Mother Jones: When did you start to think seriously about writing fiction?
Even, gosh, the presidents reincarnated as horses, that’s definitely not autobiographical in any sense, but sometimes they just start out as these really dumb ideas. I wanted something completely baffling, to them as well. MJ: Did you spend any of the past election year imagining how the politicians on TV might reincarnate?
The frontier narratives are so interesting because they push humans into the frontiers of their personalities, you know?
I think it really is true that strange things happen in frontiers that far out.
I got one good piece of advice from [author and associate professor] Ben Marcus in one of my Columbia workshops: If you’re gonna do something weird, just have one thing be weird. I owe a huge debt to Ray Bradbury and Madeleine L’Engle. It’s like Carl Hiaasen, a writer I like a lot—he’s always talking about how the headlines are so much stranger than anything you could come up with.
Like a version of “blue doesn’t show on blue.” You want to have it feel real enough to a reader so that they care about what’s happening within the confines of that story—you don’t want the surreal elements to totally remove the story from the world of consequence. MJ: Because when you’re a kid, it’s bubbling out all the time, but as we get older a lot of things come in the way. I was just down there and there were all these posters all over Miami that say, “Wanted: Giant African Snail.” Or there was like a plague of pythons loose. My backyard was replete with madness, it just grew indigenously in South Florida.