I read The Year of Dan Palace by Chris Jane recently and was really impressed by the quality of the writing and the originality of the story. My review is on this page if you missed it and there are some excellent reviews of the novel at Amazon.com.
I was delighted when Chris Jane agreed to answer some questions about The Year of Dan Palace.
Why did you write The Year of Dan Palace?
As little kids riding in the back seat of my dad’s car, my sister and I would hold our breath every time we passed a cemetery. To let it out before the last headstone was in the rearview mirror was bad luck (death, most likely). I held onto that superstition until I moved into a little house directly across the street from a cemetery.
Before moving in and waking up every day to headstones glowing in morning sunlight, jutting out of a low fog, or capped in snow, I was still a little like the child in the car who’d thought death unacknowledged didn’t exist. I was also like any number of people who know they’ll die, sure, but they don’t believe they’ll die. You can tell they don’t believe it because they drive drunk, text while driving, or wear dark clothing at night while walking alongside a busy road. Like them, I believed, “Death is something that happens to other people, not to me.”
But while living across the street from the cemetery, I’d watch as, every other day or so, this little yellow backhoe trudged along the path, stopped near this or that vacant patch of grass, dug a hole, and drove away. The mourners would come, stand around the raised casket that had been positioned over the hole, and then, when the service had ended and the body had been lowered into the ground, make their way to their cars. After the last car had driven away, that slow, yellow backhoe would chug back over to dump scoop after scoop of dirt on top of the casket until the hole was filled.
It was a very reliable routine. It pounded into to me, “Someday, no matter what you do, this will be you. This will be you. This will be you.”
I started thinking about life, and about how much of it isn’t lived. A cliché idea, that life should be lived to the fullest, but usually just that – an idea. But why? Why don’t more people break routine, escape a moderately satisfying but in no way gratifying position of security, to do what they want to do, live the life they want to live? And if they did, how would that affect the people closest to them?
The Year of Dan Palace answers those questions. For Dan, anyway.
What kind of reader would enjoy The Year of Dan Palace?
I’d like to think almost any kind of reader would enjoy The Year of Dan Palace. But the reader I’m almost positive won’t enjoy it is the one who, upon reading in the synopsis that a man delivers a doomsday prediction, 1) assumes there will hard-hitting action, guns, possibly some torn shirts revealing heaving cleavage, and buildings exploding in clouds of fire and brick dust, and who 2) does not like having his or her expectations not met.
How did you develop your characters?
In the case of this book, backward. I’d always known what I wanted their relationships with one another to be, but it took a few revisions to figure out who they were and why their relationships were what they were. The process led with behavior and ended with motivation.
What has been the biggest influence on your career as a writer?
Other jobs. Not writing creatively and becoming unmanageably irritable. But more than that, having a spouse who is loving and generous and who has twice given me permission to quit my day job – once as a cab driver, and recently as a daily newspaper’s feature writer – so that I can stay home and write. And mow the lawn and shovel and weed and grocery shop. I try to earn my keep.
If you don't mind answering - Are you working on any new writing at the moment?
I am, as of today. Until today, I’d been occupied with putting together sets of questions for “5 On,” an interview series on Jane Friedman’s website (the series asks writers and others in the publishing industry to answer five questions about writing, and five about anything having to do with the business of publishing - as entertaining as it is educational).
Now that I’m ahead of schedule, there’s time to play with a vague outline that’s been sitting around on a piece of paper for about a year. The only hold will be choosing names. I thought I’d have the villain’s (for lack of a better word) taken care of this morning when I saw a man in Starbucks I don’t like based on overheard conversations, but I forgot to ask his name on my way out. I might go back tomorrow. He’s there every day.
Thank you so much Chris for taking the time to answer my questions and hope to hear more about the man with no name soon.