Tell us about your most recent release.
Thank you, Dan. Latitudes – A Story of Coming Home, traces the life of a boy who becomes a writer, in other words a restless soul. It’s based on my own childhood, so maybe it’s a little self-indulgent. But it makes a good story. It starts off slow because it’s the world seen through the eyes of a child and the family is breaking up, but it picks up once he gets old enough to become interested in girls. It really becomes a story about friendship and how important we are to each other, especially in that fragile state of mind called adolescence. I guess the main point of the book is that every life is a work in progress, but the important thing is to keep working to get better.
What else do you have coming out?
I’m finishing up an apocalyptic thriller called Savior. It’s about a father and son trying to overcome the death of the woman who kept them together. It’s going well and I’m hoping to start shopping it around to small presses and agents in the spring.
Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?
I was an extra in Dune. That usually impresses people.
What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?
1984. Crossing into California through Tijuana. The US customs officer asks if I have anything to declare. I say: No, there isn’t. Minutes earlier, while waiting in the car line and thinking, what is that nagging voice, what could I possibly have to worry about? Besides having no documentation and no visible means of support for the last year. Oh, yeah, the peyote buds strung in a necklace around my neck. I guess I’ll just eat them.
What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer?
A reviewer on Amazon who said she could find no compelling reason to finish reading my latest book.
How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?
I try to look at the sociological factors that could lead said reviewer to an uncharitable opinion or a lack of understanding. It’s either that or slam something against the wall. But if you haven’t developed a thick skin as a writer, you haven’t been doing it right.
When are you going to write your autobiography?
Latitudes is fiction as memoir, or memoir as fiction. Take your pick. I will write the sequel, but not sure when.
Are the names of the characters in your novels important?
Not impressively so.
What about the titles of your novels?
The titles are important. I’m trying to sum up the idea of the book in a pithy word or phrase. My first novel was called Birdman. Because the main character was attempting a journey in Ireland disguised as an ornithologist, but it was also about his flights of fancy and his penchant for escape. Then the next book was called French Pond Road because it was about how the same character had found grounding in a very particular place. Latitudes is all about journeying to end up in the same place you started, back home. I just came up with Savior for the book I’m writing now because the main character is a boy who sets out to save his father’s life, but has no intention of stepping up to save an entire world.
Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?
Absolutely there are. Insanity, drink and drugs, social isolation. These are just the traditional hazards. Once you’ve worked your way through those, you can add the practice of an art form that has been in decline for fifty years and the trials of trying to revive the craft using a virtual world and virtual tools. There you have a recipe for a hard job. The best thing to do is: A.) Develop the thick skin mentioned above, and B.) Find a hardheaded life partner who doesn’t give a shit about your writing life.
What’s your favorite fruit?
How many people have you done away with over the course of your career?
Probably about a dozen.
Ever dispatched someone and then regretted it?
Have you ever been in trouble with the police?
Yes. Not anything where I would be in jail, but minor peccadilloes in my twenties.
So when were you last involved in a real-life punch-up?
The summer before college. I kept getting in fights that summer because my best friend was in the bad habit of going after other people’s girlfriends and I felt compelled to help him fight his way out of scraps. But the best was the rumble in the boardinghouse on the Cape. The police had to come and break that one up. There were literally bodies flying through the air.
If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?
Poison. There are so many slow-acting toxins. Impossible to trace if you are careful enough.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A successful, world-traveling writer.
What is your favorite bedtime drink?
A little glass of Benedictine. Seriously, turn on the tap in the bathroom and slug down some water.
Do you ever wish that you had an entirely uncreative job, like data entry or working in a factory?
Any job, any situation, is a good one for a writer because it is a lens through which to look at the world and gather inspiration. A so-called dead-end job could be a good thing, because you’re not using your mind as a tool and therefore sparing it for something more important. Lots of writers have gone this route. But the thing is, in the long run, deadening work is so unrewarding that it’s hard to keep your spirits up, especially for a writer that’s living a double life for a long period of time. Like me. That takes a lot of mental energy.
Do you believe in a deity?
Do you ever write naked?
No, it would be hard on the people looking through the window.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
I have no idea. Tom Hanks because I was sitting at a bus stop in Dallas wearing a suit after a job interview and someone came up to me and said I looked like Forrest Gump.
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
Everyone is different. For me, the most important attribute is persistence and self-belief. It also helps if you have hit bottom ever in your life and writing becomes your ticket to remaining sane. And then at some point you have to choose between self-destruction and remaining alive. You have to ask yourself – are you in this for the long haul. If you are, then you have to stay sane. Because it’s hard to write when you’re out of your mind.
Have you ever read or seen yourself as a character in a book or a movie?
Many times. Almost everything I ever read as a young kid. I always identified with the anti-hero. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the first time I remember being impressed by the depiction of a subversive hero in a system that doesn’t make any sense.
What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing novel?
Everyone and everything that tells you you’re wasting your time, from friends and family to the general culture.
What do you consider your biggest failure?
Attending graduate film school for a year and then dropping out when it became clear that I couldn’t write screenplays the way I was supposed to.
Do you research your novels?
The one I am writing now is the first novel I have ever done extensive research for. I’ve read books on the ancient roots of mathematics, on the Mayans, on Islam and the West, and on the latest breakthroughs in cosmology. It definitely made it easier to write once you have all the ideas and information you need worked out, or mostly so.
How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?
Before Latitudes, no direct impact, mainly because I stayed away for a long time from trying to describe a childhood that I found so problematic in so many ways.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
Friendship is the most important and greatest force in life.
Do you laugh at your own jokes?
All the time. Sometimes in front of my kids, which frustrates them no end.
Do you admire your own work?
Yes, although I also cringe at its faults.
What are books for?
Books are the sticky notes we write to future generations telling them what we have done and what remains to be done before the fat lady sings.
Are you fun to go on vacation with?
I tend to be manically fun, and then I get grumpy and mean if it rains. So yes and no.
How do you feel about being interviewed?
It’s an opportunity that you have to seize. I love getting to answer questions that are directed to only me. It makes me feel important, as if what I said was going to make a difference to someone.
Why do you think what you do matters?
I’m not really sure, but I know that it does. I like chaos theory, which has the corollary of the butterfly effect. These are scientists telling us that everything we do matters, that our words and actions are like the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings that can impact the weather across the globe. I would add to that our thoughts and intentions that can impact future generations.
Have you ever found true love?
Yes, I got very lucky. There she was one day in my life.
How many times a day do you think about death?
More and more I find it crossing my mind. I don’t think it’s ever real right up to the very end, though.
Are you jealous of other writers?
All the f…ing time.
What makes you cry?
The little things. I’m getting soft-headed. Most often it’s stories on the news, songs on the radio, looking at old photographs.
What makes you laugh?
I like Jon Stewart. He’s our Mark Twain.
What are you ashamed of?
Being too tired to play with my kids.
What’s the loveliest thing you have ever seen?
The head of my son, the whorls of his hair as he was coming into the light in the delivery room after a marathon 14 hour birth.
Anthony Caplan is a writer, teacher and homesteader living on a sheep farm in New Hampshire. He is the author of three novels and also blogs incorrigibly indulgent and self-satisfied posts on current events and his own mildly irritating obsessions.
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