Schuler Guest Author Spot Inaugural Edition: Matt Ruff Day!
It’s like Rex Manning day up in here, but we’re celebrating the awesomeness that is Matt Ruff!
A fantastically quirky, genre-bending author, Matt has a large cult following, and a strong fan-base at Schuler. His newest book, The Mirage, has been getting starred reviews left and right – I’m certain this is the book that will catapult him to the front of literary consciousness!
Publishers Weekly (STARRED REVIEW) — “Both entertaining and provocative, exactly what the best popular fiction should be.”
The Seattle Times— “One of the most daring 9/11-inspired novels to emerge after that horrific day more than a decade ago.”
The Associated Press — “A unique and compelling read… the juxtaposition of realities provides keen insight into the real world.”
So here’s the first of our Schuler Guest Author Spots! Enjoy!
(And don’t forget that we’re giving away copies of The Mirage and Bad Monkeys — All you have to do is follow the Schuler blog or leave us a comment and you’ll be entered – you have til midnight tonight.)
Many thanks to Schuler Books for hosting an “official Matt Ruff week,” and for being so nice to me on my recent visit to Michigan. For my guest post I thought I’d do a short self-interview to answer some of the questions people are likely to have about The Mirage, beginning with the most obvious one:
What inspired you to write this?
The Mirage started out as a TV pitch. A producer who was a fan of my novel Bad Monkeys asked if I had any ideas for original TV series. One thing I was interested in doing was a story about the U.S. response to 9/11, something that would explore the political and moral issues surrounding that, but from a unique angle. And I hit on this idea of taking a War on Terror-themed thriller and setting it in a looking-glass world where America and the Middle East had traded places, and the 9/11 hijackers were Christian fundamentalists. That concept turned out to be a little too radical for television, so I reimagined it as a novel.
Is there a specific message you’re hoping to get across in The Mirage?
Not so much a message as an altered perspective. I’m a big fan of stories that show you the world you think you know in a different light, either by putting you in the head of an unusual character or by changing some aspect of reality and seeing what implications follow from that. But having raised what I hope are interesting questions, I think it’s more satisfying to let readers draw their own conclusions rather than push them towards a particular answer.
Your three protagonists are all Arab Muslims from Baghdad. You’re a Lutheran minister’s son from Queens, New York. How hard was it to write about characters whose lives are so different from your own? Were you worried about getting it right?
I think the key to successfully portraying characters from other cultures is first, do your research, but second, don’t get hypnotized into thinking the job is more difficult than it is. One of the more darkly comic aspects of Iraq War coverage was the tendency of news organizations to supply anthropological explanations for perfectly ordinary human behavior. So for example, CNN would do a report on Marines conducting night raids of Iraqis’ homes in search of weapons caches or insurgents, and they’d bring on some talking head to explain how this was hurting our image, because “it offends the Arab sense of honor.” As opposed, I guess, to the American sense of honor, which is totally OK with armed men kicking in the front door at two in the morning.
With regards to religion, I did try to be careful in dealing with specific points of Islamic theology that I’m not familiar with. But Islam is part of the same Abrahamic tradition as Judaism and Christianity, and when I hear Muslims talk about their faith and their relationship to God, they don’t sound alien to me. They sound like my relatives.
What do you say to readers who are intrigued by the premise of The Mirage but also wary of the 9/11-themed subject matter?
That I understand that sense of wariness, and respect it. One of the nice things about having an indie bookseller who knows your tastes, of course, is that you can ask their opinion about novels you’re unsure of.
The other thing I’d say is that while The Mirage is certainly a provocative story, what I’m trying to provoke is thought, not controversy. I’m not out to deliberately offend anybody, or to shock readers just for the sake of shocking them. And despite the subject matter, The Mirage is cautiously optimistic about the future. It ends on a note of hope.