John Wray Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

John Wray

John Wray

An interview with John Wray

Zach Galifianakis interviews John Wray about Lowboy

An interview with John Wray about Lowboy

How does this differ from your earlier work?
Although they differ from each other tremendously, my first two novels could both be categorized as historical, if one felt like applying labels: this time, I wanted to write as contemporary a story as possible, and to tell it as simply as possible. A few years ago, I came across an article in an Australian newspaper, about a manhunt for an escaped prisoner whose antipsychotic medication was wearing off by the hour, and I felt drawn to the subject matter immediately. The material then determined the style and tone—as straightforward and crystalline as possible—the way strong material tends to do.

Why the change?
I’ve always admired film directors, like Stanley Kubrick or Billy Wilder, who could go from directing a thriller to a period piece to a romantic comedy without missing a step. Also, I’ve resisted drawing too directly from my surroundings and personal history in the past, and I wanted to investigate that resistance, to challenge it a little. So I put much more of myself, and of my family and certain childhood memories, into the book. The result makes me somewhat uncomfortable now, but it undoubtedly helped the novel.

You actually wrote this book on the subway. Why? What was that experience like?
My reasons for writing on the subway were simultaneously practical and romantic: I liked the idea of being in constant motion as I worked, and also, of course, of spending as much time as possible in the environment and under the conditions I was writing about. But at the same time, I needed a place to work that was cut off from temptations like the internet and the presence of my girlfriend, who works at home. Also, it only cost four dollars a day—two if I never left the subway!

It turned out to be harder than I’d thought to concentrate on the trains, and for the first few weeks I was also hampered by my self-consciousness, which almost approached stage fright on certain days. But there are scenes in Lowboy that would never have been written if I hadn’t found myself in certain MTA stations, and many of those are my favorites in the novel. Rockefeller Center, for some reason, was especially fertile ground, and so was the out-of-service old City Hall station on the 6 line, which I snuck into on several occasions.

Lowboy is a paranoid schizophrenic. How does one write about mental illness in novel? How do you get it right?
Attempting to inhabit the consciousness of a schizophrenic was without a doubt the most difficult thing I’ve ever tried in fiction. I was helped, to some degree, by the fact that I’ve always been interested in mental illness, and by the fact that I’ve come into close contact, in my life, both with schizophrenia and manic depressive disorder; but writing from the point of view of a sufferer—and, above all, writing in a way that neither reduced the condition to a set of clinical symptoms, nor amplified it into the kind of caricatures of insanity that are so rampant in our culture—was a hugely daunting balancing act. What saved me, I think, was my decision to treat Will as a boy struggling with a set of conditions, one of which happened to be schizophrenia, rather than as a schizophrenic first and foremost. That tends to be how schizophrenics view themselves.

You touch on a number of themes—global warming, the perils of schizophrenia, a culture of violence—in Lowboy. What brought you to them?
One of the great privileges of being a writer—and, specifically, of being a novelist—is the opportunity to target one’s most acute anxieties in one’s work, and to tease a portion of them out into the open, if not exorcise them completely. My last novel, Canaan’s Tongue, was a deliberate attempt to channel my dismay and disgust at the Bush administration in some useful direction, and, to my great surprise, it actually helped me to cope. Will Heller’s anxieties and visions in Lowboy are very much my own (albeit—I hope—in heightened, intensified form), and I’m banking on the trick to work a second time. So far, so good.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Stranger on the Train
    by Abbie Taylor
    The opening chapter of Abbie Taylor's debut novel, The Stranger on the Train, took me right back to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Night Film
    by Marisha Pessl
    One of the central tenets of Hinduism states that the world as we know it is just an illusion –...
  • Book Jacket: Complicit
    Complicit
    by Stephanie Kuehn
    When seventeen year-old Jamie Henry receives word that his older sister Cate, is being released from...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The City
by Dean Koontz

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  40Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Who Said...

Never read a book through merely because you have begun it

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O O T F P, Into T F

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.