myself get carried away and I thought I was being smart and hilarious and truthful. I did not know yet how it feels to have your work shat on in a public forum. So I lacked empathy in that regard. And my first novel was coming out soon, so maybe I was trying to make a name for myself. I was 25 and stupid. Ever since I’ve felt nothing but filthy about the ordeal. Now I refuse to review anything for anyone, no matter who or what, unless I love the book and want everyone to know about it. Otherwise, what’s the point? There are too many good books out there people do not know about or have not read.