How would you summarize Richard Yates to potential readers if didn’t write it but were a publicist paid to promote it?
In Richard Yates—Tao Lin’s second novel—a 22-year-old writer named Haley Joel Osment who lives in a 3-person apartment on Wall Street meets, on the internet, a 16-year-old high school student named Dakota Fanning who has had a history of involvement with older men. After talking for hundreds of hours on Gmail chat, through email, and by cell phone Haley Joel Osment travels two hours by train to visit Dakota Fanning in rural New Jersey where they sit by the Delaware River and walk around and eat Chinese food. Haley Joel Osment says he doesn’t want to go back to New York City and that he feels happy in Dakota Fanning’s town, which he describes as “great weather, [expletive]ed people,” in part due to the number of people that “don’t have to go to school anymore [due to severe depression],” according to Dakota Fanning, who says, with amounts of humor and self-awareness, that she herself is severely depressed but still has to go to school.
The next few months, in secret from Dakota Fanning’s mother, whom Dakota Fanning repeatedly lies to and whom they both “fear,” to some degree, Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning visit each other dozens of times, with many “close calls” of being discovered. Finally, as the relationship begins to become quarrelsome and increasingly fraught and out-of-control, Dakota Fanning’s mother finds out about Haley Joel Osment and aggressively confronts him by phone before gradually welcoming his presence in her and Dakota Fanning’s lives, eventually inviting him to live with her and Dakota Fanning in their two-story house, resulting in the daily and close-quartered interactions between a chronically lying and bulimic Dakota Fanning, an increasingly distrustful and confused Haley Joel Osment, and an overworked and screaming single-mother of two with a full-time job who, at one point, responds to a question by saying that she doesn’t know the answer and that “[her] body is about to shut down.”
How do you view Richard Yates in terms of its seemingly autobiographical elements?
I view Richard Yates as something created to have a certain effect, and I wrote and edited it in service of that, using anything, ideally, as a means, regardless of whether it “really happened,” if certain people would think certain things about me, or [anything else]. Another way of saying that, I think, is that I tried to focus, firstly, on writing “what I want to read”—on having the only influence, ideally, on my writing choices be something like “what book with exactly what characteristics do I most feel like reading right now?” I say “ideally” because I don’t view it as possible to be 100% uninfluenced by things outside of that. I also think that “what I want to read” changes, to some degree, every moment, and at times can contradict what it was five days or five months ago. But I view Richard Yates as a novel, in the same manner I would view a fantasy book about dragons and wizards as a novel, above all (as opposed to how I would view a nonfiction book as completely a nonfiction book, and would write it differently than I would a novel), in that I wanted to use anything as a means toward “what I want to read” and did not want to write it for confessional, diary-like, sociological, financial, historical, “rhetorical,” or any other reasons.
Did you study or think about any other books for guidance or inspiration while writing Richard Yates?
The End of The Story by Lydia Davis and The Easter Parade by Richard Yates. To a lesser degree, maybe, Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys.
What was the writing process like for Richard Yates? How long did it take to write?
I wrote a short story in an early version of the “prose style” of Richard Yates around February 2006. I began writing things that are in Richard Yates, in different form, around June 2006. I worked on it “idly” (1-4 hours a day 70-80% of days) until around March 2008 when I worked on it “pretty hard” (2-6 hours a day for 90% of days) until around August 2008 (at this point I had a “working” final draft, in that I felt the structure/length would be very similar to the published structure/length) when I sold shares in its royalties, gaining $12,000, and stopped working at my restaurant job, and worked on Richard Yates “very hard” (6-10 hours a day for 98% of days) until around October 2008, finishing what I felt at the time was a final draft (though knowing, to some degree, that I would work on it much more still). The next 15 months I worked on it 4-6 more times, each time 6-10 hours a day for 15-25 consecutive days. In mid-June I edited the advanced copy (“galley”) ~50 hours in 4 days. The final draft was completed some time in early July 2010.