Interview with Daniel Wallace

daniel_wallaceDaniel Wallace is busy at work on a number of projects, following his novel Big Fish‘s adaptation to film, starring Ewan McGregor.   Wallace is the recipient of several humanities grants and awards including the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award as well as a North Carolina Arts Fellowship. He is also the author of The Watermelon King, and Ray in Reverse.Oh Great Rosenfeld!” He lives in Chapel Hill with his wife and son.

For Daniel Wallace’s Bio click here! He also recently finished writing and illustrating the novel, “

SLR: Good afternoon Daniel, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me.

Wallace: My pleasure.

SLR: Let’s start from the beginning for all those who don’t know you. Where you were born and raised?

Wallace:  I was born and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama.

SLR: And school?

Wallace: I spent two years at Emory and then two years at University of North Carolina, but I never graduated. Before getting my degree, I took a job with a trading company in Japan.  It was just what I thought I wanted to do — I studied business.

SLR: Not writing? Or literature?

Wallace: No, my focus was business.  I took a couple of writing courses, but no one ever said I was good or encouraged me to pursue it and I just really thought I wanted to work in the corporate world.

SLR: So what happened?

Wallace: Well, as it turned out, I wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t succeeding in the corporate environment, so I came back to the states, got a duplex in Chapel Hill and started writing.

SLR:  That’s seems like quite a jump.  What compelled you to write when you showed no interest in it before?

Wallace: That’s a good question.  The best answer I can come up with is that it just seemed like the thing to do–so I did it.  I liked it too, obviously, I like the process of writing.

SLR: So let’s talk about your writing.  You were about 25 years old, right, when you got the duplex and took to writing?

Wallace: I’m 46 now, yeah, I was 25.

SLR: You say you are more interested in the process of writing, could you explain what the process is for you.

Wallace: Discovering my own stories is what writing is all about for me.  I don’t start a story with a plot, or any kind of agenda, if I did, I think it would ruin the story. I’ve heard some people liken writing novels to being a puppeteer–always in control — its that way for me with the characters, but not with the story.  The story inherits a life that’s in the language itself.  I’m always surprised at how my stories unfold. I honestly don’t know where a story is going sometimes.

SLR:  In your last novel, Watermelon King — without giving too much away — did you know who Thomas Rider’s father was from the beginning?  That was a surprise for me.

Wallace: I had no idea until it came to the point in the story when Thomas needed to know and suddenly it was obvious to me who it had to be.  And the thing is, I didn’t want it to be him.

SLR: Me either, I thought I knew who it was, and I was wrong.

Wallace:  It was obvious to me who it had to be but not until the final chapters of the book.

SLR:  Some of the things I thought Watermelon King touched on were the absurdity of tradition, the contradictory judgments our society makes about sex, a small town’s desperation to exist, fitting in …  As the author, are these the sort of themes you came away with after writing it?

Wallace:  Yes, all of those.  The book is about all of those things.

SLR: Any writers you admired growing up?  Any that influenced you.

Wallace:  Kurt Vonnegut.  I can only write like me, though I think there are some similarities with his writing. But reading books by him and some others made me want to achieve the same sort of experience for other readers.  I wanted to give someone else the same feeling Vonnegut gave me in Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five.

SLR: Any others?

Wallace: J.D. Salinger, Walker Percy, especially The Moviegoer. The Moviegoer does an amazing job of balancing pathos and humor.

SLR: So, Daniel, what’s next for you?

Wallace: I’m working on a number of things.  I’m in the beginning stages of a new novel, several stories will be coming out in various publications soon, Oh Great Rosenfeld, and a screenplay.

SLR: You’re busy! Any time for reading just for your own entertainment?

Wallace: Sure, I’m reading a great book called Eyeing the Flash: Education of a Carnival con-Artist.

SLR: I’ll have to check that out. Carnivals make for some great stories. Thanks so much for talking with Southern Literary Review.

For SLR’s profile of Daniel Wallace,
click here!

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