PW: You've worked as an editor and writer most of your career. What inspired the Texas Department of General Services, or TxDoGS, that's the setting for Kings of Infinite Space, your new novel?
James Hynes: The year Publish and Perish came out, I worked as a temp typist for eight months at a large Texas state agency. One day I looked around from my cube and realized I could hear all sorts of activity—talking, typing and so on—but I couldn't see another living soul. It was like working in a room full of ghosts. That's when I realized that cubicle life is like something out of Poe or Lovecraft. In my new book, a guy dies in his cube, and nobody notices for days.
PW: Why did you select Paul Trilby, the failed academic of "Queen of the Jungle" in your novella collection, Publish and Perish, as your protagonist?
JH: I wanted to put a character in this setting who was a fish out of water like me, but who wasn't me, because I don't write autobiographical fiction. Paul was ready to hand, and he needed a job, so I gave him mine. Plus it's always fun to write about a horny smart-ass with no impulse control. He gets to do things I wouldn't dream of doing in real life.
PW: Your story "99" in Publish and Perish starts on page 99 of the book. How did that happen?
JH: I don't know, but I was really, really pleased. The designer at Picador was some kinda genius.
PW: Your previous two books were done by Picador USA. Why is St. Martin's doing this one?
JH: Picador's an imprint of St. Martin's, and Picador doesn't do hardcover fiction anymore. I'm still working with the same great group of people, just under a different name.
PW:Publish and Perish and The Lecturer's Tale both satirize the academic world. Are you still teaching at the college level?
JH: In the 20 years I've been a published writer, I've been a college professor for only six years. I'm not an academic who turned to writing, but rather a writer who teaches occasionally. I'm not teaching at the moment.
PW: You've often been compared to David Lodge. Was he an influence?
JH: Not consciously. I read Changing Places and Nice Work with pleasure when I was at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the late '80s, but that was years before I knew I was going to be writing academic satire. In fact, since I've been writing my own, I haven't read any of the recent ones. My own favorites are slightly older, like Nabokov's Pnin and Carol Shields's Swann.
PW: At one level, your last three books could be classified as supernatural horror. Do you consider yourself in any way a genre writer?
JH: I think of myself as a fiction writer, full stop. I don't think genre labels mean much anymore. These days Stephen King publishes in the New Yorker, and Michael Chabon's writing a serial sci-fi story. So go figure. You can find superb prose and fully realized characters in many genre novels, and plenty of insipid prose and undercooked characters in literary fiction. The tropes of horror are just another set of tools in the writer's toolbox. In my new book, zombies make as good a metaphor for cubicle life as any other.
PW: Your first novel, The Wild Colonial Boy, was a political thriller set in Northern Ireland. What was the origin of that and do you have plans to write another thriller?
JH: I've always loved writers like Conrad, le Carré and Robert Stone, and I wanted to write something like The Secret Agent or Dog Soldiers. I'd like to think that all my books are thrillers to some extent, especially the new one. I do love creating suspense, and God knows I have a weakness for pyrotechnic climaxes.