"One of the best reading experiences I had in college was when I took a seminar on Patrick White. I remember being transported and having that ache to imitate. 'The ache to imitate' has been really strong for me always, and yet I never really feel like I can do it. This novel I set out to write a very different book than I ended up writing. I had big ideas of copying various books that I admired, or emulating them I should say, and I put this book through so many forms trying to emulate one thing or another, and the form it ended up in was just the only form it would finally work in, and it wasn't anything like how..."
"How it started?"
"Yes, it really wasn't. It wasn't anything like what I dreamed of doing, formally speaking. The book it came closest to is Benjamin Constant's Adolphe, a very short French novel, written in 1816, one of these just beautifully compressed little, totally interior products. I also read books like Silk, and Duras's The Lover. Also, The Good Soldier, the Ford Madox Ford thing, excited me."
In 1994, Mr. Duane's first book was published. I asked how he happened to start publishing so early.
"Tom Farber. He just was a guy off the street from my parents' street and my parents knew him from the neighborhood. Berkeley is like that. What a great town. My parents must have told him at some point that I wanted to be a writer. You know what it was like, I was skateboarding up and down the street in front of his house, and he one day stuck out a bony claw and said, 'Come inside.'"
"He said, 'I'll give you a book.'"
"Yeah, he did. And he gave me a book. I mean, he gave me my first book in that he held my hand through the whole thing. I was 21. I was rock climbing a lot at the time, and he gave me marching orders. He said, 'Look, there's a book right in front of you and here's how you do it. Just for the next few months do X and then report back to me.' So I did that ferociously and reported back. And then he said, 'Okay, now do Y,' and then I did that ferociously and reported back.
"I came back home from Cornell in '89. And I lived in Berkeley for a year. Then I got into graduate school at Santa Cruz. I lived in Berkeley for two years and commuted to Santa Cruz while I did my coursework there. My life then was really all about rock climbing and writing that first book.
"That was a great experience. I moved to Santa Cruz to study for my qualifying exams. Graduate school was never really for me. I'd only applied to graduate schools that were near good surf breaks. I went just to have a flag to fly under for a while. The job market was terrible, and I
didn't know what I wanted to do, and you could get funding and TA-ships, and I could read a lot, and blah, blah.
"But then as the years go by, people get further and further entrenched in what they're doing, and you start to want the thing you're doing to add up to something. So I did eventually want very much to be an English professor, but the truth is I was ill suited to the style of thought and style of life.
"Academia was not a good fit for me. So Caught Inside opened the door to a different way of making a living. When it came out, I had another chapter or two to write on my dissertation. Farrar, Straus & Giroux gave me a contract for another book, and I was asked to write for some magazines. While these wonderful things were happening I couldn't even get a preliminary interview for an assistant professorship at Southern Oregon State University. Life was nudging me one way and not the other way. And there I was. I was 28. It was scary for me. I was really scared, yeah.
"So I took this plunge of moving to San Francisco and seeing if I could make it just writing. I got to working on a novel, and I started writing for surfing magazines. I actually loved it. I was on a boat in the Galapagos Islands with all these loud, young professional surfers, and I had a moment of feeling... I just loved it. I felt like this is the way I want to be in the world more than being a scholar. I wanted to have this crazy engagement with things. I've been living exclusively as a writer since then in one way or another."
Mr. Duane finished his dissertation, titled Dark Carnival . He taught off and on. He lived almost exclusively on book advances. "And that is to say I lived very modestly. I did a little bit of other stuff here and there to supplement, but that was it. Then I got married and our first daughter was born. I was well into working on this novel when that happened. That was quite a while ago. I've been working on this novel for way too long. Seven years."
"This book was really very hard for me to write. At times the manuscript was 550 pages long. And then it would shrink back down again and then it would expand again and shrink again and expand again and..."
"Like an accordion."
"Yeah, my editor went through this with me for a long time. And he said it was as if the book was breathing. You know, it would inhale and exhale. I just had the hardest time settling on the very fine parts. It was pretty difficult material for me. I had a hard time deciding what the story meant to me."
"Did you ever decide that?"
"No. I don't mean to say that this was some colossal act of creation. Just that it was hard for me. And a lot of that had to do with material I was very uncomfortable dealing with."