Friday, November 23, 2007

Somerville Writer Nick Mamatas pens “Under My Roof"

Somerville Writer Nick Mamatas pens “Under My Roof"

Somerville writer Nick Mamatas is a novelist, short story writer, and essayist. His work has appeared in the Village Voice, the Mississippi Review, and numerous anthologies. His most recent novel is: “Under My Roof” (Soft Skull Press). In an article about Mamatas the book is described as: “… a short novel told from the point of view of a young telepath who lives on Long Island. His father has declared his independence from the United States and planted a nuclear device in a garden gnome on the front lawn.” I spoke with Mamatas on my Somerville Community Access TV show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: I’ve read a lot about the “Soft Skull Press.” a small press that publishes a lot of non-mainstream and innovative writers. Can you tell me a bit about them, and how you got involved with the press?

Nick Mamatas: It happened years ago. I was in a political group. I was thrown out of it. And I happened to see on the Web that the previous owner of Soft Skull Press was thrown out. So I wrote him a letter. I went to a party at his place, which at that point was a basement in Manhattan, where he worked as a janitor. He sort of roped me in to do work for them. I read the slush pile etc…Then a book came out “Fortunate Son,” published by St. Martins, which was a biography of George W. Bush. It was the infamous one that dealt with his drug abuse. Soft Skull republished it and it put them on the map. When I finished “Under My Roof” Soft Skull went under new management and I published with them, after being rejected by more commercial publishers. From the mainstream publishers, we got interesting rejections. I should mention “Under My Roof” is a book about a kid whose father makes a nuclear bomb. We would get letters like: “This is a really good book. You got the kid’s voice. Fantastic. Instead of a nuclear bomb can’t the kid have a girlfriend?” So we had to go an independent press like Soft Skull.

DH: If “Soft Skull” had a mission statement what would it be?

NM: Oh it has changed over the years. It started out primarily with poetry. It eventually moved to political nonfiction. 9/11 politicized it. It has gone back to fiction, innovative poetry, and graphic novels. It also has been sold. It is the imprint of a larger small press company “Counterpoint”

DH: Long Island seems an unlikely place for “Under the Roof” to take place.

NM: The most likely. Long Island is a very strange place. I grew up there. On some levels it is very suburban, with a shopping center, and a Starbucks in every town. But there is also an older Long Island that exists. That Long Island has local color and weird local traditions. There are people who are farmers and independent minded. Long Island is crazy both in the right and left wing. Long Island is a place where you go when you can’t deal with Manhattan anymore. There is a lot of high technology there, so to have a nuclear device somewhere can be a probability
DH: Would Somerville be a good place for the novel to be set?

NM: I don’t think so. Somerville has an idea of being free. Somerville probably has different countries in different apartments.

DH: The book has a very comical conceit. It reminds me a bit of Woody Allen. Have you been influenced by him at all?

NM: I like Woody Allen. But not this. Kurt Vonnegut would be more accurate for this. This book is really an adaptation of a play by Aristophanes.

DH: The kid Herbert Weinberg has a father who goes off the deep end. He has a lot of keen insight into the hypocrisy of the adult world; much like the protagonist in “Catcher in the Rye.” Could this be a 21st century version of the book?

NM: On some level. I am very interested in the idea of “Cult”fiction. I very much want a “Cult” audience, and have it replicate with every generation. The character in “Catcher…” has been crushed by hypocrisy. Herbert succeeds against hypocrisy. I wanted to raise the “freak flag” as cult fiction often does. My previous novel was about Jack Kerouac and H.P. Lovecraft, two other cult figures. I am really obsessed by cult figures and cult authors.

DH: What interests you about these disparate writers?

NM: On some levels they have similarities. They are both New Englanders; both tortured, and both lived with their mothers a long time. Both started movements. Kerouac the “Beats.” Lovecraft, the horror genre in the 20’s and 30’s. Kerouac was influenced by pulp or horror novels.

DH: I read in an interview that the Internet was instrumental in your development as a writer?

NM: I grew up in the Internet. I started using it in 1989. It was all text based. But there were a lot of people out there that I was exposed to. I learned a lot and I was in a good position to write about issues of emerging technology.

DH: How is the life of a freelance writer?

NM: It’s either feast or famine. There have been days when I made 6,000 dollars. There have also been years when I made 6,000 dollars. I live very humbly. I don’t have a car. I also teach at Grub Street. I write corporate copy for Websites. You can’t turn down anything. When you have to pay your bills writer’s block vanishes. I tell my students you have to be on time. It is more important than talent sometimes.

Dh: Do you think the ascent of the Internet spells the end of the book?

NM: The book is still revolutionary. It is infinitely tradable, and portable. It doesn’t break easily, easy to ship, and it is easy to learn how to use. The Internet will augment book sales.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:10 PM

    AFTER 9/11, U.S. society went a little bit nuts--that's the starting point of Nick Mamatas' satirical novel Under My Roof.

    The story begins when 12-year-old narrator Herbert Weinberg and his father Daniel build a nuclear bomb in their garage. Daniel's plan to buy commercial-grade uranium over the Internet and find 5,000 smoke detectors to scavenge for parts in the city dump may sound crazy, Herbert tells us, but "actually, the problem was that he was going mad more slowly and in the opposite direction from everyone else."

    The absurdity keeps escalating, toward an ending that I won't give away.

    In real life, the years since 9/11 have seen not only utter insanity in what passes for mainstream political discourse, but also an increasing rejection of the worst elements of U.S. society--especially among young people. High school students around the country led walkouts for immigrant rights on May Day 2006; on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, 250 students at Princeton High School walked out of classes in protest; and so-called Millennials, on college campuses, at work and in the military, are to the left of decades of prevailing social policy on issue after issue.

    It is young people like these, turning against the absurdity of American policies--within its borders and outside them--but often feeling alone in their critique, who I think will benefit the most from reading Under My Roof.