An interview with Ron Currie Jr., author of "God is Dead"
Just because someone's an atheist, doesn't mean they're not spiritual in some sense of the word. That's important to keep in mind when hearing the title of the new novel by Ron Currie Jr., "God Is Dead."
The book is about what happens when God dies, and the world continues on basically the same as before. It does not end, but for a lot of people, it is turned upside down.
Q: How did the idea for "God Is Dead" come to you?
A: The book started with a single story -- "False Idols," the piece in which American parents have gone off the deep end and started worshipping their children as gods. At that point I'd never attempted a full-length narrative, and as far as I knew this was just a short story, albeit one with a premise and an attitude far, far different from any other story I'd written.
But then at some point while writing "False Idols," I of course had to explain why parents were worshipping their children. At first I had no explanation, which was a problem, because (and I've since had this lesson reinforced several hundred times) it's sort of counter intuitive but nonetheless true that the more outrageous a premise you're working from, the more believable the circumstances surrounding that premise need to be. Otherwise the reader raises his eyebrows and shakes his head and turns to something that won't treat him like he just yesterday fell off the turnip truck.
But so anyway, it occurred to me that these parents' idolizing their children was a simple transference of the basic human need to worship, from God onto their kids. And how did this come about? Well, God died, of course. Which naturally raised a lot more questions than it answered, questions that happily took an entire book to sort out.
Q: Did your own religious background, or lack of, have a role in this?
A: Sure, of course. I was raised Catholic, went to CCD (religious education), and graduated at some point to full-blown, rabid atheism. I've since been cured of the rabid part, but I'm still an atheist. I think, though, that sometimes those who have religion, so to speak, mistakenly believe that atheists are spiritually barren, and in my case that's not true. I have very powerful, very definite spiritual longings. And in certain ways "God Is Dead" is me having a conversation with myself, trying to figure out the big questions of morality, sexuality, the purpose of existence, within the context of my own very real godless world.
But at the same time the book isn't so serious as all that. There are plenty of Three Stooges moments to make the pill go down easier. There's even a brief homage to the Patrick Swayze classic "Road House," just waiting to be discovered by those as obsessed with terrible '80s movies as I and my friends are.
Q: In the book, God dies and at some point, dogs eat his remains and then they grant interviews, I believe. Are you trying to say something about how ridiculously media crazy we've become, or am I stretching a bit?
A: It could be looked at that way. I'm reluctant sometimes to discuss messages imbedded in my writing, for two reasons. First, because any message or "meaning" should be the organic result of a story well-told. In other words, the story is not merely a vehicle for some sort of sociopolitical agenda, because if that's all it is then it fails, both as entertainment and as art.
Second, at this point, with the book finished and out in the world, whatever intent... I had shouldn't enter the conversation until readers have an opportunity to absorb and interpret for themselves. Writing isn't about making a book and then going around telling everyone what they should think about it, though there are many authors who try to do just that.
Q: What do folks in around town think of the book, or just the title, so far?
A: It's actually pretty funny. I keep a very low profile when it comes to my work. Say, for example, I meet someone at the gym and they ask what I do, I'll say "I work for myself." Cagey. Not exactly sure why. But inevitably it does come up, and I'm asked what the title of the book is, and the exchange usually goes something like this -- Me: "God is Dead." They: (Three seconds of blank staring) "Oh. Huh. Wow."
Q: What was the toughest part of writing this book?
A: From a practical standpoint? Finding the time while simultaneously working full-time as a cook. From an artistic standpoint, the toughest part, and I don't expect this to change, is maintaining faith (ha) and interest in the material long enough to see it through to the finish. There are so many times when you're convinced that what you're working on is absolute garbage, hobby-hour crap, unreadable, unfunny, the opposite of significant. It's very tough to work through that sort of self-doubt. At the same time, it's indispensable.
Q: Do you expect to get flack from religious groups? What will you tell them?
A: As time has passed and I've thought more about this possibility, it's occurred to me that there will probably be two reactions from the devout. The first group won't read beyond the title, and they'll immediately break out the Zippos and the lighter fluid, metaphorically speaking. The second group will actually read the book and understand that it's anything but an attack on them or their faith. It asks hard questions about faith, for sure, but faith without doubt is a cartoon, and then eventually it becomes something scarier and less funny than a cartoon -- like Falwell calling AIDS God's punishment for homosexuality, or Muslim fundamentalists beheading infidels for the YouTube audience. Those who have a real, thoughtful relationship with their God, those who work their faith every day, who turn it over in their hands and inspect it carefully for cracks and blemishes, will not be threatened by "God is Dead."
Q: Were there things that surprised you as you wrote it?
A: That's like 80 percent of the fun of writing fiction, being surprised by what surfaces. There were about a thousand surprises in "God is Dead," not the least of which was when Colin Powell showed up and started cursing at everyone like he'd just walked off the set of a Spike Lee movie.
Q: Do you recall the first thing you wrote that wasn't a school assignment?
A: I've got it hanging on my living room wall -- the only existing copy of a story I wrote in first grade, which my mother unearthed, much to my embarrassment, and had framed. Title? "The Story." Very postmodern. Especially for a 5-year-old.