5/23/2013Interview with Marco Candida (by his translator, Elizabeth Harris)
Tell us something about how you began to write. What did you read back then? Who were your biggest influences?
I started to write after reading Jack London’s books. I also read a great deal of philosophy (especially Nietzsche--he was so powerful and emotional!) and essays of every kind, a lot of intellectual stuff, but I started truly writing with Jack London. I was twelve then. And even now, for me, writing means adventure, action, emotions, it still means… Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King. When I was twelve years old I also read John Le Carré and I loved Jack Higgins. Then I started reading Stephen King and other horror writers – Ramsey Campbell, Robin Cook, Joe Landsdale, Richard Laymon. Sure, I was reading more orthodox stuff, too, like Balzac, Tolstoy, Steinbeck (he’s so great!), and Turgenev and many others. But what I really enjoyed reading were commercial books and when I first started writing I wrote spy stories, horror, and then Hemingwayesque stories… I was completely in love with the Stephen King book Danse Macabre. This book’s mainly about literature and theories about how to make a good story… and it was just great. Then in my twenties, I dismissed King and others like Elmore Leonard, and I started to read writers from my country, and at twenty three, twenty-four, I started to develop my own writing style, started to become a writer. Probably I have American authors (Hemingway, Steinbeck) to thank for my starting to write, for inspiring me with a little of their magic, but I have to thank my own people, too (writers like Pier Vittorio Tondelli, Giulio Mozzi, Tiziano Scarpa, Aldo Nove, Paolo Nori, Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino and bloggers such as Pulsatilla), for my development as a writer.
Tell us about your books. Your book, Dream Diary, that will be coming out from Guernica Editions—what’s this book about? Do you see a progression to your writing? How are your books different now from when you wrote Dream Diary?
I wrote Dream Diary (Il diario dei sogni, Las Vegas Edizioni 2008) when I was twenty-seven years old and I was waiting for my first book to come out (La mania per l’alfabeto, Sironi Editore, 2007). So this was my second book and it was related to the first. The structure’s similar. There’s the main storyline and then other brief (flash) stories or stories that intertwine with the main story. Dream Diary is about a man who begins writing a journal of his most significant dreams; at the same time, in the commentary about the dreams, he also talks about himself, mainly representing himself through his dreams. It’s a meta-fictional story—a story about the act of writing—and it’s also a very surreal story, very funny and wild. Now I’m working on my eighth book – and it’s a bigger story, there’s no trace of me at all (at least that’s what I’ve tried for; well, actually, the story takes place in Tortona in an apartment that, if you knew it, you’d recognize as my nonna’s apartment), and the prose is probably less challenging, less convoluted.
The work of yours that I’ve read is intensely imagistic. Is this always the case in your work? Do you see your books as you write them? How visual is your writing process?
My writing works like Giacomo Leopardi’s poetry. Next to Dante, Leopardi is our greatest poet. His poems begin imagistically, and this part is very beautiful and often funny. But then comes the thoughtful, reflective part of the poem and you realize that the images and the stories were just an excuse to get to this other part of the poem. My books always work this way. There’s a lot of fun (a lot of storytelling) but then I hit you with the philosophical, pretentious stuff. That’s the price you have to pay, but if I do a good enough job with the first part, I can get you to pay fairly easily, and you’re happy, besides.
How do you develop your ideas, your books? Do you already know what will happen in a novel when you begin to write it?
I was once watching a Mel Gibson movie. It was all about a man and a woman who exchange personalities. Plus they can both read other people’s minds. So I was watching this movie and all of a sudden I said to myself: “Hey, wait a minute. That’s not possible…” Of course it’s not possible! someone might say: it’s a movie about a man and a woman who exchange personalities and read other people’s minds! But there I was, and I was thinking how it would really work if you could read other people’s minds. Was there a more believable way to tell such a story? And then I decided to write a story about someone who can read other people’s minds, but it turns out there’s nothing easy about this, as there was in the Mel Gibson movie: everything’s complicated and confusing. This is how I come up with the ideas for my stories. Usually I read a bunch of crap and watch the worst movies imaginable. My mind works this way. If I read something good I can only appreciate what I read. But if I read something that’s not so good my mind starts working. I come up with idea after idea and sometimes, for my purposes, these ideas are good, and then I write them down, and they become a story.
Generally I have a theme I want to talk about and then I find a basic idea. Not something like “A man or a woman exchange personalities,” but something even more general, like “A man starts keeping a diary of his dreams… and in that same diary we find not just his dreams but also events that start to occur.” Once I come up with my basic idea I begin to write, and I start inserting smaller ideas into my more general idea. Usually I know where I’m headed while I write. Sometimes I’ll take a different turn; sometimes I move straight toward the goal.
How do you see your work as fitting into Italian literature? Can you tell us something about contemporary Italian fiction? What authors do you think are significant? Do you see any particular movements in Italian fiction today?
I don’t know about any movements right now. I like some authors more than others.
But the problem is that these authors are also my real-life friends. So I’d rather skip this question…
Tell us what you think of American literature. How is Italian fiction different from American fiction? You know that very few works of fiction from other countries are ever translated into English. Why do you think that is? Do you see this as a problem?
Well, what comes to mind is a list that David Foster Wallace put together once of the greatest American books. He was clearly being sarcastic. On this list, all you found were so-called commercial authors. There was Thomas Harris, Tom Clancy, and so on and so on. But maybe in a way, there’s some truth to Wallace’s list. I think early twentieth-century American literature was central, was important, through the 60s, 70s, 80s, with such authors as Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner and the rest of those great authors you can think of. But right now, the most significant literature coming out of the Unites States, the literature which has a real impact, which influences other readers and writers is, in fact, your so-called commercial-literature. In my country, for example, the only real strong movement of writers in the last twenty-five years has been I Cannibali, which was enormously influenced by the pop-culture-ultra-violent style of Quentin Tarantino. You might take Tarantino as a good example, then, of the US’s influence with its so-called commercial literature. To me, Tarantino’s not just a director or filmmaker: he’s entirely a writer. He deals with the same issues as a writer, the same freedoms, and he writes whatever he likes, and in a movie, he usually writes a great deal, a great many words. Maybe he’s more of an audio-book writer, if you will, or even a video-book writer, if that makes any sense. Anyway, his method of filmmaking is very closely tied, as we know, to writing tout-court, to what we consider literature. The growing pile of so-called commercial books is working its way into people’s minds, taking root. And there are very good commercial works. I’m currently reading Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, for instance, and, God, that man can write.
Italian fiction is very different from American Fiction. Consider even the technical differences. Italian writers, for instance, have no issues with word count as might be found in the American idea of what makes the “great” American novel or at least the well written American novel. We just write, and our books are often pretty small. This might even be encouraged in Italy as Italian publishers want to publish smaller books because they cost less to produce. Plus our literary tradition comes out of poetry – out of beautiful, tightly composed pieces. In Italy, readers are also more likely to accept reading a big American book (with American characters, American places, American cars… anything American) than they are a big Italian book. So in an Italian book, you’ll often find a lot more white space than ink.
Even so, our books are good and should be translated more often in The United States. Our more precise style, our more compact books, could have some impact on American literature, especially American fiction, which seems perhaps overly expansive and overly realistic.