Talking with Novelist Victor LaValle: “My Mom Thinks My Books are Weird!”

08/13/2012 9:00 AM |


Queens native Victor LaValle’s new novel, The Devil in Silver, will be released in August by Spiegel & Grau. A novella, Lucretia and the Kroons, was released in July as an e-book only. He will appear at the Franklin Park Reading Series tonight, along with Tayari Jones and others.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Paul Constant, who is the books editor for Seattle’s great independent newspaper, The Stranger, once wrote this about me: “…there hasn’t been a writer so adept at describing a haunting of a human being in such a Gothic style since Shirley Jackson died.” My mother, who is my mother, has repeatedly (even just this past weekend) said: “You should choose different titles for your books. These titles are weird.” Both make fine points.

What have you read recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
I would urge everyone reading this to pick up Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. It’s a clever, surprising book about fairy tales, seduction, and a kind of war between the sexes. She plays with famous tales, like Bluebeard, but makes them all her own.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all 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)?
I wish there was a tell-all biography of Kumar Pallana, otherwise known as the little Indian guy in so many Wes Anderson movies. Of course, he could tell stories about the stars he worked with in those films, but this dude was a juggler and singer in Africa, appeared on The Mickey Mouse Club and Captain Kangaroo, and toured nightclubs around the world doing a magic act under the name “Kumar of India.” Now tell me you don’t want to hear what kind of stories that man has to tell.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I was a Starving Artist from 1997 to 2006. It made me generally anxious and I became fearful of answering my phone because it was probably a bill collector. (There were many.) It was profoundly good for me, but only in retrospect.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
The reader says my beautiful and profound book has affected him very deeply. We shake hands warmly. The reader pays off my massive student loan debt.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
I wrote a whole short novel that appeared, only online, more than a decade ago. Luckily, because it was online, I actually have been able to take it back. Or at least scrub my name clean off it.