Like Casi, his overworked protagonist in A Naked Singularity, Sergio de la Pava is a public defender in Manhattan. Casi defends drug addicts and immigrants, avoids his neighbors, gets talked into stealing drug money, and ponders the case of Jalen Kingg, a Skittles-lover on death row.
If you live life like your character Casi, you must not sleep.
I have more experience than Casi. I don’t have that overwhelming feeling that’s portrayed in the book. But I do like midnight to two a.m. It’s a little unnerving at that time, suited to writing. I don’t like mornings. I don’t like sunlight much. I’m not a fan of good weather. The expectation of spring makes me feel weird.
Have you worked on capital punishment cases like Jalen Kingg’s?
I have. To the extent that there are details in the book about the criminal justice system, in New York or in the case of the Alabama death penalty, they are 100% accurate. It would be irresponsible to invent those. For example, there are references to Alabama being one of two states where the judge can impose the death penalty in contravention of the jury’s verdict. That was true. One hopes that has been remedied, but probably not.
You originally self-published A Naked Singularity in 2008. Did you sell many copies?
Eventually we did—after the guilt-ridden buyers, family and friends. Over the course of two years, literary mags and the Internet started picking up on it and it started getting reviews, fairly frequently. The book that is appearing in May is essentially identical to the book I self-published.
You’ve been compared to David Foster Wallace.
These comparisons, they’re intended as compliments. So, as you learn in kindergarten, you have to just accept them as such and be kind. I get a lot of Gaddis, Pynchon, too. I mean, I can see how A Naked Singularity has more in common with those authors than, say, John Updike or Alice Munro, but the comparison would fall apart upon a closer examination. Categories are frightening things, like I’ll be told this book is postmodern, and it kind of makes me feel like I’m back in school. Like, which table can I sit at?
Will you quit your day job if your novel is a success?
I would not quit. I’m easily bored and maybe have the attention span of an eight-year-old, yet this work has managed to interest me for about a decade and a half. I find the work to be not only interesting but important. This country incarcerates an indefensibly high number of its population. I think at some point I decided I would devote my professional life to making a small dent in that problem.