He debated Luna’s Dean Wareham on “Daft Punk, disco and whether pleasures should be guilty” on Salon.com, and contributed to The Wilco Book. His most famous novel, The Ice Storm, provides a snapshot of dysfunctional, self-absorbed parents in the ’70s, while Garden State examines the trials and tribulations of New Jersey adolescents circa the Clinton era. Moody’s latest compilation of essays, On Celestial Music (2012), muses on icons from Otis Redding to Velvet Underground and the Pogues.
Pop-culture acumen aside, award-winning author Rick Moody is more than a chronicler of zeitgeist through time. The 53-year-old’s works reveal an author in touch with the human condition and a special knack for pathos. He brings to life (and sometimes kills off) his characters with the honesty, quirks and salty tough love you’d expect from a Tri-State author. (He was born in New York City and grew up in Fairfield County, Conn.)
Moody’s other books include the novels The Diviners and The Four Fingers of Death. He has received the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, the Addison Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Paris Review’s Aga Khan Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Per the author’s request, CL interviewed Moody by email before his upcoming appearance at University of Tampa’s Lectores. The bi-annual event, presented by UT’s Creative Writing MFA Program, brings famous authors, musicians, poets and other luminaries to UT for a free lecture series.
CL: Pivotal situations in your books involve settings we’d identify with an era, from the 1970s swingers’ party in The Ice Storm to a rave in Garden State. To what extent do your own memories, emotions and experiences influence your recollections, and what advice would you give to writers who wish to re-create the past?
RM: I think memory is a good starting place when writing about the past, but memory is two-thirds desire and one-third fact. There’s always some longing, or some interpretation, that affects memory and how we conceive and reconceive of the earlier decades of our lives. So you had better have some factual basis for your historical settings, too. With The Ice Storm I did an awful lot of period research, even though I was alive during the November in question. Meanwhile, the best advice I can give about research is that research requires commitment. You want to live the time in question. What you don’t want to do is just vomit up a handful of factoids that you looked up on Google. These two things together — memory and research — are a good place to start with literature of the past. If that is your thing.
I’ve read that you sometimes don’t have events planned out ahead of time and let the situations unfold as you write. Have you ever revised your choices afterward? If so, could you give us an example?
I never outline. Outlining makes for books that feel outlined. These are plot-heavy or plot-driven books. I have to leave room for discovery, for the unpredictable flowering of character, or else I’m bored. And if I’m bored, you are definitely going to be bored. An example of a major change would be thus: in my third novel Purple America, I had a character who in the planning stages was going to be a villain (after all, he abandoned his terminally ill wife), and who then, with prolonged exposure, began to exhibit signs of virtue. I loved him after that.
Music has been very influential on you, and you’ve mused on bands through the years in On Celestial Music. Any plans for a Vol. 2, and have any newer bands come you’d consider including?
I have at least another 250,000 words of music writing, and I am now a regular contributor to Salon on music. So there’s plenty more where that came from. A few records I have liked recently are Wine Dark Sea by Jolie Holland, Open by The Necks, and Bob Mould’s new album, Beauty and Ruin.
See Rick Moody live with Susan Minot at the Lectores author event series Thurs., June 26, 7:30-9:30 p.m., at the University of Tampa.