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An Interview with Kris Saknussemm, Author of Zanesville


An Interview with Kris Saknussemm, Author of Zanesville

Saknussemm, posed with his painting, "Nerve Damage."

Used with permission of Kris Saknussemm.
Kris Saknussemm is the author of Zanesville, the first in a series of books called The Lodemania Testament. Described as a "techno-theological post-American monster vaudeville," Zanesville opens in a futuristic Central Park, where the protagonist awakens with no idea of who he is or how he got there. Taken in by freedom fighters and given the name, Elijah Clearfather, he embarks on a journey to discover his identity and his role in this America-gone-wrong: Messiah, reincarnated ex-porn star, futuristic bioweapon, or revolutionary.

Due out from Random House in October 2005, the book has already received rave reviews: "Exuberantly weird," from Kirkus and "one of the most creative, edgy, and entertaining novels sf has spawned in a decade," from Booklist. However, positive reviews come as no surprise given the fact that Saknussemm's fiction and poetry had already been widely published in a number of prestigious journals including The Hudson Review, The Boston Review, The Antioch Review, New Letters, and ZYZZYVA. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but emailed me from Australia, where he has lived for many years.

About.com: I read in your Random House bio that you divide your time between Australia and the West Coast of the U.S. Where are you currently living? How much time do you spend in both places?

Kris Saknussemm: I’m currently in Australia and preparing to go to Borneo at the end of next week. I have a property called The Chimneys an hour and a half north of Melbourne. It’s set on the ruins of one of the old quartz crushing mines from back in the gold rush days, with fruit trees from a farm of the 1930s growing over the graves of the Chinese miners from 1857 and a giant pine that was supposedly planted by an American in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s death, in which two wedge-tailed eagles are right now perched, reviewing the rabbit situation below.

This year I spent less time in the U.S. than I would like: six weeks at the MacDowell Colony, time in New York and Boston, and then a month or so in LA and about the same in the Pacific Northwest. A long-time friend and business associate here is fighting pancreatic cancer so I’ve had to postpone my American visit and author tour for Zanesville to assist his family and wind up some affairs in Malaysia. I am likely to locate permanently back in the States later this year. It depends on my girlfriend and how my 13-year-old dingo fares. I’m reluctant to take her away from The Chimneys. (The dingo, not the girlfriend.)

AC: Zanesville can be read as a critique of contemporary U.S. culture and politics. Has living abroad given you a sharper perspective on the political and cultural situation here?

KS: Living abroad, and particularly coming to maturity abroad, has very definitely shaped my thinking and my relationship to America. I’ve experienced the “expat” phenomenon of becoming simultaneously more identified with America and more critical of its impact on other cultures. This precarious balance between homesickness and sickness about home has had a crucial influence on the writing of Zanesville. It has certainly inspired me to want to tell a bigger story than I would have otherwise. A secondary effect has been the emergence of a political point of view and a reawakening of my interest in American history. I think my writing would’ve taken a much more individualistic direction had I remained in the States.

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