An interview with George Dawes Green, whose new novel, from Grand Central, is titled Ravens.
PW: It’s been 14 years since your last novel; what took you so long?!
GDG: I got distracted. I went diving in the Galapagos Islands and spotted a frail momentary seahorse; I read Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees; Larry Gwynn bluffed me off a full house with a jack-high (in Wanda’s house, under live oaks, in the presence of witnesses); I founded the Moth; I wrote the scripts for a few movies; a bruja gave me the evil eye in Santiago Atitlan and I was nearly murdered a few hours later; Skye Sullivan and I, on the coldest night of the year, squeezed into Romulus’s coat together, and shuffled home through the dark streets of Manhattan.
PW: In that intervening time, what changes did you notice in the publishing industry?
GDG: People aren’t reading books so much. They text and Twitter and Google a lot—anxiety reading—but they’re too jumpy for books.
PW: You’re a poet and a novelist; how does poetry influence your novel writing?
GDG: I try to write sparely, to compress. No matter what horrors I visit upon my poor beleaguered characters, I try also to show them tenderness, as would I’m sure my favorite poets: John Clare, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop. In my estimation, the key to writing good poetry, and good fiction, is gentleness, forgiveness, grace.
PW: In your fiction writing, how would you categorize yourself—a thriller writer?
GDG: Yes. I like the effrontery of that term. Too much ‘literary fiction’ is what Thomas De Quincey called the ‘literature of knowledge’: it tries to teach us something. Whereas ‘the literature of power’ seeks to move us: a sail rather than a rudder. A brilliant thriller writer (Dickens or Dickey or Dostoevsky) sweeps the reader out of this world into one where the author rules absolutely. The reader surrenders all his attention, all his yearning and passion and fear. I can’t imagine a writer who wouldn’t enjoy that position.
PW: I know this is a cliché question, but—as somebody who loved Ravens, I’m curious where the idea came from?
GDG: From a dream. I dreamed I was back in my home town of Brunswick, Georgia. Some family had just won the lottery, and I was trying to talk them into giving their winnings away. I launched into an unctuous sermon—then woke in a sweat. Had I really just dreamed myself as such a manipulative self-righteous monster? I had. It horrified me. But I got a book out of it.