Welcome, Chris! As you know, I loved reading The Love Thing, and one of my favorite features was its humor. Who would you cite as your biggest influences in comedy?
My late father used to tell me that I reminded him of his own mother, who died two years before I was born. She liked to write long letters, he told me; she also liked to tell off-color jokes. I’m pretty sure her humor gene passed along not only to me but also to my three siblings, since I remember nothing but laughter around the dinner table when I was a kid. So I’m thinking it’s mostly genetic.
Strangely enough, the best piece of advice I ever got about writing comedy came from David Herbert Donald’s superb 1995 biography of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, I learned, had a lively sense of humor--so lively, in fact, that his merciless public teasing of an Illinois state official, occurring many years before his presidency, almost led to a duel. But the experience, though a source of shame for Lincoln in the future, had what the historian called some “unanticipated benefits.” “Rarely in the future did he use comedy to castigate and destroy,” Donald wrote; “he had learned that his wit was most effective when directed against himself.” And it was in that spirit--making fun of myself--that I approached The Love Thing, most consciously, I think, in the character of Tommy Lin. Tommy’s inability to run the dishwasher, his terror of backing the car out of the driveway, his concern that he can’t lift a bowling ball: that would be me, me, and me.
Give us a line from your novel that you personally love.
In the chapter where Greg and Tommy are getting ready to throw a quinceañera for a 15-year-old cat, there’s a scene where Tommy finds a box of high-heeled shoes and tells Greg they might be perfect for the party, since girls at quinceañeras wear high heels to signify their passage to womanhood. (I got this tidbit from Wikipedia; I have no idea if it’s true.) Greg responds with my favorite line: “Those shoes look more like a woman’s passage to streetwalking.” That line came only after writing many, many drafts of The Love Thing--a line that seemed to come spontaneously from Greg himself. I cherish those moments when I revise.
You based your plot loosely on that of Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Is it safe to assume that's one of your favorite love stories in literature? What are some others?
Definitely a safe assumption there, along with Austen’s Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram (and Henry Crawford), the Dashwood sisters and their beaux, and Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Another big favorite are the two main love stories of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: I love how Levin’s rising romance with Kitty (courtship, marriage, birth) contrasts against the falling romance between Anna and Vronsky (scandal, jealousy, death). And of course there’s Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. Although the plot of The Love Thing loosely tracks Pride and Prejudice, it was Jane Eyre I turned to when it came to choosing the book’s point of view, that is, the first-person account of a highly opinionated narrator.
You write about San Francisco with such confident, vivid detail that I can tell you've lived there a while. What's your favorite thing about the city? And your least favorite?
I liked San Francisco almost from my first day of moving here, so it was important to me to do the city justice in my fiction. I’d say the thing I love about the city is the landscape itself: the hills, the bay, the grid of streets that has always reminded me of a board game. The people, too, are generally relaxed, easygoing, and tolerant--a useful contrast to my own uptightness--but then again, I’ve found great people wherever I’ve looked for them, not just in San Francisco. I’m originally from Boston, another great city that I don’t think I appreciated enough when I actually lived there. And today I live in Oakland, another great city.
My least favorite thing about San Francisco? I’m reluctant to say anything bad about a city that’s been so generous to me for the past seventeen-plus years. About the worst I can say is that I think the fare for a cable car ride is too high--five dollars for a one-way trip. Five dollars should get you at least a round trip, in my opinion.
Now that you're a published author, how has your outlook changed about your future? Do you feel more pressure, or more optimism? Or both?
I guess I’m feeling a combination of both. On the one hand, I’m looking very forward to getting my next work out there, since I feel it’s a story my Love Thing readers will enjoy. On the other hand, I’ve had so many people ask me when the next book is coming out, and work has been progressing very slowly, that sometimes I despair of ever getting it out. But I’m determined not to hurry. I don’t think it’ll do my readers any good if I rushed to get the next book out.
What's up next for you and your writing?
Right now I’m focusing on this second book, which I keep saying is in the final stages of revision but I think is still many months off from being shown. All I’ll say about it now is that it’s more ambitious than The Love Thing, as the story is told from the revolving viewpoints of three main characters. Once that’s out there, I’m looking forward to studying the art of rhetoric (an art I wish I’d started learned a long time ago) while I rummage in my mind for another novel to write. I have no idea what my third novel will be about, but I know there will have to be a third novel. I won’t know what to do with myself if I don’t write.
Anything else you'd like to share with the world?
One last thing: is anyone out there as gaga about rhetoric as I am? Do terms like brachylogia, aposiopesis, diazeugma, enthymeme give you the shivers? If so, send me an e-mail: email@example.com I can’t get enough of this stuff. Thanks!
Get The Love Thing at Amazon.com now, and visit Chris Delyani at his website!