Episode 537 – John Wray

Virtual Memories Show 537:
John Wray

“Metal bands are often referenced ironically or in a campy sort of way by pop culture. But I was interested in writing a novel that was really a celebration of this world and an investigation without prejudice.”

With his A-W-E-S-O-M-E new novel, GONE TO THE WOLVES (FSG), John Wray explores the metal scene of the 1990s, from Gulf Coast Florida to LA to the wilds of Norway. We get into his history with metal (starting with AC/DC), why he wanted his lead characters to be fans with no aspirations to be musicians themselves, the coolness fallacy of authors writing about rock music, the brief era where a band like Cannibal Corpse could sell hundreds of thousands of records, and why this was his most fun book to write. We also talk about the theology of Norwegian black metal, this book’s relationship to Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, his favorite drummer, and how he settled into Graham Greene’s writing practice of having a word count for each day. Plus, we discuss his recurring neurotic breakdown when a book is in galleys, his realization that his parents did not take his writing seriously (when he was an 8th grader), the process of renovating a brownstone in Prospect Park and renting out rooms to other writers (like Nathan Englander), becoming a dad in recent years (and failing to teach his son how to fly a kite), the tension between writing the books he wants to write and selling more copies, the risk of getting sued by Vince Neil, and a lot more. Give it a listen! And go read Gone To The Wolves!

“I’ve never encountered a novel about popular music where it didn’t feel like the author was trying to be cooler than he or she really was, and using music and the rock stars in them for their wannabe projections.”

“There’s far more of my own youth in this book than in any other book I’ve written.”

“After 20 years of writing books, I came to the conclusion that if you have fun writing the book, the reader might have fun reading it.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

John Wray is the author of Godsend, The Lost Time Accidents, Lowboy, Canaan’s Tongue, and The Right Hand of Sleep. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, a Cullman Fellowship from the New York Public Library, and a Mary Ellen von der Heyden Fellowship from the American Academy in Berlin, he was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists in 2007. A citizen of the United States and Austria, he lives in New York City. His new novel is Gone To The Wolves.

Follow John on Twitter and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at John’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4 digital recorder & interface. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of John in black jacket by Julio Arellano. Photos of John w/bitchin’ scar by me. It’s on my instagram.

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