WC iUniverse Special


From WC iUniverse (February 3, 2000)

According to Pantheon Books, Douglas Coupland's six other books, combined, have sold nearly a million copies in the U.S.alone.  They've been translated into 22 languages.  Canadian born Coupland may have started out the voice of Generation X, but he's blossomed into much more than a generational author. He stopped by the iUniverse #cafe to discuss his work as a contributor to the New York Times, Wired and the New Republic, as well as his stunning new novel, ''Miss Wyoming.''

After ten minutes struggling with Internet demons, Community Host Kelly Milner Halls called Douglas Coupland at his Madison, Wisconsin hotel room and transcribed his responses by telephone.

Douglas Coupland: Hello everyone.  Yet again, my Soviet woodburning laptop computer has failed me.  Kelly will be my magic eight ball for this evening's discussion.  She is my eyes and my fingers.  I have always wondered what it's like to be on the other side of a seance...I suspect it feels a lot like this.

Kat91: What do you do when your motivation as a writer lags?

Douglas Coupland: Hello Kat.  That's a good question.  Let me think a second. Usually, I take my pruning sheers and drive around where I live looking for unusual plant specimens to use in Japanese Ikebana flower arrangements.

There is something eternal, soothing and non-verbal about working with plants. For some reason, plants are able to shake my Etch-a-Sketch clean.

OiVey: When did the true "Gen X" generation begin and end?

Douglas Coupland: Hi OiVey. In my mind, there was never a specific year to year. My thinking is that when I was growing up it used to always annoy me when Jane Fonda-style baby boomers talked about drugs and Vietnam and they always used the pronoun, "we," instead of "I."

It really drove me nuts that I was supposed to be a part of this huge group of people with whom I shared almost no collective memory. I mean, what - the Woodstock people are the same as the punk rock people? Oh please. So, whenever people stop using the pronoun "we" and begin using the pronoun "I," then I think you're in "x" territory.

The spokesman thing has always annoyed me, as I'm sure you know, because the dominant indicator of x-osity is an unwillingness to speak for any experience base other than my own.

Kat91:  Was it hard to live up to the expectations set by your first novel, ''Generation X?''

Douglas Coupland: No.  I always do what I'm going to do anyway.  Plus, I live in the middle of nowhere, so the gravity of expectation, high or low, isn't really part of my day to day life.

Ryan: Good evening Mr. Coupland.  What should I call you?

Douglas Coupland: If you're a biological family member, you can call me Dougie.  If I went to elementary school or high school with you, you'd call me Coupland.  If you'd gone to art school with me, you'd call me Dougall. If I you'd met me after 1993, it would probably be Douglas - except in Quebec, Kentucky, parts of Mississippi and the Florida panhandle.

I have a question from me...has anyone had any update on Kurt Vonnegut's condition in the hospital?

Kat91: Last I heard about Vonnegut, he's suffering from smoke inhalation, but haven't heard more.

Douglas Coupland: Thank you, Kat91.

Kim: I read somewhere that you really grieved Dr. Seuss.  Why does he have such significant impact?

Douglas Coupland: It's strange how certain people - like Dr. Seuss - touch your lives in such deep ways in that you never even knew they'd done so, until they were gone.  Another example is Jim Henson.  I never would have expected how sad I felt when I heard that he had died. And, to a lesser extent, Kurt Cobain, though it wasn't really a surprise with him.  I always sort of had the feeling that something would go wrong with Kurt.  But getting back to Dr. Seuss, yeah, it made me sad.

Kelly:  In ''Miss Wyoming,'' I have to know, was the plane crash inspired by the crash in Sioux City, Iowa?

Douglas Coupland: Actually, indirectly yes.  There is a wonderful movie staring Jeff Bridges called ''Fearless'' which has to be, without a doubt, one of my top ten favorite movies.

The crash in ''Fearless'' was modeled after the Sioux City crash. I think what made both crashes so, I don't know, creepy was the presence of corn. That sounds so stupid, but I think it's the clash between corns being so eternal and planes being so much of the future that the Sioux City crash becomes so riveting.

Sassone: Mr. Coupland, what are your daily writing rituals/schedules?

Douglas Coupland: Hi Sassone.  I actually ask this question of all other book writers who I bump into, and what I've found and perhaps Kelly from iUniverse could back me up on this, is that book writers are either early birds or night owls - there's no in between. I'm not sure why this is, perhaps something to do with sleep cycles.

I'm a night owl - probably always will be - and I write in long hand and on scrap paper at that (a superstition I can't seem to shake).  This is always about two hours before I fall asleep.  After I finish writing I have to read fiction or else I can't sleep. Nonfiction doesn't work - another weird bug I'll probably never be able to shake.

Kat91: Many critics have said that both your book and Generation X are cynical.  What do you think of that?

Douglas Coupland: Cynical?  No, period.  Ironic? Absolutely. Un-ironic? Absolutely - very ironic.  I think that I would really like to get a bumper sticker made that says, "Honk if you know the difference between cynicism and irony."  There is a distinct and powerful difference between the two.

Cynicism is kind of corrosive and only the Brits can do it really well, whereas with irony, you're assuming that you're readers are intelligent enough to understand the irony - and I like to think that I have smart readers!

Imagine, having to go through life with no sense of irony - imagine taking the world at face value - what could be more hellish than that? There is no way to navigate the postindustrial landscape without irony.

Laura:  I am a pilot and I was in a plane crash a few weeks ago.  I was fine but my plane burned to ash. Just a comment, really.  And I'd like to know, what are some of your favorite books?

Douglas Coupland: Hello Laura. PLEASE, PLEASE let me ask you, HOW DID IT FEEL TO GET OUT OF IT ALIVE?

While I await your response, here are a few books, which I've always recommended.  PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, by Joan Didion; ANSWERED PRAYERS, by Truman Capote; THE PURSUIT OF LOVE, by Nancy Mitford; SURVIVOR, by Chuck Palahniuk (sp) and most recently, David Eggers' MEMOIRE.

OiVey: I once had a writer friend who told me this story about a brain surgeon walking up to him and saying "if I just had the time I could be a writer." the writer replied.. "If I just had the time I could be a brain surgeon." Have you ever had such an experience and what was your reaction?

Douglas Coupland: Up until a few years ago, if people had an idea for a book or part of a book already written, I would swoop into action. I'd arrange for them to meet agents and publishers and try to connect them with all the relevant people, because I really, really love helping people I know.  Having said this, it *always* turned out disastrously.

What I think I learned from this is that, at least when it comes to book writing with most people simply talking about writing a book is more than enough, and ACTUALLY when I tried to help them, they felt threatened and a bit confused.  So, I never take it lightly when people say they want to write a book, but I don't take it heavily either.

Ryanpaul: How much experience did you have with creative writing classes and workshops? And was it helpful?

Douglas Coupland: I never studied English outside of high school <where I was at best a B+ student>. I don't know ... I think about this a lot, "this" meaning writing classes and workshops and that sort of thing.

I think in my case, it probably helped that whatever voice I possess was allowed to evolve in isolation - like those enormous, silver colored sword-flowers that grow in Hawaii volcano craters and which blossom every hundred years.

Baseline99: When you say you were inspired to write Generation X because of Jane Fonda, isn't that a load of bollocks? Isn't that shill for the media? Didn't a magazine article just run away from you? Weren't you just trying to write a story about people?  Thanks.

Douglas Coupland: Baseline, an article about Jane Fonda?

Baseline99: I read in an interview that you started gen x as a magazine article.

Douglas Coupland: First, hello Baseline99. I think the article got thing is a little bit wrong. Please remember that Generation X was, and is a book of fiction - and we all know how much magazines love to publish fiction.  So, the spark might have been a magazine article, but then sparks come from anywhere.  It's the fire that matters.

Questioner: How much research did you do into the child beauty pageant scene?

Douglas Coupland: Good question...hello Questioner. To be precise: none.  I made all of it up. For example: I really thought about 'what would it feel like to be inside a sound proof booth?'  We've all watched Miss America, and I used to think, "Oooooh, steel and glass and high tech German foam rubber so that you can't even hear your own voice when you speak."

But then I thought about it more, and I realized, beauty pageants probably have a budge of about $24 which means it's probably a slapped together plywood box - and not even good on two sides plywood - so that on the inside it would be just all this raw wood and you'd have to be really careful about not getting your evening gown ripped on the door as you leave.

And then, it wouldn't even be sound proof - it would probably be the opposite - it would probably be the make up woman's boyfriend's boom box playing Mariah Carey with a volume set on 8 as if you're in a tanning booth.

As it turns out, I met this woman who was once actively involved in pageants - she describes herself as an escapee - and she asked me, "How on earth did you know what it was like to be in a sound proof booth?"

So, Questioner, in the end, I guess it's all about just imagining things. Question for you, Questioner.  Are you related to the Gatekeeper?

Catsb: Doug, thank you so much for coming and spending your valuable time with us!  Do you have any parting comments?

Douglas Coupland: Thanks everyone, for coming, and I promise I'll replace my Soviet woodburning laptop sometime very soon.  Goodnight.