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Andre Dubus III: The Powells.com Interview

Andre Dubus III is most famous for his third book, House of Sand and Fog, an Oprah's Book Club pick that was made into an Academy Award-nominated movie. The Boston Globe lauded it as "a page-turner with a beating heart." His next novel, The Garden of Last Days, was the mesmerizing story of the intersection of very different characters, including a future terrorist and a stripper. Stephen King called it, "So good, so damn compulsively readable, that I can hardly believe it.""So good, so damn compulsively readable, that I can hardly believe it."

Dubus might be almost as well known because of his father, Andre Dubus, who is widely considered to have been one of the best short-story writers of the 20th century. Townie, Dubus III's new book, is a memoir recounting his days growing up with and without his father, becoming a fighter, and finally becoming a writer in his own right.

Townie is a gorgeous, moving, and painful book. Richard Russo raved,

I've never read a better or more serious meditation on violence, its sources, consequences, and, especially, its terrifying pleasures, than Townie. It's a brutal and, yes, thrilling memoir that sheds real light on the creative process of two of our best writers, Andre Dubus III and his famous, much revered father. You'll never read the work of either man in quite the same way afterward. You may not view the world in quite the same way, either.

Every single person in our office who read Townie — which was quite a few — was blown away by its beauty and honesty. We are very proud to have chosen it for Volume 25 of Indiespensable.

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Jill Owens: Why did you decide to write this memoir now?

Andre Dubus III: I didn't, really. I mean that sincerely. I didn't decide to write it at all. I think if I've learned anything over the years about writing, I've learned to follow where the writing wants to go. More times than not, I don't want to go where it wants to go at all.

In this case, I was writing an essay. I had a contract to deliver a collection of personal essays to Norton, and I was working on an essay about baseball. It was really about my sons, who are 18 and 13, and who have been wonderful baseball players since they were little. I got into baseball through them. I knew nothing about it. I had no exposure. So, my question was, How did I miss baseball? This is so much fun. How come I didn't play baseball?

I wrote myself into what I thought would be a 20-page essay — 500 pages later, the memoir's what I was doing. That's how it came to be. While I was writing it, I didn't really want to write it. And then I did. It shifted for me as soon as I told myself, Look, this doesn't have to be a book. No one has to read this. But I really felt compelled to get it down, because, in truth, I'd been trying to write about that time and place.

I'd been trying to capture, not necessarily my little family and my experiences as a boy, but what it was like to be 10 years younger than the Vietnam generation. To be an adolescent when Vietnam was just on its last legs, and Nixon was flying off in his helicopter. There's no daddy in my house, and the neighborhood is awful, and my mom is overwhelmed, and we're all having sex and doing drugs at 13.

I tried to write that as fiction for like 25 years. No exaggeration. Every few years I would try again. There were nine years between House of Sand and Fog and The Garden of Last Days. It didn't take nine years to write The Garden of Last Days; it took about five and a half. I spent another three and a half years trying to write this material as fiction.

I finally came to the realization that I don't think I'm the kind of writer who can write fiction from my direct experience. I don't think I can have a bad day in Philadelphia and write a short story about a bad day in Philadelphia.I finally came to the realization that I don't think I'm the kind of writer who can write fiction from my direct experience. I don't think I can have a bad day in Philadelphia and write a short story about a bad day in Philadelphia. I have to go far afield from my own life with fiction.

This is a long-ass-winded way of saying I really felt, frankly... What's the word? I didn't feel exhilarated. There was a calm. I knew there was a calmness to me as I wrote this. And I realized I had no anger and no judgment anymore about where I'd been, where we'd been as a family. I realized, I guess I just have to tell it straight as Andre, and not some character. Even though I had a contract expectation from my publisher, I thought, You know, this is for my kids. This is for my three kids and they're going to know more about their family, and their dad.

I wrote it in that spirit, and, then, towards the end, I felt, Maybe this is a book that other people might get something out of. My biggest hope, or my biggest fear — my biggest hope is joining my biggest fear — was that this wasn't about just me. If so, who gives a shit? [Laughter] I hope it's about more than just my family.

Jill: That sounds like a long process.

Dubus: It was. It took about two and a half decades to get to this. I mean what I say; it felt kind of accidental when I finally was writing it. I sure as hell didn't choose to write a memoir. But I have to say, too, I never choose to write anything. I really don't think about career at all. It can be frustrating for my editor and agent, but I don't. I write five days a week, and what comes, comes. If people like it, they do, and if they don't, they don't. But I ain't changing a word for any damn marketplace.

Jill: It's interesting that you say, in terms of fiction, you like to write from outside your experience, because I reread The Garden of Last Days and House of Sand and Fog before I read Townie. Some of the characters in your novels do seem quite far outside of your own experience. But, you give some hints in Townie that people you were close to, like Marjan, might have influenced some of your characters.

Dubus: Oh, absolutely. So, in some ways, I'm full of shit when I say that I like to go far afield in my fiction, because you always end up writing deeply from you, your experiences, what you've heard, what you haven't heard, your vision. I love what Flannery O'Connor said in an essay once: "A writer's beliefs are not what she sees, but the light by which she sees." I think it's not only our beliefs that shape that light, but what we've lived and what we've witnessed.

If someone were to read Townie and then read some of my other books, they would certainly say, "Oh, wow! Maybe the Colonel came from this girlfriend's father." And, yes, that's exactly where he came from. And, "Oh, this character Lonnie Pike in The Garden of Last Days, he's kind of like Andre, huh? He's the one-punch knockout artist."

That's true. But I'm always a little hesitant to talk about psychological roots of fiction, because I have this belief — and I know you're not suggesting this — but I have this feeling that we can get too reductive. I do think the imagination is wide and bottomless and infinite, and it can go far beyond our own private lives.

Jill: How do you have such an incredible memory? It seems so sharp and detailed throughout the book, particularly during the fights.

Dubus: Oh, I remember those fights very well. But, honestly, my memory isn't so hot in a lot of ways. My wife and I will see a movie. I will have forgotten everything about it in three days. I won't even be able to tell you what the hell happened. I will forget it all. I will forget books. Yet I do remember quotes and song lyrics for 35 years, and I remember moments from my own existence almost as if they're photographs. But memory is fallible.

One thing I found that was delicious, creatively, when I was writing Townie, was the actual writing would hone the memories. The actual writing would lead me to remember, Oh, that's right, it was summer! There were leaves here. That tree was there. It was so pleasurable in some ways, even if it was an ugly scene to remember, to have these little doors open. And they only opened if I picked the right word and really kept myself open.

I quote the poet William Stafford a lot. Have you read his essay "A Way of Writing"?

Jill: I haven't.

Dubus: It's a two-page essay. I read it a couple years ago. I've been quoting him a lot, especially to writing students. He said, "There's a state of openness or receptivity the writer must put himself or herself into before writing poems," and I completely agree with that. He defined receptivity as a willingness to accept anything that comes, no matter what it may be, and also as a willingness to fall flat on your face and fail. I think if you can get yourself in that state, while reaching for the sharpest language, et cetera, it'll take you to some really finely honed moments inside you. It'll open doors you didn't know were there.

That's what kept happening with the memory. A lot of things, like that fight at Sambo's, that slaughter, that's always been completely locked in my mind. But the other stuff sharpened with the writing. It's fascinating, really.

Jill: How did you decide what to include, and also, to a certain extent, how to pace the book?

Dubus: Great question. I learned so much about the memoir form by writing this accidental, reluctant memoir. One thing was what to leave in and what to leave out. I was really struck by the fact that pretty early on, I found myself in the grip of a narrative arc — in the same way I describe it to myself when I'm writing a novel, when I feel as if I've drilled down into the earth, and I'm in some sort of underwater stream, some underwater current that's pulling me somewhere. That's when I know that I've locked into some organic narrative arc, and I follow it when I'm writing fiction.

The same thing happened when I was remembering my boyhood. (I wasn't thinking this through at that point or applying this; I really was writing one memory at a time.) I shaved a lot off, ultimately, but the arc was a financially strapped family. A divorce leading to deeper poverty. Overwhelmed mother moving two or three times a year for cheaper rent. Bullied kid who's paralyzed by fear.

As that bullied kid, my self-esteem was pummeled so much, I didn't care if I diedmy self-esteem was pummeled so much, I didn't care if I died. And I began to fight back; I began to train. I became a really good fighter, much to my shock and surprise. A bullied boy becomes a fighter. And I was a dangerous, reckless young man. Then, by some grace, I found writing and creativity, which got me off that road. Essentially it saved my life.

So, interestingly, as I was caught in this underwater current/narrative arc that felt very much like writing a novel, it became easier to not let just anything into the book. For example, I had a girlfriend I lived with for three years, which was a pretty important relationship in my 20s. She didn't make into the book. Neither did I go into much detail about my pull toward stage acting, which was pretty strong in my early 20s. I left out that I hunted a killer in Mexico. I left out a lot of stuff.

Jill: All of which sound like interesting stories, but maybe just not in this arc.

Dubus: Yeah. But what fueled the decision to leave out that stuff was this arc that felt defined to me. It made cutting certain things easier. Yet I wrote them first. I really did write all this stuff, and then I cut it. It made me think about how the Latin root of "fiction" means to fashion or shape. That's what I felt I was doing.

That's not to say I was fashioning and shaping something that wasn't true. I have to say, I think it's probably true of anyone who's written a memoir after James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, but I had that book on my mind. Man, I'm going to make sure everything is as factually accurate as I possibly can. And I've been gratified that people who were with me back then and who've read Townie have no complaints yet. Thank god. [Laughter]

Jill: Early on, you describe getting beaten up by Clay three or four days a week. And you write: "He would catch up to me, his eyes dark and intent, like this was something he just had to do." I found that image really unnerving, and I wondered if, after you became a fighter, you identified with that feeling at all, or if you had any idea of where that urge came from.

Dubus: I'll tell you, I do think that's one of the things the book's about: how pleasurable violence can be.

I'm not religious, but my wife's a pretty devout Greek Orthodox lady, and so we were doing this pre-wedding counseling 20 some years ago. The priest was young; he was our age, and I liked him a lot. I told him that not long before, two or three years, I'd beaten the shit out of a guy in the Miami airport and put him in the hospital. I started talking about violence, and he just said, "Well, it just goes to show, it's easy to do bad, and it's hard to do good."

It's pretty stripped down and obvious what he's saying, but it's not that obvious, I don't think, all the time. When talking about Clay Waylon's dark and intent eyes, I felt I was just such an easy victim. I was passive and small and afraid, and this guy had a bunch of rage. I'm sure it came from his home life, his mom and his dad.

In some ways I did become that way and in some ways I didn't. I did only look for fighting opportunities where I would feel morally vindicated and justified in throwing a punch. I'd never, ever go after a smaller person. I hated bullies, and the last thing I wanted to do was be one. But I did become a violent man, and in a sense I became the disease and not the cure.I hated bullies, and the last thing I wanted to do was be one. But I did become a violent man, and in a sense I became the disease and not the cure. For a while I felt like the cure. But then I realized, Yeah, but you're kind of the disease too, aren't you?

I try not to hit the reader over the head with it in the book, but one of my first moments of realizing that I was developing a problem was when we just ambushed the shit out of the punks in that restaurant. I really could have killed that one guy. I really feel that, if it weren't for my girlfriend, two or three more kicks and I could have killed him.

But it was also that middle-aged woman crying and being terrified, and when I stepped towards her to calm her, how she stepped back — and I realized she was terrified of me. That's when I became aware that I was turning into the kind of man I actually didn't want to be. I'm hesitant to compare it to Clay Waylon, but, in many ways, it wasn't much different. It was using violence to express rage. I can tell myself all the white-knight stories I want to, but I was still doing it for me, and it was not a constructive thing to do.

Jill: It sounds like there were so many opportunities for violence in your life.

Dubus: Yeah, and there still is in that town. Yeah. Yep.

Jill: I was trying to remember my own childhood, and I just don't think people fought that much. I'm sure there's a lot of it I didn't see.

Dubus: I bet there was a blue-collar bar scene where fights were pretty common.

Jill: But so many of the people you mentioned in the book ended up dead or in jail.

Dubus: Yes. I bumped into a guy in the gym, and he was all full of steroids, pumped up and tattooed, toothless and big. We were talking, and he said, "You know, 47 of us are dead?" I said, "47 of who?" "Forty-seven of our graduating class." And he started to list them. They were dead from accidents, violence, prison, alcohol, drugs, and bad health.

Jill: Out of how many? How many in your graduating class?

Dubus: It was around 400. So that was more than 10%. When he told me that, we were 45 years old. I thought, Holy shit.

Jill: You use a remarkable image in the book of membranes that surround people that you have to cross through or smash through in order to fight.

Dubus: It's an insight I had before I wrote this. It's one of those things I was hoping I'd get to in the writing of the book.

By the way, I've been in even more fights than I put in the book, because after a while, frankly, it was sort of like porn, where every other moment is flesh, flesh, flesh. I was afraid it would overwhelm the story. So, I even fought more than I described in Townie.

Somewhere in the middle of all that craziness, from about age 16 to 27 — I think I was 28 when I was in that last fight — somewhere in there, I was thinking, Look, I'm not a bad ass.

I've never been bigger than 175 pounds. I'm not a big guy, and I don't consider myself a tough guy. But I am a guy who knows how to fight, and I did learn how to drop a man in one punch, and I still feel like I can, physically. (I don't know if I could emotionally or spiritually anymore, because of what I know I have to do to drop them.) But, I think that's when I began to think about it. How come I keep coming out ahead in these fights?

I remember watching a movie, and it had a shoving match between two young men. It was a stupid movie...

The only filmmaker I've ever seen who captured violence honestly is Scorsese. Because it's ugly, and you want nothing to do with it.

Did you see Raging Bull?

Jill: Yes.

Dubus: That scene where De Niro as LaMotta goes in and beats the shit out of his own brother in the dining room during Sunday dinner. It's so ugly and sloppy and terrible, and it's so honest and captures the ugliness of fighting.

Anyway, I was watching this other film where it all starts as a shoving match — which is sort of the foreplay — and then someone throws a punch and someone ducks so neatly and throws a choreographed punch back... It's impossible for me to watch these badly conceived fight scenes, because they're so dishonest. And they're clearly conceived by people who don't know much about physical violence.

It was right around then that I got the insight about the membrane. I thought, what these people don't realize is that fighting isn't about learning how to throw a punch. Fighting is learning how to break that barrier around another person's face.

Right now, you and I are just talking on the phone. If you were sitting in this room with me and I went over and touched your face, it would be a really inappropriate violation of your private space. So, you can imagine when you punch someone in the face as hard as you can, it's such a violation of their boundaries. I began to have that insight about membranes then. And then I read about Model Mugging. Do you know what Model Mugging is?

Jill: No.

Dubus: It's very interesting. In 1969 or '70, a woman in New York, who was a black belt in karate and on her way home from working out, was brutally raped, and she couldn't defend herself. It took her a while to go back to her sensei, and when she did she apologized to him for failing the art. He said, "No, you're wrong. I must apologize to you. The art failed you."

He realized that he was teaching her all these things... She could do all these things with the body, but she was punching and kicking the heavy bag or the air and had never connected with a face or a groin or a chest or a kidney. So, that very day, he wrapped a pillow around his crotch with a belt. He put on a hockey helmet, or something like that, and he said, "I want you to fight me right now." It took him a while to get her to do it, but he convinced her to kick him as hard as she could.

So, this program, Model Mugging, began, where men would dress in these completely protective suits and then really attack women in the class. The only way they could escape was to gouge eyes, grab balls with their hands and squeeze, knees to the face, grab at the throat. What they learned was, he hadn't been teaching people to cross that barrier inside themselves. It's different when you kick a bag than when you kick a human face.

I was on my way to that insight before I read about the Model Mugging discovery. But I see it all the time. When I'm in a bar, especially with a bunch of young men, and testosterone's in the air, you see a lot of bad-ass-looking guys now. There's this weird kind of "convict chic" look out there, with shaved head and muscles, tattoos, and goatees. But most of them are pussycats, because they haven't learned how to break that membrane. And what's really moving and scary about that to me is that once you've broken it, you've broken it. You can do it again.

That's why it's been a one-day-at-a-time thing for me. I live a very sheltered, lovely life with my wife and kids. But when I'm in an environment where physical violence is possible, I'm really careful to call on my higher self.

Jill: Well, and you see that progress over the course of the book.

Dubus: Good.

Jill: It's interesting because this is a very different kind of boundary. One of the things that really struck me about your early years is how little privacy you had. I mean, there were constantly dozens of people in your house who you didn't know and who were frequently dangerous.

Dubus: Yep.

Jill: The lack of being able to go anywhere safe and be by yourself in your home must have been incredibly difficult.

Dubus: Yes. For me, one of the most poignant images from my memory of that time is my little sister putting a padlock on her bedroom door. It was awful.

One of the horrible demon editors in your head when you're writing this memoir stuff says, Whaa, whaa, whaa, call the whaambulance. [Laughter] Or, So what? You weren't a lost boy from Sudan. You weren't ducking bullets in the barrio, little white boy. Big deal. You were a latchkey kid, and the house was full of stoners.

But I got over that, because I kept telling myself, Look, man, just tell it as honestly and fairly as you can. You can't be comparing pain like that; it's not right.

Visiting that time again, so much became clear. By building my body up, I was doing more than learning how to defend myself. I was actually building a room for myself around myself.

I had a very interesting experience with a radio interviewer in L.A. He's the kind of guy who will only have someone on his show if he's familiar with their entire body of work.

So, he read all my earlier books, and then he read House of Sand and Fog. We hadn't talked about my personal life, but he looked at me and said, "Seems to me that only someone who comes from a broken home could write about the search for house and home with such passion, and such high stakes." I really almost started to cry. I felt so naked on the radio right then.

Writing about all that stuff in Townie, it really brought back how important a protected, safe space is. I'm a crazy dad in that way. We live in a very lovely area, but every door is locked. I still have a baseball bat beside my bed. My kids have never been in a fight. They've never been bullied. They've never experienced cruelty. And they're 18, 15, and 13.

But those moments, that childhood house that was Grand Central Station really shaped the kind of father I am. I'm such a nest guy. I buy all the food. I do all the cooking. I built the house we live in, and I lock all the doors at night and open them in the morning. So, there you go.

Jill: How did you choose to open the book with that run with your father?

Dubus: I have to give the credit to my editor, Alane Salierno Mason. It was originally structured much differently. They always say that when you revise you lose something, but you gain something hopefully greater. It originally began with me walking through the halfway house, checking in on the inmates in Colorado. And I went into a lot more depth than I do in the book now, when I write about the inmates.

So, the original structure began with the inmates, and that first section ended with my getting dressed down by my supervisor, saying, "You're too friendly with them. They like you too much." I realized that was because I felt like one of them. Then I went into the early years of my life. In the original draft, I ended in the prison, when I see Dennis Murphy in the jail. It was too much; it wasn't quite working. There was more in there than the book needed. I played with all sorts of beginnings, and I had six or seven other ones that didn't quite work.

It was my editor's suggestion that maybe the running sequence would be a good place to bite it off. Once I tried it, it seemed to fit.

Did it work for you?

Jill: It did. I think one of the reasons that it does work so well is the fact that you ran 11 miles with your father without any training, in too-small shoes...

Dubus: Isn't that crazy?

Jill: It was. Your feet were falling apart by the last mile. But it shows the crazy willpower that you end up finding later in the book, in terms of weightlifting, in terms of fighting, and then in terms of writing.

Dubus: Thank you so much. What I was hoping the reader would get from that is that you can play off beginning with the run, because the reader has no idea what led to that run. But it was so clear to me, writing this and looking back, that I didn't care if I died a slow, painful death. I could not endure another second as a coward. Or as a small, soft, passive boy.

I hope this is evident in the book, but I tried not to write any of it directly. I love that Emily Dickinson line, "Tell all the truth, but tell it slant." So, I didn't have the word "narcissism" in there (I may have had it in there at one point), but ultimately it occurred to me that that willpower/self-punishing character trait is very egocentric, which is very normal when you're adolescent and you're trying to figure out who you are. You're searching for the self.

But I do look at that willingness to endure any sort of punishment just so that I don't have to endure my image of myself as someone who can't do it. That's deeply narcissistic, really. [Laughter]

Jill: That makes sense. But, still... It's had impressive results.

Dubus: Good. Well, you know, it's kept me in good shape all these years, and I'm grateful for that.

Jill: I found it interesting that you hadn't read your father's work before you were 17 or so, and also that you were so impressed with it when you finally did. How did you think about it before you read it?

Dubus: Probably like most kids: I didn't care what my dad did, and I didn't think about it. I wanted him to be my dad. I didn't care what he did for work. When I read his work, part of me was incredulous that such beauty could come from this normal person. I've seen that with all kinds of people. If I know someone, they can't be a great piano player, can they? They're just a normal person I know. It's a funny thing we do to each other, and that's what I did to my dad.

But I loved his work immediately. I realized semiconsciously, and it became clearer as I got older, that his writing is where he really put the best part of himself, all those days when we were living together. That's where he put the best part of himself his whole life, and he would say that to you right now, if he were here to say it.

The good thing is we're left with this beautiful body of work that will live on. But, as his kids, we got a little shortchanged, and I'm not saying that with any judgment or even anger anymore. I was angry earlier in life, but not now.

Jill: When you said earlier that Townie was coming from a place of calm, that really comes through. I mean, you convey how emotional you were earlier in life. But the tone is primarily that of calm, and truth.

Dubus: Thank god, good. You have to get older; you've got to live. I can't believe I'm 51 fucking years old. I was 21 last week. So, in a lot of those earlier sections, I'm a teenager. That was 35 years ago? What the hell! But thank you. All I'm saying is I needed the time to get the distance, to get that calmness.

Jill: It almost surprised me. I was impressed with the fact that you and your father slipped into sort of a friendship, really, when you were a young adult. Without much trouble or... I shouldn't say without much trouble, but...

Dubus: No, you're right, very little trouble. I didn't rebel against him. We just became drinking buddies and workout buddies.

Jill: You had those connections, and also through writing, once you started writing.

Dubus: Yes, but I have to say... There are things about my mother and father that I left out. Because he's not here to defend himself and my mother has already gone through enough hardship. She at least stayed and tried to raise us the best she knew how at the time. But I was really angry at my dad. After he died, a lot of anger came up that I'd been sitting on since I was a boy.

One of the consequences of divorce, especially in the '70s when there was no sleeping over at daddy's house (at least, we didn't; we just saw him on Sundays for a couple of hours) is that there isn't enough of a presence to rebel against.

I hope that indirectly that's in the book. The absence is so acute, really, that neither of you wants to have a fight or a problem. He did have a lot of tension with my brother Jeb and my sister Suzanne, which I left out. And I'll tell you why I left it out, because it would quickly become a "Daddy Dearest." Well, not that bad — there's nothing really horrible to report.

I felt very careful about writing about my family. It's not my story to tell. Their story is not my story to tell. I was trying to capture what it was like to be the boy in that time, and in that family. I made a decision that I was going to write about where my life has intersected theirs. That was hard, I'll tell you; that was hard to figure out.

Jill: I love the way you write about writing. I read some passages out loud to a friend of mine on the phone. And a colleague's boyfriend read the book, and he was reading passages out loud to her.

Dubus: God bless you, that's beautiful to hear. Thank you.

Jill: The way that writing seemed to teach you empathy, very directly, was impressive.

Dubus: I'm going to be on the road, and I'm going to have a three-minute interview on some morning TV show. The broadcaster probably won't have time to read the book. They really want you to just pitch the book. They'll ask, "What's it about?" And I'll end up saying, "I was bullied; I became a fighter, then I became a writer and writing saved my life."

It sounds so reductive and horridly simplistic, like a TV movie of the week, when I describe it that way. I have disdain for that, but it's the truth. [Laughter]

I love that line from Hemingway, "The job of the writer is not to judge, but to seek to understand." We know he didn't mean that writers aren't judgmental in life. We can all be judgmental pricks like everybody else, and he certainly had his moments as a man. My father also wrote a beautiful essay about this in his own way, and I think what Hemingway was saying is that when you're at the desk, the writing asks you to be larger than you may normally be. To be more patient, more merciful, more tolerant, a more disciplined listener, less judgmental, more compassionate.

What's always drawn me to fiction as a reader is character-driven fiction — not the plot-driven stuff. I don't like really wordy fiction. I'm not a metafiction fan. I don't like a bunch of words just for the writer to show off the words. I really like them to be doing something around character and story.

I very quickly found that I couldn't become my characters without just emptying myself of myself. And very, very soon after I began to write, I really couldn't imagine punching someone in the face.I very quickly found that I couldn't become my characters without just emptying myself of myself. And very, very soon after I began to write, I really couldn't imagine punching someone in the face. You know that scene in the book with Donny C., when he was trying to stick the knife in his neck? I talked to him, and I realized, I would have fought this guy before. He's obviously a bad-ass punk with a knife, but I'm going to talk him down.

It was writing. It was a combination of the daily practice of emptying myself of myself to receive these characters, combined with my spiritual distaste for the hangover that violence gives you.

One of the things that was confusing, and hopefully I was clear about this in the book, is that I had such mixed feelings. The little boy in me was so pleased at how tough I'd gotten, that I had the courage to step into any situation.

I didn't go into any great detail about this, because it was really hard to write about without sounding like a blowhard. But in the fight with those Merrimack college kids... There were 11 of them, and I took on all 11 of them before my buddy showed up beside me. We kicked 11 guys out of the campus.

The little boy in me was so thrilled I'd become this kind of guy. The man in me was increasingly concerned. So, it was a combination of this spiritual distaste for violence, which I'd always hated and still do, with the daily practice of writing, that put me on a track that I haven't gotten off of since.

I'm so full of shit in so many ways, you know. I always say I don't believe in God, and I really don't think I believe in a creator. I have a real hard time with that view that seems to me kind of childlike and simplistic. But I do believe in the divine, and I do believe in grace and mystery and spirits, probably, and maybe even angels. I don't believe in the devil. I love Tom Waits's line from "Heartattack and Vine": "There is no devil, there's just God when he's drunk."

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Townie: A Memoir
    Used Hardcover $6.95
  2. The Garden of Last Days Used Trade Paper $4.50
  3. House of Sand and Fog Used Trade Paper $4.95

4 Responses to "Andre Dubus III: The Powells.com Interview"

    Robin March 1st, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I've read many of Powells' author interviews, but I have never enjoyed one more than this one. I have also never written a fan letter for an author, much less for an interview, but I envy Jill the opportunity she had to have a conversation with Andre Dubus III. I have only this interview to judge by, since I've not read any of his work, but it would appear that he and I did not have very similar backgrounds. Nevertheless, so much of what he said really struck a chord. Now I am intrigued and hope to read, if not his entire body of work, at least several of his books. Thank you, Powells.

    Rose M. Toubes March 1st, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    That's a fabulous interview with Andre Dubus III. I am going to ask my creative writing student to read it. Marvelous content. Keep up the superior work.

    RJW March 4th, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    It was a wonderful interview, especially because the writer allowed the subject to talk and didn't attempt to show off her knowledge with long ponderous questions. I suspect the interviewer in the Los Angeles was Michael Silverblatt, who does the Bookworm radio show on KCRW. The interview accomplished it's goal, I will be purchasing the book.

    Painted Horse March 11th, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    This is a great interview and the author's books are equally powerful and honest. I also recommend another author, Jerry Ellis, who is a Cherokee and the first person in the modern world to walk the 900 mile route of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. His book, published by Delacorte Press, WALKING THE TRAIL, ONE MAN'S JOURNEY ALONG THE CHEROKEE TRAIL OF TEARS, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

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