Gregory Elich: I’ve just finished reading your latest book, CPR for Dummies, and what a wild ride it was. Although you’ve written much fiction, you’re generally known almost solely for your political works. What avenues does fiction allow you to express that aren’t so easily done in political analysis?
Mickey Z: When readers approach a book labeled “novel,” they are usually expecting some sense of entertainment… not overt education. So that allows me to tell a story, to screw around with format, to depict events without factoring in a non-fiction reader’s skepticism and desire for documentation. If I have something to say, I can put those words into the mouth of any character I choose and expect that these words will be received and perceived within the context of the story. A parable can often be more influential than a dissertation.
GE: Your approach to format is playful. There is a story that runs through the book as a main thread, but it is often interrupted by another story, which is in turn interrupted by another. In that regard, it is somewhat reminiscent of The Saragossa Manuscript. Interspersed are true stories from your past and quizzes for the reader. In part, I think the structure is an attempt to portray the simultaneity of events. Why did you choose this format for your book?
MZ: Yeah, the non-linear approach appeals to me — as you say — due to the simultaneity of events and also because it’s playful, maybe even “disrespectful” of the form. I used flashbacks, diary entries, first person interludes, and related vignettes to deconstruct the classic novel format in the way Jackson Pollock shattered painterly illusions. Still, the specific way CPR for Dummies came about is pretty funny. A few years ago, when some of the regulars on my blog — a.k.a the Expendables — decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month, I joined in and devotedly banged out 50,000 words in 30 days. For me, this required some serious cutting and pasting from several of my unpublished novels and non-fiction books, unproduced screenplays, and even some of my published work. These odds and ends were combined with brand new material and, with a few edits, additions, and redecoration, I had my novel…although calling it a “novel” is like using the word film to describe something Andy Warhol shot.
GE: The book does indeed give one the impression of having the same relation to narrative fiction that experimental film does to narrative film. And it’s all the fresher for that. Also, like some experimental films, there is much sexual material. At one point in the book you quip that these scenes were inserted to maintain the readers’ interest so as to be able to work in the supposedly unpalatable political points. Yet in reality these scenes seem to have an important point of their own.
MZ: At different points in the book, potential contradictions arise. Whether it be a continuity issue or a character’s age or maybe my own “voice” letting the reader in on a secret like using sex scenes to disguise the social commentary. I leave it up to the reader to decide what is true and what’s not. So, now that you mention it, I’d be curious to know what important point you saw being made by the sex scenes.
GE: I suppose in the way in which they were contrasted with religiosity. There is a puritan streak running in American society, while at the same time sexuality is used as a tool in advertising to push goods at us. Contradictions abound. In particular, religion tends to emphasize the denial of sexuality. Janie is the protagonist in your book, and you clearly are fond of this character. She expresses an acceptance of her own sexuality and not one imposed on her from the outside. Yet to me Father Gil in many ways the more interesting character. In effect, his position requires him to renounce or bury a part of himself that just won’t stay tied down.
Being in a position of authority also feeds Father Gil’s strong narcissism. Janie is something of a counter-foil for the religious “flock.” It seems to me that one of the main themes of the book has to do with the hypocrisy and misuse of religion.
MZ: Indeed. We all have a little Father Gil in us, don’t we? And I’m not just talking about sex and religion. Your phrase, “his position requires him to renounce or bury a part of himself that just won’t stay tied down,” could apply to most of us… in a wide range of realms. How cool would it be if we all tried to channel our inner Janie?
GE: Easier said than done, of course, and not without its consequences.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the prominent role humor plays in your book. In particular, I found the true stories quite funny. My favorite was the section dealing with Vinny. Do you have another story about Vinny you could share with us, one not in the book?
MZ: Back when we were all in our twenties, one of our friends was getting married so we took him out on the town. We ended up at Dangerfield’s, the famous Manhattan comedy club. Some poor comic is slogging through his act when Vinny yells: “Shut the fuck up.” Not the most creative heckle, but it got everyone’s attention. The comic tried a lame comeback and continued. Vinny did it again: “Shut the fuck up.” When the comic opened his mouth to reply, Vinny did it again: “Shut the fuck up.” He was saying it in a deep, singsong voice and he kept doing it until the comic surrendered. He probably said “Shut the fuck up” 20-25 times. To say my friends and I were laughing while Vinny did his thing would be a vast understatement. I guess you had to be there.
GE: Clearly Vinny never had an issue with burying a part of himself.
At several points in the book, you mention various characters’ favorite movies. It seemed like an interesting way of revealing something about the character. Was that your intent, and do you feel that what movies are important to a person reveals something about who he or she is? Which leads me to wonder what your favorite film is.
MZ: I guess knowing someone’s favorite movie can tell you something about them but then again, maybe not. I’m not 100% sure why I included that except to simply add more fuel to the fire… keep readers guessing. It’s like watching CNN with all those crawls and captions. You don’t know what to focus on. As for my favorite film, it depends on the day. I love the usual suspects (Citizen Kane, The Godfather, etc.) and speaking of usual suspects, Casablanca gets me every single time. But just as easily, I could name something like Harold and Maude. Suffice to say I’m a movie buff and that can help explain some of the formatting in my novel.
GE: Is there anything else you would like people to know about your book?
MZ: I guess I want them to know it’s funny, sexy, radical, perverted, provocative, and has been called “an orgasmic left revolt book” and “a novel about the end of the world that reads like a Stanley Kubrick movie of a Kurt Vonnegut novel cut into little pieces and spliced back together.” So, since it’s highly unlikely to wind up on Oprah’s Book Club any time soon, it can be ordered now at: Amazon and Raw Dog Screaming Press.