Author David Gordon's chequered past inspires his writing
New York writer David Gordon became a sensation in Japan with the publication of his first novel, 2010's The Serialist : he won three Japanese literary prizes, a feat no other author has accomplished. Mystery Girl , his 2013 sophomore effort, was a complex and dazzling work that prompted writer Rivka Galchen to praise it as "Dashiell Hammett divided by Don DeLillo, to the power of Dostoyevsky". This autumn, he delivers a hilarious and heartbreaking collection of short stories titled White Tiger on Snow Mountain . He talks to Doretta Lau about writing, crime, Hong Kong films and celebrity.
You've worked in film, fashion, publishing, even pornography - all arguably more glamorous endeavours than writing. Why did you choose to be a writer?
I'd say very arguably depending on the day, but I wanted to be a writer before any of that. I decided in second grade I think. I can't remember wanting to be anything else but a writer, astronaut and something like a criminal or a spy. So two out of three. Every other job - and many were much more like messenger, office clerk, survey taker or whatever - was something I did to eat while trying to write. And people would say, "It's experience". Which it is, now. But experience is a bummer while it's happening.
What brings you back to the blank page each day?
I suppose you'd have to ask that seven-year-old, but at this point it is that blank page. I don't see how I could ever feel like I'm done, or get bored, but at the same time I'm always back at the beginning, learning by trial and error. I feel like I'm just getting started. The book I'm trying to write now is really overwhelming me, and I feel totally lost trying to work it out. But then last night I was moaning to my old friend who told me: "You say that every time."
You mentioned wanting to be a criminal as a child. Your first two books can be categorised as crime novels, and a character in the story has mob connections. What's so appealing about the criminal element?
You mean as a writer or a kid? Crime is a great narrative engine. It is kind of like adultery was in the 19th-century novel - this choice that sets someone beyond the norms of society and you know there will be thrills and excitement, even if it ends in tragedy. So a crime sets things in motion for the writer. And, for the reader too, there is a fascination with the person who makes that choice and then faces the consequences. I was thinking, during the banking crisis, that a real bank robber doesn't ask for a bailout. If he's caught he's caught. No whining at least. The killers in my novels are scary people and I wouldn't like to meet them off the page, but Eddie from The Amateur is different. I do like him and while his story is totally made up, I did take some of his turns of phrase and mannerisms from people I've known. And I've found that people who live outside the straight world are entertaining. That's one good part about that chequered past I had - I hung out with a lot of interesting people. So I was right to like criminals as a kid. They have great stories to tell.
In the short story , you reference the 1988 Stanley Kwan Kam-pang film , which stars Anita Mui Yim-fong and Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing. How did you come across the film? Which other Hong Kong directors and actors do you follow?
I'm a big fan of Hong Kong cinema and I guess my favourites are Wong Kar-wai, John Woo Yu-sum and Johnnie To Kei-fung. I also love martial arts filmmakers such as Jackie Chan, King Hu, the Shaw brothers and of course Bruce Lee. I just saw a retrospective of Stephen Chow Sing-chi movies. Rouge, however, I got by total chance, I am not sure how. Maybe I even bought it in Taipei. I picked it up mainly because of the lead actors and for some reason … this random one just got me thinking: "What if some guy had a girl tell him this story about being reincarnated, sort of like in the movie, and then later he sees the movie?" So then I wrote that story.
Why did you decide to publish a collection of stories?
It was really the idea of my editor, Ed Park. He saw a couple that were published in magazines and asked me if I had a stash sitting at home, which I did of course. He said: "Let's do a collection." Really, he gets the credit. I'm just happy to have the work out there.
Now that you're famous in Japan, would you consider leaving New York for Tokyo in order to live a celebrity existence? Perhaps you could spend your days writing, running - maybe with Haruki Murakami - and appearing on zany game shows.
I wish. I don't think I can keep up with Murakami though, running or writing. He's out of my league. Still I'd love to go back someday and spend more time. But I might be scared of the game shows.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm writing a new novel. It has dominatrixes, spies, clones, art smuggling, fashion shows - everything. There's even a scene in Hong Kong, on the Mid-Level escalator. But then again my room is papered in notes and I'm completely lost in it at the moment, so who knows what will happen.