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Books on PAPERMAG: Adam Davies, Author of Mine All Mine

Rebecca Carroll

I first read Adam Davies about six years ago, when his debut novel The Frog King came out. The protagonist is a total asshole, but I somehow loved the book. Really delicious, rhythmic dialogue, smart-headed conversations between characters and a substantive, believable (if in a bummer-ish kind of way) plot. Since then, the novel has been optioned for film with a screenplay by Bret Easton Ellis, and very possibly Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role as self-centered cad Harry Driscoll.

I missed Davies’ second novel, Goodbye Lemon, but I sure as hell read his latest, Mine All Mine, which celebrated writer David Benioff calls in his cover blurb, “A rollicking, rocking good read.” I’d say that about sums it up. It’s a sleuth-type novel, a thriller of sorts -- neither of which, I must admit, are really my genre. But I admire good writing, in whatever form or genre it comes, and Adam Davies is just a honey pot, pure and simple. We met last month at an intimate luncheon for Mine hosted by Pineapple Express actor James Franco, a friend of Davies, at Michael’s restaurant in New York. Graydon Carter was there.

Here’s what Vanity Fair said about Mine All Mine: “[It’s] characters are addictive, and its tangled plot lines tie into a neat clove-hitch-knot at the finale, making this Davies's best book yet.” Who are you sleeping with at Vanity Fair and why was Graydon Carter at your James Franco-hosted book luncheon? And come to think of it, why did James Franco host your book luncheon?
I’ve made a few passes at Christopher Hitchens, but so far no luck. It would make it a lot easier on me if he could keep his shirt on in author pics.
I met James two or three years ago at Elaine’s and we had a fantastic conversation about books. We've been pals since. We don't play bocce on the weekends or anything, but he agreed to host the luncheon simply because he is just that nice. Ditto Graydon. He certainly didn't have to come out in support of a mid-lister like me if he didn't want to. He just likes my work enough to want to help me out, which is really refreshing in the publishing industry.

What's your position on Otto Starks, the main character in Mine? Do you back him, support him, like him, think he's a jackass?
I can't write a character that I don't love. So I can honestly say that yes, I think Otto is a jackass, but I also like him, love him and support him. A quick story to illustrate what is probably the defining characteristic of my aesthetic for the kind of characters I like to read about, and write about. My favorite passage in literature is from The Odyssey: “After twenty years of trying (more or less) to get home, Odysseus finally makes it back to Ithaca, but he is so transformed by age and suffering that he isn't recognized by anyone. But being good folk, the royal family, his family, takes him in. His nurse doesn't recognize him either, until she bathes him and sees his scar. She sees the mark of this old wound and recognizes him as the king.”

I thought this was such a beautiful moment because it is by our wounds that we are known. Our scars make us identifiable -- regal, even. So as a writer, and a reader, I'm not interested in perfect people. I'm interested in the wounded people, the flawed people, the people who have a great task ahead of them for which they are not prepared. I know I probably estrange some readers by writing characters that are this way, but what can I do?

I loved The Frog King -- you have such a good and level relationship with your narcissistic characters; how do you create these guys in your books, the leading fellows with all the issues and concerns?
I got a lot of positive reviews for that novel, but also a lot of slams and hate mail. One reviewer reproduced my author photo and ran a caption that said, “Even this guy's author photo is annoying.” And a reader sent me a Polaroid of the book jacket impaled with an ice pick. “I threw it in the corner and that's where it's going to stay because I will never lay another hand on that book,” she said. “And because of you I will never love again.” That one was sent to my home address, too, which still spooks me sometimes.

I'm not sure where those characters come from. Sometimes they just come out of me, fully formed, like Athena from Zeus' head, other times the sort of coalesce out of longing or love. Writers are often magicians who don't understand their own tricks. Or maybe that's just me. I hope not.

Two of your novels have been optioned for film -- when you're writing, do you ever think: “It would be better as a film if I had this guy do or say this”?
The Frog King has a great script by Bret Easton Ellis, and is very well poised right now. There's a chance the lead might be played by my absolute most favorite young actor on earth: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I hope I didn't just jinx myself. Mine All Mine has received an offer from Liz Giamatti [wife of actor Paul], with me to write the screenplay. I don't think about film when I'm writing, no. The requirements of film are so different that it isn’t useful to consider them while writing a novel.

Mine All Mine is good movie material -- what appealed to you about writing a sleuth-mystery book?
You know, I wasn't really thinking of writing in the mystery or thriller tradition -- and I've already taken some grief, rightfully, that I don't meet certain requirements of the genre -- I just wanted to write a story about love and theft; the idea of love and deception in relationships being fascinating, and nearly inescapable.

You teach writing at the Savannah College of Art & Design -– how do you teach writing, exactly?
Trying to teach someone writing style is like trying to teach someone how to taste. You can’t really do it. But you can teach certain strategies and techniques of story. The trick is to try to figure out what kind of writer each student wants to be and to then help him or her get there. You also have to ply them with reading. They'd all be much improved if they read PAPER. Can I get a comped subscription?

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