Oppgegaard Dec 2009

David Oppegaard's first novel, The Suicide Collectors, was something of a surprise to me: not quite horror, not quite psychological drama, not quite apocalyptic survival manual, but somehow all three of these things, and more (you can see the full review over on the reviews page).  I was contemplating how to go about getting an interview with him, when an email popped into my inbox: David Oppegaard was trying to whip up indie attention for his first novel!  It seemed like as good a chance as any, and so we sent the following back and forth through email:
 
Drew

One of the things that most struck me about The Suicide Collectors was that both Norman and Pops are very likeable characters; the lack of in-fighting and back-stabbing that generally characterizes 'road novels' is remarkably absent.  Did it seem necessary for them to be likable in order to survive the Despair, or did it just make sense that these two men would like each other?

 

David

That’s a good question. I’m from Minnesota, and I think a deep Scandinavian dislike of interpersonal conflict has been crammed into my brain since childhood. Seriously. I only argue with people I like and feel comfortable with. If I don’t like you, I’ll probably keep quiet and tune you out.

 

With that said, I think Pops and Norman were already good, casual neighbors before the Despair, and then the plague managed to bring them closer together as it crept into their small town.  It’s no accident the town’s last two survivors live next door to each other—they must have formed a bond that helped keep them going, a sort of unspoken, anti-suicide pact.

 

Drew

What makes a good sandwich?                                             

 

David

I love sandwiches of all kinds, but I have a soft spot for the most dynamic sandwich of the all—the fearsome Monte Cristo.  A Monte Cristo varies from place to place, but the best one I’ve ever had was a layered monster with turkey, cheese, ham, more cheese, squeezed together by bread, deep fried in batter, and then served dusted in powdered sugar with a small bowl of strawberry fruit preserve on the side for dipping.  I’ve been looking around the Twin Cities for its like ever since, and I am still searching.  My girlfriend thinks the Monte Cristo is disgusting and that I’ll lose readers by simply mentioning it.

 

Drew

Did you decide early on The Suicide Collectors was going to have an episodic structure, or did you just keep thinking up new ideas that didn't relate directly to the main character's narrative?

 

David

I knew it would be episodic, but that each episode would be shaped by the geography it occurred in.  I tried to make events that happened in Kansas or Utah or Seattle take on a distinctly local vibe.

 

Drew

Is it easier to start writing a book, or to finish one?

 

David

I think it’s easier to finish one.  When I see the finish line in the narrative, I start rolling downhill.  Finishing a book is payoff for all the legwork you had to do to get there, even if you need to go back and rewrite the ending the next day.

 

Drew

There's a long segment in the middle of The Suicide Collectors that's just Norman, on the road.  How daunting was that to write?

 

David

I thought it was crucial for Norman to be on his own for a while.  I’ve found that traveling alone in my own life has revealed things that I wouldn’t have seen if I’d been in the company of another person.  The biggest challenge of writing that part was moving ahead without much dialogue.  You’re forced to go into descriptive overdrive.  He did this.  He sat on that.  It was hot.  I don’t know how Cormac McCarthy does it, day in and day out.  He sat at the desk.  He drank his whiskey and thought of the boy.

 

Drew

Do you dream in color, or black and white?  First person perspective, or do you see everything like a film?

 

David

I dream in color.  They’re usually in first person, and every few months I have an incredibly vivid dream about the end of the world.  Zombies, bad weather, nuclear war.  I gave this habit to Anna Mayfield in my second novel Wormwood, Nevada.  Strangely, I always wake up from my apocalyptic nightmares feeling exhilarated and grateful for them. They spice things up.

 

Drew

Top five apocalyptic stories (films, books, short stories, anything).  Go.

 

David

Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

28 Days Later (movie)

Last Night (movie)

The Road Warrior (movie)

 

If you would’ve asked me at the age of 13, I would have included The Stand, Swan Song, and Terminator 2.

 

Drew

The Suicide Collectors has moments of great terror (there's a reason it was nominated for the Stoker), but also great moral dilemmas, and moments of great despair.  Which type of scene is the most difficult to write: abject fear, moral quandary, or utter despair?

 

David

I’ll go with abject fear. It’s hard to make a reader scared, and there’s a thin line between horror and comedy. If you dip into comedy too much, you can’t come all the way back.

 

Utter despair, on the other hand, is such a close friend of the young writer that I have an easy time dipping into that.

 

Drew

What is your literary guilty pleasure?

 

David

The New Yorker.

 

Drew

There's just enough humor tucked away into The Suicide Collectors to keep it from being too overwhelming; was that something you decided, or was Norman just a funny guy in your head?

 

David

I think his sense of gallows humor helps keep him going, as well as the reader, as well as me, as well as every sentient person on this planet.  If man is born to die, he might as well laugh along the way, right?

 

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