Saunders: I love doing it. It’s really enjoyable. And I think those stories really cracked open my thinking and led to this book — being out in the world and having to describe things. So in my mind, I’m thinking, If I ever get a little bit sedentary in my fiction, then I’ll definitely take one of those trips, because it busts open the world and makes things seem fresh again.
Jill: Here at Powell’s, you’ve had lots of die-hard fans for years, but I was talking to two different people in publishing last night about you who said, “Where did he come from?” They hadn’t heard of you until this last book. How does it feel to suddenly be topping bestseller lists?
Saunders: Well, Powell’s has always been so good to me, since the very, very beginning, so I hope to convey some of that appreciation when I come out there. But it’s been a really interesting month, basically, since the book came out. I don’t quite get it. [Laughter] It’s really fun, and I’m thinking about it, for sure. Probably too much, but I don’t really understand what happened.
I mean, that New York Times piece was so incredible, with that headline that was such an ornery throwdown. That was great. But my wife thought that if you look at it as a line, maybe one end is dark, edgy, weird, and the other is the opposite of that. She thought maybe the culture moved towards acceptance of weird, dark, edgy, and I maybe moved a little bit in the other direction — a little more accessible, a little less hesitant to be realistic. So maybe there’s some kind of happy moment where those things crossed.
But I’m really enjoying it and trying to treat it a little bit like a science experiment, like: What is it like to actually get more attention? It’s very interesting when you think about the fact that most of the people in our country who run shit are people who have had 10 times more attention for a long, long time — our politicians and musicians and actors and directors. They operate in a zone that’s a much more exaggerated version of this all the time. That’s interesting anthropologically because what I’m noticing, just in my baby way here, is that when you get a lot of attention, your mind does this thing. It turns towards you and your phenomenon. Whereas a fiction writer’s mind should be turned outward. It’s kind of like a birthday syndrome. On your birthday, you’re so happy because everyone’s bringing you cake and stuff. And then the next day, you’re like, Hey! Where’s the fucking cake? [Laughter]
So I’m taking this as a hopefully brief opportunity to see how the other half lives and maybe write some stories about it. I understand narcissism better than I did a month ago. It’s almost a natural human tendency if you’re getting approval that you want more, and you become a little full of shit. It’s like if you eat a lot of beans, you’re going to get farty. [Laughter] It’s not a character flaw; it’s just what your body does in the presence of too many beans. But it’s been a lot of fun so far.
Read the rest of the Powells.com interview with George Saunders.