Look Who's Talking: A Conversation with Wesley Stace

wesley.jpgIn his second book, by George, which hits shelves tomorrow, Fort Greene writer Wesley Stace weaves together the lives of two Georges — one a ventriloquist’s dummy, the other a boy named after the vaudeville doll — to reveal the dark secrets within a family of British variety show performers. Stace knows a thing about double lives: he’s also the veteran folk rocker John Wesley Harding, and will soon release his 15th album, which he recorded with the Minus 5. We talked about his work, the state of writing today, and his favorite Brooklyn haunts.

Which comes easier for you, music or writing?
Music comes easier for everybody — I mean, anybody who can do it and is into doing it. I could write a song this morning, rehearse it this afternoon, play it at a gig this evening, and be applauded for it. Whereas a novel — I’ve been working on my third novel all day today — and all I’ve fucking done is shuffle around notes on Microsoft Word. Writing’s just a pain. I mean it’s great when you do it and I think ultimately there is a more fulfilling sense of achievement… And also, I get that thing with writing that I never get with music, where however rusty the tap is or however crappy the water supply is, somehow it all starts flowing — and then you really lose yourself in it.

stace_bygeorge.jpgWhat gave you the idea for by George? My grandfather, who I never met, was a ventriloquist and I wanted to find his dummy. The reason I was looking for the dummy was a very famous review of Peter Carey’s The True History of the Kelly Gang that said it was “a dazzling work of literary ventriloquism.” And that made me think of how literature is ventriloquism — and that made me think, where was the great ventriloquist novel? Where was the novel that stripped the metaphor and put a situation in front of you where you want to know who’s doing the talking in the ventriloquist act?

Rick Moody once said in reference to your work: “This isn’t quite where literature’s at nowadays.” What did he mean by that? I think what he meant was there’s a kind of orthodoxy of writing school programs and types of writing at the moment. You [go to] a reading and the guy’s first line is, “I saw another fat chick I fancied today.” And immediately, you’re in that world where you’re like, ‘ok, we got a character, he’s kind of weird, he’s going to be this knowing, ironic voice the whole way through. A lot of writing [today] is just very ironic, very worried about itself and very worried about being straightforward and honest — and I don’t think my writing’s like that. I really like Dickens and I really like [Henry] Fielding and I’m really trying to tell a story as well and in the most effective way that I can.

Do you have any contemporary literary heroes? Of course! I’m a big fan of Sarah Waters [Fingersmith], and I’m fan of Jonathan Coe [The Rotter’s Club] And I’m a huge fan of Alan Hollinghurst [The Swimming Pool Library].

Are there any local writers you like? I really like Chris Sorrentino‘s last novel, Trance. David Gates is a very important writer to me. I like Joshua Ferris‘s first book [Then We Came to an End], Darrin Strauss [Chang and Eng], David Grand [Louse]. I have to admit that me and my friends go a drinkin’ to the Brooklyn Inn every now and then — and it’d be just rude if I didn’t read their novels, since I like ’em so much. And I think everyone I’ve mentioned in that previous list has bought me more than one drink.

What are your other Brooklyn haunts? Well, I hang out a lot at home because I have a 14-month-old daughter, so my wife Abbey and I are not eating out quite as much as we were. But we still do go out quite a lot because Tilda, my daughter, is very good in restaurants, and we found a very exciting new restaurant called Hibino on Henry and Pacific and it’s absolutely fantastic. Hibino is a Kyoto-style restaurant which is all about little bits of food, almost like tapas. And I will tell you–and it’s a secret I don’t even want to give away–but that is the best $8 lunch you will find anywhere. It’s called a mini Obanzai, and I think the choice [when we went] was shrimp shumai, which was spectacular, or the potato croquette, and a little salad and miso soup [Ed.’s note: daily specials are posted here]. For $8, I cannot imagine there is a better lunch.

Stace will read from by George this Thursday, August 23, 7pm, at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble.

Sent by Nicole.

Brooklyn Based delivers free daily emails about the borough's best food, events, attractions and innovators. Get Brooklyn Based in your inbox--sign up here.