January 20, 2009

Zachary German tells Tao Lin a thing or two


Zachary Geman

Zachary German (photo by Jamie Sterns)

Zachary German (b. 1988) is the author of the forthcoming novel Eat When You Feel Sad (coming from Melville House in early 2010). He lives in Brooklyn and blogs here. Tao Lin interviewed him for MobyLives via email:

Tao Lin: Your first novel Eat When You Feel Sad I feel contains by far the most extreme example of a certain kind of prose style, did you ever think about that, what thoughts occurred?

Zachary German: Early on, I had rules in my head like “Have every sentence be a concrete statement” and “Make it linear.” I also thought about rules that I feel many people follow that I would kind of intentionally break, though I don’t feel like I can very accurately put those rules into words.

As I worked on the novel my definition of “concrete statements” became more narrow. One example of that is the removal of sentences like “Robert feels sad.” The final draft of the novel still contains sentences like “Robert thinks, ‘Sarah Michelle Gellar is hot.’ ” In my next novel I’m considering not including sentences like that.

Also, at some point in the editing I decided to remove all compound sentences.

I liked using this style. It allowed me less choice about sentence structure, but made me focus more on the importance of more subtle choices. More than any other aspect of editing, I focused on choices like “Robert picks up the glass” versus “He picks up the glass.” While insignificant when taken out of context, I think that choices like that, inside a paragraph, are what makes it good or bad, to me. I have memories of reading a paragraph I wrote earlier and thinking it was bad, then reading it closely and changing “Robert” to “he” and vice versa many times, then reading it again and thinking it was good. The choice of where to place descriptive sentences in a paragraph consisting mostly of sentences in which the character does, says or
thinks something was also something that weighed heavily on my mind.

What are some of the thoughts you had that caused you to decide to remove all compound sentences?

By only including simple sentences, the same sentences will appear countless times in the novel. I see that as a sign of consistency, which is something I wanted. Whereas compound sentences would more likely be unique, therefore less consistent.

Can you talk about “consistency” re: Eat When You Feel Sad?

Having Eat When You Feel Sad be the most consistent novel of all time has long been a goal of mine. During the last three months of editing, in particular, I thought only about consistency. I would see
that I had written “Robert turns off the light” and “Robert turns off his light,” both in reference to the same light, at different points in the novel. I worked hard to “fix” instances like that. I used Microsoft Word’s “Find and Replace” function a lot.

What did your mom say about Eat When You Feel Sad ?

When I told her someone had accepted it she sounded surprised and upset. I think she said standard congratulatory things. Later she said something about how it might do well.

Can you write a hypothetical last paragraph of a long review of Eat When You Feel Sad in Bookforum?

“…The most distinctive aspect of German’s voice is, to be sure, its refusal to make the choice between concession and rebellion. ‘Robert,’ in a tradition dating back to Camus’s Meursault at least, is a
decidedly unperceptive man. He functions in society, has friends, feelings, and yet for the life of him cannot seem to…”

I don’t think I did it right. That seems more like a middle paragraph. I don’t read Bookforum enough. I’m sorry.

Can you write a hypothetical 3-sentence “blurb” of Eat When You Feel Sad in a sidebar in Nylon Magazine?

YouTube heartthrob Zachary German’s debut novel is full of the inane hijinks you love seeing him get into on the ‘net. Includes all of your favorite activities from the web including eating, reading, and otherwise being alone. Pay close attention for repeat cameo appearances by Zachary’s cat Shirley (uncredited,) viewed over 200 times in the YouTube video “video of me and shirley listening to the rolling stones.”