August 8, 2016
The Melville House Book Group talks with Christopher Boucher, author of Golden Delicious
by Chad Felix
This past July, the Melville House Book Group met up at International Coffee HQ The Brooklyn Roasting Company in order to indulge in caffeination, conversation, and this month’s world-improving bundle of words, Golden Delicious by Christopher Boucher.
To our great pleasure, Boucher agreed to participate in our discussion by taking some of our questions, which he responded to over email.
Melville House Book Group: When you’re writing in these wild alternate realities, do you think of the rules as you go? Are they arbitrary? Premeditated?
Christopher Boucher: First, let me thank you for taking the time to read and discuss Golden Delicious—I’m honored! I don’t consider the rules of the fictional worlds in my books arbitrary, but they’re not premeditated either. With both books, I tried very hard to let the writing lead the way—to follow a premise or sentence and see where it took me. I didn’t originally plan for Sentence to be a notable character in the novel, for example; I wrote an isolated story about a pet sentence a few years ago, and only later realized that it could be an important thread. I pursued that particular convention, though, because it struck me as organic and true. I think most writers have the experience of their writing “talking back to them”—I certainly do. Furthermore, I love how language can “run away” on you—lead you to new places, that is, or surprise you with unintended meanings. The living language in Golden Delicious gave me a fun way to speak to these ideas.
MHBG: About a quarter of the way through Golden Delicious, many of us stopped trying to figure out what each metaphor stood for (i.e. what is the equivalent of a talented auctioneer in our reality? Actors also exist in Appleseed…). Does everything have a parallel to our reality?
CB: These are great questions! While some elements certainly do have a metaphorical meaning—the happiness taps, for example—not everything has a parallel. If it did, I’d worry that the language would read like a code, and thus, keep readers at a distance. I didn’t think of the Auctioneer as a metaphor; I found her character interesting, rather, because her vocation and trajectory seemed to further some of the novel’s central inquiries: those concerning personal agency, for example, as well as family dynamics and the possibilities of language.
MHBG: Do all of your stories inhabit the reality you created in Golden Delicious and How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive?
CB: They don’t, but many of them do include elements of surrealism. The world of my story “Slippery,” for example, isn’t quite the same as Golden Delicious (which isn’t quite the same, in turn, as HTKYVA), but there are similarities: the speaker in “Slippery” has his head opened up, for example. Ultimately, I try to prioritize the emotional arc of the story over any gimmicks, inventions, or weirdnesses, and to let the characters’ plights dictate which conventions I revisit and which I jettison.
MHBG: How much of your use of language (surrealism/alternate reality/metaphors, etc) is meant to be a commentary on our own reality and how much is just… fun, playfulness with language? It sometimes seems your word choices come from whatever sounds good and makes for a memorable sentence.
CB: You’re right about that! While some of the invented words I use have a counterpart, most of them just allow me to enunciate the music of the sentence. I try to be careful with invented words, and to omit them if they seem to simply create static or confusion. I’m sometimes drawn to those off-notes and strange tones, though, in the hopes that they keep the reader engaged and aware. They certainly serve that function for me as I’m writing; they keep me in the moment of the sentence, and attuned to its possibilities.
MHBG: At its core (sorry), Golden Delicious is a heartbreaking story about an American family that has fallen on hard times. Can you speak to the ways in which the novel’s relatively straightforward plot interacts with the overtly experimental telling of the story? And which came first for you, the story or the style?
CB: The style, absolutely—when I’m writing, I’m almost always thinking at the level of the line and the possibilities therein. The plot usually sneaks up on me, in fact; with both of my novels, I didn’t see the shape of the book until I’d written well past the central arc. Now that I think about it, though, I think that dynamic—between the straightforward plot and the nontraditional style—likely serves an important purpose for me: the “macro-plots” in my novels seem to help me clear temporal and logistical space for the “micro-plots” (the arcs within the vignettes themselves). This isn’t so different from a sitcom, where the single episodes often move much quicker than the show’s season-to-season trajectories.
To be clear, though, this isn’t a very efficient way of working—it requires a lot of overwriting, and a faith that my investment in each line will somehow eventually cohere into a story. I envy writers who can think structurally about their writing, but I want to give the language the chance to surprise me, and to lead me down a path that I couldn’t have planned for.
Want to join the Melville House Book Group? You absolutely should. Details about our next meeting, which takes place on Thursday, August 25th, can be found here.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.