An excerpt from Brian Joseph Davis’ forthcoming Believer interview with Mark Leyner, whose third novel, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack will be published in March
THE BELIEVER: You killed the character of “Mark Leyner” at the end of The Tetherballs of Bougainville and in the new novel there is no Leyner character. Despite a 14-years-long gap, it seems like you had a consistent plan with where your writing was going.
MARK LEYNER: I know it seems like I made some great religious repudiation of fiction writing. I wish! I should. But it’s a very easy thing to explain. In terms of the work I did feel like I should stop for a while. I thought at the time, looking at I Smell Esther Williams throughThe Tetherballs of Bougainville: here’s a full demonstration of these postulates; here it is, to the extent that I’m able to do this and show how this might be done and okay; that’s good for a while. I also remember trying to resist this as a career. It is my life. The most deeply felt, most profoundly felt thing that I do is this work, but I was trying to resist this idea of having a new book every couple of years so you could renew your membership.
BLVR: It’s easy to have that panic though.
ML: It is. And when I had my daughter and started thinking about money in a certain way some opportunities to write scripts came up and I saw script writing as a tangential adventure, a more lucrative version of journalism or teaching. The idea of me doing that seemed much more outlandish than script writing—I’m not a good teacher.
This adventure isn’t over, I’m still working on some projects but something interesting happened to me, and it’s a great deus ex machina. I got hit by a car in L.A. when we were doing postproduction on War Inc., which completely fucked my knee up. I flew back and I couldn’t walk for a while and just started reading in a different way. It was an enormously galvanizing experience to me and I decided: it’s time. Enough time had passed and I had ideas on how to proceed without just redoing something I’d already done. I was making progress on the novel—it was due sometime—and I had at least a hundred pages of notes for what I was feeling was the last third of the book [The Sugar Frosted Nutsack]. Then I got an incredible case of the flu, or maybe I’m just being vain about it. But this is my version of the flu and I’m lying in bed, and I can be very dramatic when I’m sick. I moan and thrash and ask people to bring me things. I’m hot then cold. I couldn’t eat anything. My wife brought me food from McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts and I couldn’t even eat that. I had a complete, universal revulsion about everything, including my book. Not what I had already but all my plans for it. It was an enormous problem and I decided on a radical upheaval in the book, which turned out to be the perfect thing. I can’t imagine what the book would have been like if I hadn’t done that. It involved inventing two characters. One of those that had been very peripheral but became very important is Meir Poznak. I needed a character to come and dramatize or express my revulsion at a long, well crafted dénouement. It was sickening me that I would fall prey to that! The book is fated from the beginning and I was very clear about this. I wanted the reader to feel as if everyone knows this story as it’s an epic based on a myth.