Describe your latest book.
The Making of Zombie Wars is a roller-coaster ride of violence and sex. The main character, Joshua Levin, is a modestly talented wanna-be screenwriter whose day job is teaching English to immigrants and refugees. As the U.S. joyously invades Iraq, Joshua falls for a married Bosnian woman and his sadly stable life disintegrates. On the upside, his script entitled "Zombie Wars" seems to be going well, even if nowhere in particular. Entertaining mishaps ensue. Anyone who has ever casually ruined their life could easily identify with Josh.
Describe a recurring dream or nightmare.
I have dreams which differ in details but all have the same structure: I share a space with a large number of friends from my previous (Sarajevo) and my present (Chicago) lives. We always do something together — often we play soccer — and there is never any drama or danger or sorrow. We just exist together.
What scares you the most as a writer?
Indulging my vanity and the false feeling that I'm effortlessly, indelibly good at writing, so that whatever I crank out is great, however inane or undercooked. Also known as the Updike Syndrome.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
Subject pronouns in place of object pronouns. As in: "She stared at Adolf and I because with those mustaches we looked like fucking idiots." Also, the abuse of almost for the purposes of hedging the statement. As in: "It was almost as if his head had a propeller on the top." Or: "She was almost pregnant."
Why do you write?
Because I cannot not write. Which is the only legitimate, defensible reason. I think that every writer at whatever stage of his/her career ought to be aware that if s/he didn't write another word, the world would, at worst, stay exactly the same or, at best, become a little better. The only reason to write is out of necessity.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Bruno Schulz. He lived and died in Drohobych, a small Eastern European town. It is now in western Ukraine, but Schulz lived in five different countries without ever leaving his house. He was shot by a Nazi, who did it on a whim. Schulz was a visionary, endowed with a transformative imagination, capable of converting provincial banality into transcendent experience. The Cinnamon Shops is an indescribable masterpiece.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I went to Drohobych when I was wandering around Eastern Europe doing research for The Lazarus Project with my friend and photographer Velibor Bozovic. We identified the spot where Bruno Schulz was killed, and we found his house, where somebody still lived. I walked up to the door to knock, but I freaked out for some reason and never found out who was in his house. For all I know, it may have been Bruno himself.
In the event of a zombie apocalypse, where would you go to be safe?
To the Rockies, to high altitudes. It would take zombies a while to get up there. Zombies can't ski for shit, so at the very least I'd squeeze in a few powder runs before the world ends.
Write a question of your own, then answer it.
Q: If you were a disco tune, what disco tune would you be?
A: Disco Duck.
Five great books about the ways the human mind works, or doesn't:
1. Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
2. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
3. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
4. At the Mind's Limit by Jean Amery
5. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine