Yesterday I glowlingy reviewed Michael FitzGerald’s excellent debut novel, Radiant Days. The author graciously consented to subject himself for a little Q&A from the likes of us, which will endear him to us forever. Onward…
Baby Got Books interview with Michael FitzGerald, author of Radiant Days
Baby Got Books: I found out about your book over beers with an author that I met through my blog. I read your book, loved it, and then was able to meet up with you via Goodreads. What’s your take on this crazy web 2.0 world? It must be nice to have these avenues for getting word out about your book and to interact directly with readers, but does it take away from time that you would have spent writing if a global corporate marketing department was doing the work for you?
Michael FitzGerald: Many cool things happened with the book because of these avenues, but communicating with people on Goodreads, while somewhat rewarding, just sort of wasn’t writing. As it’s been said, the web is a 2-inch deep ocean, going on in all directions indefinitely, but nothing really under the surface. I guess to extend that flimsy metaphor: marketing your book on the internet is like wading through this massive puddle. No real danger, but not a rewarding as swimming across something big and deep.
Sort of along these line… my own process with this book…I’m not connected to any sort of writing community or the publishing world in any real way. I don’t teach regularly. (I’m a software developer to pay the bills—although I was laid off last Friday!) I had two boys under the age of 3 when the book came out. So I really had no idea what I should be doing for promotion. The best I could come up with is to treat it like writing, which is to just show up. My writing process—if you could call it that—is to wake early and write for 2-3 hours before my day job. When the book came out, I did the same thing with promotion. Just made sure I spent 30 minutes every day doing something, anything, toward getting it read. The Web 2.0 world certainly made this easier to do from Boise, ID than it would have been 5 or 10 years earlier.
BGB: The reviews that I’ve seen for your book focus on Anthony, your protagonist, as a prototype of the disconnected American youth living abroad. Yet by and large the European characters seem to be as morally bankrupt, if not more so, than Anthony (perhaps for different reasons). Do you think that this emotional disconnection among young people is just part of the modern condition?
MF: I did when I was in my 20s, when most of the book was written. Now I think it’s just how we are in our 20s. And the European characters were a bit extreme… they were forged by war or 50 years of Communism.
On a personal level—and I think each of us has some distinct thing like this that we use—but I had a strict Catholic upbringing. All-boys Benedictine uniform-wearing boarding school. And while in that structured environment, I experienced all the normal stuff high school kids do: a bit too much LSD, awkward desperate attempts at sex, humiliating social life. But because the Catholic part was so unbending, there was a feeling that once the rules have been broken, just get hurly-burly. You’re going to hell anyway, etc… It all felt very dramatic but cool, since we were in bowties.
BGB: I read Radiant Days after reading “genius grant”-winner Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project and couldn’t help but notice that the two books work well together as companion pieces. In Hemon’s book, a young Bosnian finds himself disconnected and adrift in the US. (Some literature class somewhere will be assigned both books.) I’ve read an interview where you were quoted as saying that you have read all of Hemon’s work. Do you know if Hemon has read your book? Is your genius grant on its way?
MF: Yeah, Hemon is so amazing. I read The Question of Bruno just as I’d finished the first draft of Radiant Day and immediately felt like a fraud. I don’t know if he’s read it. I think my ears would fall off.
BGB: Marsh, the British war correspondent, was an especially interesting character. He was one of the few people that seemed to have some purpose (and a real job) in his life and there are hints in the book that suggest that his aloof attitude may have been a front to some extent. In many ways he seems out of place with the motley group in Bucharest. I kept wondering what he was doing with those people. (There’s a question here somewhere – I’ll go with this:) Does the expatriot scene lend itself to this type of strange bedfellow scenario?
MF: Yes and no. Common language, especially someplace like Hungary where expats are pretty isolated from the natives, creates bonds between people that wouldn’t normally exist. But at the same time, the young journalists I know tend to be game for anything. Marsh was accomplished, but he was also just sort of finding his way. He was educated, but he really couldn’t drive a car. And there’s a tradition of witty Brits who have little utility outside cocktail conversation.
I don’t how I feel about revealing this… but Marsh is based on two close friends, both journalists. He’ll vigorously deny this, but Owen Matthews was a main inspiration for Marsh. (Read his Amazon review.) He’s brilliant and a lot of fun. He’s presently the Moscow bureau chief for Newsweek and the author of the astonishing, Stalin’s Children. The other is Charlie Graeber, who writes for Wired, National Geographic’s Adventure, and others. He has a book coming out about the compliance of New Jersey hospitals with a serial killer nurse. He’s a dear friend.
BGB: It is unclear from Anthony’s account whether Anthony’s “girlfriend” Gisela’s activities in Hungary and Croatia were on the level, and he may not have cared one way or the other. Did you purposely keep her actions vague to keep Anthony on the hook for his apparent lack of concern?
MF: I’d like to say there was something purposeful behind this. But mostly I just felt it was true. I dated Hungarians when I was over there, and I never had any idea what was going on with them. Once, I thought we were going to church, and we ended up a pig slaughter (family ritual) which involved a four-wheeler and palinka.
BGB: The travels in the book kept me running to my laptop to fire up Google Earth to follow the trail and check out the locales via maps and the user-posted pictures there. Some of the war torn areas you describe in Croatia are among the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and they appear (from here) to have recovered well. I’ve read that you visited the area extensively before the war broke out, have you been back since writing the book? If so, how has it changed from your memories?
MF: No, unfortunately, I haven’t been back. I was pretty delusional about how a book gets published. Specifically, I thought there would be a step where I got a massive advance and could return to the Croatia for some fact checking. Whoops.
BGB: Radiant Days was nominated for a Henry Miller Award by Nerve.com for best literary sex scene. I went and re-read the passage that they cited. What’s wrong with those people?
MF: Intern with a wicked sense of humor?