The author who coined a generation, Douglas Coupland


From University Wire (February 1, 2001)

by Sharon Steel and Kelly Wilson

BOSTON -- This past Monday, Muse had the opportunity to sit and chat with "Miss Wyoming" author, Douglas Coupland, at the Wordsworth bookstore in Harvard Square.

MUSE: How did you begin writing?

COUPLAND: By accident. I never wanted to be a writer. Now that I do it, there's nothing else I'd rather do. I trained as a designer and a sculptor, but I started writing about art as a very enjoyable way to pay my studio costs in two days worth of work. I mean, what a scam! I can't believe people actually get paid for this! It wasn't until I had been doing it for a year and a half that I realized I loved doing it and had a flair for it, and figured writing was what I should be doing instead.

MUSE: Has art been an indirect influence in your writing?

COUPLAND: Directly, not even indirectly. In my head still, I'm not part of the literary world. I write for the art magazines, not for literary magazines. A lot of ways in my head, pages in books should be glued to a wall so you can look at it that way instead of the book way.

MUSE: Is it true that you designed line of furniture that's about to come out?

COUPLAND: Oh, it's out already! Okay, this is like dirty little secrets time ... after I graduated from art school and before I went to school in Japan, there was a period when I had no idea what I wanted to do in my life. Art school in some ways prepares you for the sort term, it doesn't prepare you for the long term. So I got a job designing baby cribs. They had these really scary old cribs like something you'd see in mental institutions in the `40s. I just sort of made them look new. Half the baby cribs in North America were designed by me. No one knows that.

MUSE: Do you ever get tired of being "that guy" that coined the term "Generation X?"

COUPLAND: No, it's a book I wrote. That's all it's ever been. I'm proud of it. Say you had a kid who won a medal for doing the luge in the Olympics. "What's it like having a kid who won a luge medal in the Olympics?" "Umm ... I don't know, it's my kid!" So it's like ... I don't know, it's my book. Here's a cool question for you. How do you tell your parents you want to learn to luge? I guess you'd better move someplace where they have a mountain.

MUSE: Was "Life After God" modeled after a specific religious upbringing you had or lack thereof?

COUPLAND: My mom has a degree in comparative theology and my dad doesn't believe in anything. They decided to bring us up with absolutely nothing. My mother wanted us to make up our own minds, which is really nice of her. Someone told me that Jewish people don't believe in the afterlife. I thought, aahhh! I don't know what I believe in, but there's got to be something. The other day someone asked me if you ever worry about where you were before you were born? No. So then why should you worry about where you were after you die? I've felt really good ever since.

MUSE: A large theme in "Life after God" and "Shampoo Planet" seems to be nature. Is your ideal place to live in nature?

COUPLAND: My ideal place. Henderson Lake, British Columbia. It's in central Vancouver Island and it's the rainiest place in North America. It's just fantastic. I love rain. It's wild.

MUSE: What's one major thing you prefer about the U.S. over Canada?

COUPLAND: Good question. I never thought about it that way before. Well, Americans do things. I know that sounds really strange. Canadians sit around talking themselves out of doing everything.

MUSE: In writing "Miss Wyoming," how did you research beauty pageant sub-culture?

COUPLAND: I made up a lot of it. Like what's it's like to be in a soundproof booth. There's nothing on the subject. Well, it'll probably be plywood. And creating silence is too expensive, so it'll probably sound like the inside of a suntanning booth. In New York, when the hardcover came out, this woman asked me, "How did you know what its like to be in a soundproof booth?!" Research.

MUSE: How is "Miss Wyoming" different from your other novels?

COUPLAND: The other books are very meditative. With this one, the challenge was to just keep it going.

MUSE: Is it true that "Microserfs" is being made into a film? Who would you want in it if you could pick the cast?

COUPLAND: Oh, no, it got killed. It was all set to go at MGM but then the dot com crash happened and everyone panicked and said, "Who's going to want to read about a bunch of people in tech?" I'd want Joan Allen, I think she'd be great as the mom. You know who I like? Katie Holmes from "Dawson's Creek." I think she's just great! She's really neat.

MUSE: Are you working on anything new currently?

COUPLAND: Yeah, I am. My next book is done. It comes out in September. It's called "All Families are Psychotic." It's a very personal book, actually. I'm also doing this book right now for a Japanese company. They're publishing it directly into Japanese. There's nothing quite like it. Which means it will not find an audience, or really find an audience. So when I get back after dinner, I'll be typing away.