Interview with Santiago Xaman, Author of After Olympus
17 Dec 2019
What can you tell us about your new release, After Olympus?
It took fifteen years to write, if you count the six years in the middle — which I spent not writing at all because I couldn’t quite figure how to tell this impossible story. I had written for the theatre for decades before that, so I was surprised to learn that “show, don’t tell” was just as much a cardinal requirement in literary fiction. Whenever I floated the idea of a novel with serious ideas in it (something that cannot be shown without telling) people just patted me on the head and told me to go write non-fiction. In the end I had to break rules — and crash genres — to cobble together a style I could use to tell this tale. I thought the professional critics would surely hate the result, but they don’t. Who knew?
What or who inspired you to become an author?
I’ve never had the slightest ambition to be a ‘great’ author. But I’ve always hoped to find my way to one ‘great book’. Contrary to popular belief, these are not the same thing.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
Sorry to be so difficult, but I don’t have any such list. A great book at sixteen may not seem quite as impactful at sixty. I can list a few books, but there are at least twenty-five others that would merit the same recognition for different reasons at different times: “Crime and Punishment” (Dostoyevsky), “Disgrace” (Coetzee), “Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity” (Rorty), “One Hundred Years of Solitude (Garcia Marquez), “The Namesake” (Lahiri), “Empire Falls” (Russo), “Cloud Atlas” (Mitchell), “The Metaphysical Club” (Louis Menand), “Middlesex” (Eugenides), “Runaway” (Munro), “Bel Canto” (Patchett)…
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
Plato, if he were still alive. I would ask what he found most meaningful in his own private life.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
Getting an off-beat sentence to sound just right.
What is a typical day like for you?
There is no typical day, really. But the things I do on most days would probably have some connection to problem-solving, particularly puzzles that have never before been solved.
What scene in After Olympus was your favorite to write?
The explicit sex scene in the book. It is quite short. I added it after the story was finished because someone pointed out ‘there is no sex in this book, only violent deaths’. Sex scenes are always the hardest to write, because it is impossible to be original. So, to that extent, it was fun.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
Go do some impossible things. Then go do some more.
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