Interview with Ryan Boudinot
As emailed to Dawn Nikithser
America didn’t used to look like this, Chiho thought from behind the windshield. There used to be people in all these houses…
Ryan Boudinot’s novel Blueprints of the Afterlife is very, very weird. It’s also very, very good, bringing to mind Vonnegut, Gaiman, Stephenson, and Ellison, and perhaps a pinch of Miéville. The book is New Weird, classic Dystopia, and straightforward Science Fiction – not by turns, mind you, but all at once. It’s not an easy read, by any means. But it’s definitely a worthwhile one.
Boudinot was kind enough to answer a few questions for Bookshelf Bombshells. Read on, and then check out both Blueprints of the Afterlife and the very cool website that goes with it.
Bookshelf Bombshells:Did you have any particular influences when you were writing Blueprints?
Ryan Boudinot: Other art — books, music, films — informs not just what I write but everything else in my life. As for Blueprints?, there were certain books I kept thinking about as inspiration — Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, the works of David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon. And I kept watching Alejandro Jodorowsky’s great film The Holy Mountain as inspiration.
BB: Why a dishwasher [as a protagonist]?
RB: I washed dishes as a teenager at two restaurants in my hometown of Mount Vernon, Washington. The first one, Cafe Europa, was owned by Kurt Vonnegut’s cousin Ken and his wife. I worked there for about a month. The other place was called Pioneer Pies. I washed dishes there for about two months. Everything I learned from those jobs is in the novel, though I can’t say my dish washing skills could ever touch the hem of Woo-jin’s apron.
BB: Dystopic fiction always seems to go in cycles of popularity, and yet never quite goes away entirely. What brought you to it?
RB: I don’t even know that Blueprints is dystopic. I consider it more post-post Apocalyptic. I may be splitting hairs here. I’ve always been a fan of post-apocalyptic films and books, among them Stephen King’s The Stand and those great Mad Max movies. And last-man-on-earth stuff has always excited me. So it has always been a dream for me to write something within this subgenre. But I didn’t want to do it unless I had something unique to contribute. I decided my contribution might be that I use it as a platform to ask what the ultimate purpose of human life on earth might be. As I wrote the book, I figured out that the answer I was happy with was that human beings are here to propagate life itself elsewhere in the universe, so that life will continue once we’re extinct. I honestly think that’s our next civilization-organizing principle.
BB: Blueprints is hard to classify. It’s part speculative fiction, part dystopic fiction, and quite a lot of Weird (both new and old). There’s also a sense of “literary fiction” to the writing style. Some authors and critics think genre-bending is becoming more common and therefore we don’t need to limit stories the way we used to, while others feel that genre classification (and, often, the biases that can come with that) are still very important to have. Given your position as an author of something that can be classified in the science fiction genre and as a faculty member in a respected MFA program, what do you think about it all? Why does the bias against genre fiction still exist?
RB: Let me unravel your question a bit. There’s a sort of status assumption in it, that because I teach creative writing in an MFA program I have a certain commitment to uphold “literary” values, whatever that means. Here’s what I think. I’m going to write whatever I want and the booksellers of the world can argue about where to shelve it. I understand that I get to be one of the writers who gets to determine the future of art in the written form. What’s important to me is blowing minds and changing lives. That’s the business I’m in. How the products of that mind-blowing and life-changing process are classified is really not interesting to me.
BB: What is in your pockets right now?
RB: My wallet, a guitar pick, and a pen.