WC iUniverse Special


From WC iUniverse (April 20, 2000)

AskKelly2Ask: Welcome to our chat with the one and only Douglas Coupland. You've known him as the man who wrote Generation X, Microserfs, the book about Laura Croft. Now you know him as the author of Miss Wyoming, a terrific new novel you'll all want to read. Welcome, Doug. Thanks for coming.

Douglas Coupland: Hi. Good to be here. Oh... it's Lara not Laura -- the hard-cores will flip if they see it spelled wrong.

AskKelly2Ask: Oops, Lara. I have got to tell you, Doug, dozens of women have asked me all week long, "Is he married?" And I don't have a clue. Want to fill us in? Then we'll get literary.

Douglas Coupland: Single. But don't go by the photo in the top right corner -- it was taken ages ago. People see it and then they see me now and go, "Man, is he in chemo?"

AskKelly2Ask: Joe wants to know if you have an tips for kissing up while he's studying with you in Florida?

Douglas Coupland: Have lots of jokes ready. I like funny people. Often it's the scary loners who DO have the Big Things to say. But they make it so hard on the world to hear them.

AskKelly2Ask: MJRose wants to know what you consider the toughest part about being a writer?

Douglas Coupland: Biggest problem? Loneliness. And lack of feedback. You have to wait 6,8,12 months for a response. Imagine back when you were a kid and sent away for Sea Monkeys and you had to wait for 6 months -- you'd go mental.

AskKelly2Ask: Highkicker2k wonders if you ever struggle with writer's block, feel as if all you write is trash?

Douglas Coupland: Writer's block... yes/no. Usually I find that the less time it takes to write something, the more pure it is. It's those passages you labor and labor over which you end up deleting in the end. Also, sometimes the point Ikebana100: comes where you realize a character has to go. You have to kill them, essentially, and it's like throwing away blocks of time. It's hard.

AskKelly2Ask: WhiteIce37 goes back to your isolation comment. She wonders if there isn't someone you can trust to give you honest but gentle feedback?

Douglas Coupland: Yes, BUT, there's always a hesitancy, because they can also be made to take BLAME if it goes horribly wrong. So people have to walk very gently. It's your editor whose response you work with most deeply. They're the ones who can give execution orders for characters.

AskKelly2Ask: Jackatbrun wonders, After all your success, what grounds you, keeps you from getting "the big head"? Do you still take out the garbage?

Douglas Coupland: Big head? Lord! I live in the sticks. That alone takes care of 90 percent of any possible big head. SPEAKING of big heads, I spent two hours in a script meeting with Robbie Benson last week. Younger people might not remember him -- he was this 70s TV film star who vanished. He's directing a friend's pilot and so suddenly ...it's Robbie Benson at the end of the table. His biggest role was playing a hydrocephalic whose head bloats across the span of the movie.

AskKelly2Ask: Robbie Benson was also the voice of the Beast in Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Douglas Coupland: That's right. But he's also the kid's voice who used to sing, "Hot dogs, Armour Hot Dogs..."

AskKelly2Ask: KasKade113 asks, what does "gen x" mean in your opinion? Douglas Coupland: Gen X was, and remains (in my mind) the title of a book I wrote. Inasmuch as it describes a tribe of any sort I remain to this day unwilling to use it as a means of branding. The whole point of being X is to not want to be labeled. That's elementary. Some people use it as a catch-all term for 18-30, but really, all those people who were 30 when it came out in 1991 are nearing 40. So it's about the way you see the world. This could go on all night. But I hope the drift is clear.

AskKelly2Ask: SusanMcV asks, how hard is it for you to find that perfect first sentence?

Douglas Coupland: First and last sentences are always easiest. It's he final third of a book that's the hardest. Because you have to rein in so many threads and impulses, as well as put a stop to digressive threads. Footnotes may be a way around this, but I'm not big on them. But I think the ones in Dave Eggers' book were lovely.

AskKelly2Ask: Doug, let's talk a little about your latest book, "Miss Wyoming." Can you give us your thumbnail of what it's about?

Douglas Coupland: Months of grueling media later and I'm still unsure. I think it's about locating your identity in a rapidly shifting media environment. It's about finding something better than where you are now. And I think it's also about the intense, almost psycho relationships daughters tend to have with their mothers.

AskKelly2Ask: <---never saw herself as "grueling." John Johnson character felt SO real to me, the burnt out Hollywood type. Was he anyone you knew?

Douglas Coupland: Kelly? Grueling? Nonsense. Do I know a burnt out Hollywood type? Yes. Actually, all the nicer parts of John's character were elements I saw in a CAA agent named Jay Moloney. He had a horrible problem with drugs, and he killed himself last year. So there's a sadness there that is all too real.

AskKelly2Ask: I loved that character. Whiteice37 wonders if your rejection ratio dropped after you sold your first novel?

Douglas Coupland: Actually, no. It was the first fiction I ever wrote. And before that I wrote for magazines, so ...rejection was never an issue for me. What WAS an issue was having to deal with huge dunderheaded corporations. They're everything you've imagined and more. By this, I refer to Saint Martin's press. The Germans bought them years ago and the old crew has left, so now it can be told.

AskKelly2Ask: Joe says he enjoyed "Polaroids From the Dead" and asks, what's the market for short nonfiction fictions? (He actually called you MR Coupland. Still kissing up for Orlando school.)

Douglas Coupland: Market? None. Not any more. Now stuff like that goes onto the web site. One pays to give away what used to put food on the table.

AskKelly2Ask: Kat91 asks, How did you make the transition from a day job to writing full time? She follows with, did you have to work 40 hours a week at your job, then stay up all night writing?

Douglas Coupland: I've never had day jobs that lasted longer than 6 months-ish. My night-owl nature always won out. Having said this, one's work rhythm is greatly established through the school system. It took me about 12 years to finally not feel like a bad citizen for getting up at 10:30 every morning.

AskKelly2Ask: Tracey asks, What does your desk look like?

Douglas Coupland: It's a disaster. Before me I see: dead light bulb, plastic laminated samples, cherry pits, 5 dead coffees, string, a newspaper, a bill from the window washer, a dead Kleenex box, packing tape and a whack of post-it notes.

AskKelly2Ask: Freelanc2000 asks, What is your opinion of e-books, the next genre-ration?

Douglas Coupland: I have yet to see one, but I certainly am curious. But I'm a book collector, and I don't know if ebooks will subvert this trope. It'll all depend on how cozy it is in bed, won't it?

AskKelly2Ask: MJ Rose asks, of all the great things that have happened to you as an author - which one has been the most satisfying?

Douglas Coupland: Lightly: Being a question on Jeopardy. Not so lightly: a constant erosion away at that gnawing feeling that I'm alone in the world.

AskKelly2Ask: ChrisKB83 asks, What was your favorite book growing up?

Douglas Coupland: I didn't read much. I went through a sci-fi phase. I didn't catch on to reading until about 1984/5. I tend to prefer British authors simple because they tend, as far as I can see, to write in a modernist tradition. North American writing tends to overly dwell on nature and on the immigrant experience. This is fine, but I want stuff that takes place this week.

AskKelly2Ask: Back tracking, you mean, there comes a time when we DON'T feel alone in the world?

Douglas Coupland: Feeling unalone is like happiness -- they're the two human sensations that are killed the moment you recognize them as they're happening to you. So I suppose it's an overactive self-consciousness that keeps happiness at bay.

AskKelly2Ask: AMcc asks another author question. Who is your favorite author and why?

Douglas Coupland: Favorite authors. The writer who utterly turned my world upside down wasn't even a writer. It was Jenny Holzer, a text artist I discovered in art school in 1981. She wrote 'truisms' --these long sheets of often contradictory slogans along the lines of, ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE, MONEY CREATES TASTE, and so on.

AskKelly2Ask: Phylwriter asks if you always knew you wanted to write, and compliments you on your spelling. <g>

Douglas Coupland: Thank you! Did I always want to write? No. It was always something I could do, but it took almost a freight train to run me over before I clued into the fact it's what I might best consider do with my life. I think life's like that for most people. We pursue the activity that makes us undervalue the other activity we were meant for.

AskKelly2Ask: Jackatbrun asks, do you think the generation about which you write is capable of the incredible feats and accomplishments of Brokaw's "Greatest" gen? He wonders, are they sufficiently challenged?

Douglas Coupland: Generation? Hmmm.... that tricky little word again. The thing about Brokaw's generation is that they saw themselves as ...a generation, whereas now, well, we can all see how awkward, and uncomfortable it is positing the existence of a generation let alone identifying what that generation did. I'm of a few minds. My parents didn't think self consciously about what they were doing. They simply did it. What are the things being done now? Computers. High tech. Biotech. Pharmaceuticals. Genetic research. That -- these don't count? Come on!

AskKelly2Ask: Joe asks, was there any pressure to "sequelize" any of your books?

Douglas Coupland: Actually, no. I think that happens with movies mostly. After St. Martin's f**ed with my mind for two years, they actually DID come back and ask for a sequel. I was floored. I hadn't seen anybody be that blind or arrogant in my life. And they expected me to leave my other publisher to do it with them! Surreal.

AskKelly2Ask: Venus asks, where would you like to be ten years from now? How do you see your future?

Douglas Coupland: Ten years ago I was living in a Montreal basement eating oatmeal and hot dogs, and that was pretty much where I expected my life to stay. So if you'd told me about the next decade and everything that happened in it I simply wouldn't have believed you. Life turns on a dime, doesn't it? Three very close friends of mine all started new and amazing jobs today. A year ago their lives were locked in an ice age. But where would I like to see it? Personally I'd like to slash my wrists and bleed all over the page. Whatever gets me to doing that is what I want. I really want to see what you can do with words.

AskKelly2Ask: CHESNUT wonders, would you advise a new writer to try the Internet first, seek an agent, or get a publisher?

Douglas Coupland: New writers? Get an agent. Or ask your friend to make fake letterhead and pose as your agent. Unagented scripts are simply NOT read in publishing houses. Never. As for the Internet, I don't know. In a weird way, the Internet is sucking away countless people out there who might otherwise be writing books and theoretically be competition. So maybe now more than ever, it's paper. (That sounds like such a corporate slogan). Hollywood is freaked out right now at how much talent's been vacuumed away by dot-coms.

AskKelly2Ask: KasKade wonders how many books have you written? And what do you think of Angelina Jolie being cast as Lara Croft?

Douglas Coupland: Really? Angelina Jolie? She'd actually be pretty good, except, like everybody else, I wonder, what was she doing French-kissing her brother at the Oscars? (TM).

AskKelly2Ask: Whiteice37 wonders how you managed to capture such a feminine perspective in MISS WYOMING?

Douglas Coupland: I know this woman who sat next to Warren Beatty at a dinner party and she (a hardened cynic) came away from it a huge Beatty fan. She asked me if I knew what the reason for his success has been. She says it's because when you're speaking to him, you know that he is totally, 100-percent listening to you. That's it. I think people in general don't listen to each other as much as they think they do. And once my friend pointed out the Warren thing to me, I really saw what she was talking about. People babble babble on, but listening is rare. So that was one of the best writerly tips I ever received ... 1993? Eternal.

AskKelly2Ask: Jack wonders if you had a teacher or a mentor that spurred you into writing?

Douglas Coupland: No. I used to have a magazine editor named Mac who'd read what I handed in, and if something was boring, he'd cross it out and write, 'BORING' -- and so in my head I was always asking myself, "Is this boring?" In the absence of college, it was an excellent tip.

AskKelly2Ask: And the last question because Douglas has an appointment…

Douglas Coupland: I do.

AskKelly2Ask: HarisonDar asks, how do you balance your social life with your need to be left alone to write?

Douglas Coupland: My days are, of necessity, lightly booked. Writing happens late a night, but the days is when it all gets input, hashed over and viewed in larger context. I get cabin fever every day, but then it's like any sort of activity. I used to go nuts in offices -- I mean literally, medically bonkers. So I guess I'd rather go nuts at home than over the photocopier. I don't know if I answered the question. The important thing is, alas, the having to be alone part.

AskKelly2Ask: Thanks so much for being here with us Doug. You were great, and we loved your insights. Thanks to all of you for coming.

Douglas Coupland: These have been great questions, AOL -- thanks for making them good, and by the way, what are your corporate plans for Time Warner and all the other huge companies you now own? x D

AskKelly2Ask: Thanks Doug, you were great. A transcript will be in your box by morning, all errors removed. And any of you who want a transcript, email me.