Excerpted from Adam the King by Jeffrey Lewis. Copyright © 2008 by Jeffrey Lewis. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Jeffrey Lewis, Author Q and A
Q. Was there something in particular that prompted you to become a writer? Did you choose writing as a profession or did it choose you?
A. I think the catalyst was my parents' separation when I was nine years old. I wrote stories to send to my father, as a way to keep in touch with him. Some of this, in a mildly fictionalized version, appears in my last novel, Theme Song for an Old Show.
Q. You were an award winning writer for television for many years. How does writing novels differ from writing for TV? Are there any similarities?
A. The similarities are that there are words on a page, you're trying to tell a story, and some kind of imaginative transport is necessary in order to enable you to do that. Most other things are quite different. Among many distinctions, you are much more dependent on your own resources when you write a novel; when you write a script, you necessarily and properly leave much to actors and directors to fill in.
Q. Some writers talk about "writers block". Have you ever experienced it and what do you do to get past it?
A. I think I've slowly loosened up over the years. But I was never completely blocked. Keeping to a regular writing schedule helps get through the dry patches, whether those consist of a block or, simply, a lack of imagination or concentration.
Q. Where do you get your inspiration?
A. I don't think there's any one kind of thing. Life's too complicated and various.
Q. When you began writing your first novel, Meritocracy, did you know it would be one of four books or did that idea evolve as you began writing?
A. I knew it would be one of a group of books, but I wasn't sure if the group would be three, four, or five. Sometimes I'm still not sure.
Q. Do you have a favorite character from the "Meritocracy Quartet?" Is there one you really don't like? How much of yourself and people you've encountered in your own life can be found in your characters?
A. It may seem odd, but I never thought about this before. I like Cord Elliot a lot. I hope I spelled his name right. A minor character, but one I didn't care much for was that girl Teddy was going out with in the third book, Eve Merriman. I think my disposition is such that if I don't find something to like in a character, I'm not sure why I should bother writing about him or her. I don't find villains very interesting or challenging. Their presence, or anyway their depiction, is usually a temptation to oversimplification. Last question, about how much comes from real life: a lot, of course. Everything, probably. But then, everything gets mixed up and rejiggered a little and the story takes the characters here or there just as the characters take the story here or there, and pretty soon everybody and everything is rather different from my so-called "own life."
Q. What do you hope readers will gain from reading your writing? Do you expect they'll have a different experience with each novel?
A. The first is not something I think about, particularly when you use the word "gain." I mean, who knows, maybe they'll lose something, and that would be okay too. But now that I do think about it, I think there are certain feelings embedded in each book that I hope will be conveyed to the reader, certain sensibilities and ideas as well. Impressions. And, yes, probably different in each book, but all the books together, I hope, will create a set of impressions that's different from, and in addition to, and maybe cumulatively greater than, the impressions created by each book individually. A remembrance of life: I guess that's what I aspire to, and what I think all good books achieve.
Q. What kind of books do you like to read? Do you have a favorite author?
A. Actually, I like history a lot. And I tend to be one of those people, the last guy I read that I liked, that's my favorite author. At the moment I'm reading Sir Richard Burton's translation of the Thousand and One Nights, and I can tell you without question he, and they, are the greatest, Tomorrow, maybe something different. I've also been reading Gibbon lately, and he's also pretty stupendous. Last summer I might have said Simone Weil.
Q.When not writing, what do you like to do for fun?
A. I like to read, I like to hang out with my wife, I like to see friends, I like to go some places, I like the customary pleasures of the world, I like to have time to think about things.
Q. Are you working on a new book? Can you give us a sneak peek?
A. I am. And I cannot.
1. The author has suggested that Adam the King is a tragedy in novel form. What aspects of classical tragedy are present in the form and story of the book?
2. To what extent does Adam the King suggest the zeigeist of the 90's, the Clinton years?
3. Should Adam have married Maisie?
4. Should Maisie have married Adam?
5. What does the chorus of village people add to the book?
6. People's relationship to land seems to be an important theme of the book. What does the land find out about each of the main characters?
7. Adam as end-of-the-century assimilated Jew. Is it key to the book, or only incidental?
8. Adam, despite his money, despite his guilty past, aspires to "normality." Is there anything "normal" about this? Is "normality" feasible for a man like him? Does "normality" mean anything, finally, or is it simply a telling of Adam's dream?
9. How would you describe the feelings that Verna and Roy have for each other?
10. What does her daddy's boat mean to Verna? To Roy? To each about the other? To Adam Bloch?
11. Is the book too hard on any of its characters?
12. Adam the King is the culmination of Jeffrey Lewis's Meritocracy Quartet. If you have read the other books, does it seem a fitting conclusion? If you have not, do you feel you've missed anything?