Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Salt Lake City Calling. It's Brady Udall! A Short Interview

Golden Richards, patriarch to four wives and 28 kids. Desperate for work, he takes a construction job for a whorehouse. His fourth wife, with only one child to her name (and not his) is making eyes at another man. One of his sons is in self-destruct mode. Brady Udall's book is all that and much more. It's the history of the American West, for goodness sake. Conrad finished reading it and wrote his staff rec almost immediately: "We've waited ten years for Udall to write another novel. At last it's here and it's great." He joins a good-sized list of Boswellians who are over-the-top in their praise of The Lonely Polygamist.

So many thoughts swirl through my head. Big fat books. Not looking so fat due to thick paper that is actually much higher quality than what we're normally seeing in hardcovers of late. A lot of enthusiasm among booksellers, but not as much as for Emily St. John Mandel's Last Night in Montreal. It's the #1 Indie Next Book for May. Here's her post for Micawber's on her visit to Minnesota in winter.

I'm trying to sort everything out. But mostly, I'm trying to translate this gibberish that I wrote down from my short interview with Brady Udall into something coherent.

I spoke to him when he had a free moment at the Hotel Monaco in Salt Lake City. (We stayed there when Winter Institute was in Salt Lake City. It's a long story about me booking late and getting a better deal down the block, not really understanding that in Salt Lake City, blocks are something like half a mile long. I do love the goldfish option. For a good time, browse the Kimpton website and pretend you are staying at these places.)

These interviews are hard. Does the author want to answer the same questions over and over again? What can you ask that other folks aren't asking? So I started with my "big fat book" obsession. It's my thesis that a book at 600 pages didn't start at 350, with the editor asking the author to add more. I guessed it was bigger.

Udall: It was originally 1400 pages. I had a lot more historical background. Royal had hundreds of pages cut. Beverly's story was told over 90 pages.

Goldin: You could publish a novel using material you left out.

Udall: No, I could publish six novels.

Goldin: What's the best thing you left out?

Udall: There's a scene where Royal, Golden's father, has a fight with John Wayne on the set of "The Conquerer." Wayne is playing Genghis Khan. Almost all of the people in the movie died of cancer from the radiation tests that were going on, possibly including John Wayne.

(Read more about this "travesty of filmmaking" here. The movie was directed by the Busby Berkleyan Dick Powell, and also featured Agnes "Endora" Moorehead!)

Goldin: How important was the nuclear testing to the core of your story?

Udall: It wasn't important at first. The more I got to know polygamous families, the more I saw how much it was a part of their lives. I saw my book as a history of the American West, and this was a part of it, a part that's not well known. It was only fifty years ago that our government was conducting radiation tests on its citizens.

Goldin to myself: history of the American West! Oh yeah, that was going on in there. Out loud: Did you have an outline for the book?

Udall: I didn't plan or write anything down. I didn't even write down the kids' names and ages. At one point a kid would be 15 and by 600 he would be 13. There are over 100 characters in the book. I slowly had to bring it home and refine the story.

Goldin: Was there a defining moment that led you to write the story?

Udall: There was! It was the gum in the pubic hair. I knew the book had a heavy subject and I wanted a goofy plot point driving it forward.

Goldin: I see The Lonely Polygamist taking an alien topic like polygamy and making it everyday. I compare your book a lot to Middlesex. Do you mind that?

Udall: No, I love that book. The strangeness becomes intimate. It's also a very human story against the backdrop of history. That's a very American way of writing.

I forgot to ask him about my Anne Tyler comparison!

Need more interviewin'?
Jill Owens of Powells talks to Udall on their website.

And here's one from Jenny Shankman on the New West site.

One last pitch! Brady Udall is not coming anywhere near Milwaukee, but if you live within 50 miles of St. Paul, I very highly recommend that you head to Micawber's to see Brady Udall on Wednesday, May 19th at 7 PM. This guy is the real deal and I'd hate for you to be kicking yourself later that you missed the event.

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