Q: Good morning, Stephen.
Stephen Dixon: Good morning.
Q: How did you come to publish with McSweeney’s?
Dixon: I came to McSweeney’s through a student of mine, Lyndon Park. On the last day of classes, he approached me in a writing class, and said that he was an acquaintance of [Dave] Eggers and that he had heard that the book got rejected. Word gets around. Anyway, he said Dave was interested in looking at it. This was one year ago May. It marked the first time a student ever helped me get published. Saying, “Thanks. I liked the class, and by the way I have a publisher for you.”
Q: So it had been rejected?
Dixon: It had been rejected by about fifteen publishers. I had finished it a year before, May 2000. It got accepted in May 2001 and published in May 2002.
Q: Is that pretty typical for you?
Dixon: No, no, what’s typical is that a book is automatically published. My main publisher was Henry Holt. They published four of my books and re-published Frog, but I guess they got tired of me. They’d been my publisher for more than ten years, since 1991.
Q: Did you get any indication why, suddenly, this book was not accepted? Was there something about I.?
Dixon: No. You see Henry Holt always took my next book. If they hadn’t accepted 30, how successful would it have been in finding a publisher? My work had been published automatically about every two years. I don’t know what 30 or Gould would have done if Henry Holt has rejected them.
Q: Gould and 30 both came out in 1999, right?
Dixon: Sleep and 30 came out in the same year. And that was a fluke. Coffee House had accepted [Sleep] and took about three years to publish it. I think that’s what pissed [Henry Holt] off.
Q: I. seems to be pretty heavily drawn from your own life.
Dixon: Well, somebody else has told me that, and every single story is a fabrication, starting with the last one. That isn’t how I met my wife. Maybe the whole thing seems taken from life, because the character and I both have a wife and two daughters. I might take an incident and just run with it. There might be an incident from my own life and I’ll just turn it into fiction. What I do is imagine my family and fabricate. Interstate has these two girls, and I have two daughters. It’s more difficult to imagine having a son.
Q: I was thinking of the author chapter, where it seems you’re visiting your own last days, as if you could be Joshua Fels.
Dixon: Yeah. That would be projection. I should only be as successful as Josh Fels. It’s a composite figure, by the way. It could be the last ten days of I., and also I. as a young writer. You know, seeing himself get older. There’s an incident where an encounter happened between a famous writer’s wife and my own wife, and I just used it. I just use various scenes in my own life, and then just run with it to make a fiction.
Q: While you may not be facing the exact same things as your characters in your books, since it is fiction, do you still see the writing of this book as a kind of therapy for what may be going on with your family?
Dixon: Therapy in this sense. It’s really to go back to that word projection. I have in my work projected the worst possibilities for my family.
Q: Like Interstate, which is a series of projections of death and life, for the members of the family.
Dixon: Right. Well, I want all my work to be emotional. That’s why there are all these emotional things in there. Going back to Interstate, you know projecting the death of the daughter in the novel. But by the end of it both children have died and the reader is [having to decide] either it did happen, or it didn’t, but [the father] imagines it as if it is real, or it did happen.
Q: There seems to be a lot of that in I. as well. For example, “The Switch,” which is an entire fantasy sequence. Instead of just saying, “Oh, and he did this to his wife and treated his wife like this,” the chapter instead gives him an opportunity to be in that space, and then also tells us what it is like for him to take care of her.
Dixon: That’s right. If the reader is sleeping through the first few lines, they miss what happened. And I don’t take you out of that at the end. The switch is supposed to get a sense of his own character. If she’s doing that to him, then he’s doing that to her.
Q: You’ve developed this really unique style, with paragraphs that go along without a break, that makes for a rather intense reading experience. Is that something early on that you thought of as a way of getting across a lot of this emotion that’s occurring between characters?
Dixon: When I started it with Frog, I tried to vary it. But in Frog, for instance, there’s a paragraph that goes on for one hundred pages. It’s sort of a challenge to write something where the reader wouldn’t notice there wasn’t a period in one hundred pages. But it’s what you say: it’s for intensity. I just look for a natural place to spot, but I can’t find it, and I can’t stop until I do. But I think I’m coming out of it. I’ve been in a paragraph slump for twenty years.
Q: And you’ve already completed your next two books?
Dixon: Well, I’m finishing. It’s a trio, and I’ve finished Two and I’m finishing Three. And the reason I’m finished with the other one so soon after is that I finished the first nine parts, and the tenth part grew into a three hundred-page novel. You know you’re not a writer today unless you write a trilogy.
Q: So, is this your debut trilogy?
Dixon: Right, my debut trilogy. Well Gould and 30 are a diptych, so now I’ll have three. I won’t go to four. I have no idea what I’m gonna do after that.