Q&A with Los Angeles novelist Nina Revoyr
By: TNS editorial intern, Olivia Muñoz
NINA REVOYR is the author of “The Necessary Hunger,” and “Southland.” Her latest book, “The Age of Dreaming” follows the story of a Japanese silent film star who looks back on a career that ended abruptly during the changing social and racial tides in California in the 1920s. In the “The Age of Dreaming,” the story fallows the character back and forth between the 1960s and the height of the silent film era as he deals with the death of his favorite director, tries to please both his Japanese and American fans, and comes to terms with his past.
OLIVIA MUÑOZ: You are inspired by real people, and incorporate places and history into your novels. Tell me a little bit about your research process: do you dig first and then write? Or do you write as you go along?
NINA REVOYR: I use real life situations in my first two books, but as really use real life as jumping off points only. I don’t look to tell those stories, but instead let them trigger a work of fiction. In “The Age of Dreaming,” what was important to me was that there really was at one point a silent film star of color – not only a star but a sex symbol. In my book, the story deals with what fame costs my character, Jun Nakayama, personally. Real life gave me permission to create that character but I very consciously stop at an early point of getting interested in a subject. So, something will spark, I’ll stop, and then research to fill in any holes.
OM: What hooks you?
NR: An issue or theme that is intriguing enough to sustain me for the years it takes to write a book. For example, in “Southland,” I was interested in the organic mix of African-American and Asian residents of a Los Angeles neighborhood. I remember very vividly as a kid hearing about killing during the Watts riots – hearing people actually brag about killing kids. So, race dynamics are interesting to me.
“The Age of Dreaming” came about because I work in a building that has some silent film history. After learning more about that, and about a real life Japanese silent film star, I began to explore the question of what happens to someone when they don’t do what they were supposed to do in their life.
OM: Was that a question you were grappling with? How much of your work is you?
NR: I think it is all autobiographical in a sense. I was dealing with being a writer, and whether I wanted to continue doing that, and what that would take. “The Age of Dreaming” is my most autobiographical work to date even though I’m obviously not a 73-year-old man, not a former silent film star – but all of my concerns and obsessions are the same. I was dealing with making the right choices, creative blocks, and it was easier to address those themes in a work of fiction than any other way.
OM: You deal with the interplay of race in your novels. Is that something you feel you will continue to touch on in the rest of your career?
NR: Absolutely. The book I am working on now is set in the Midwest and deals with race quite directly. I spent my childhood years in Wisconsin thinking about those years – and even looking at election news coverage now – I am surprised at what people are willing to say.
OM: You’re often praised for your portrayal of male characters. What helps you write from that point of view? Is it difficult for you?
Thank you for saying that. No, I don’t find too difficult. I was raised by a single dad and my grandfather is my hero. I think my love for my grandfather comes through in “The Age of Dreaming,” for sure. I grew up surrounded by men and knew them as nurturers.
People do comment on the accuracy with which I depict men’s relationships and their silly mistakes with women. Being gay, I know something about making mistakes with women.
OM: On Oct. 30 you’ll be visiting us here at Fresno State, which offers a MFA in Creative Writing. What kind of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
NR: Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. I know that sounds simple, but that’s really it. There are no excuses – you can say, “I’m too busy,” but if you really need to write and want to write, you’re going do it.
Also, being in an MFA program is a very unique experience. Create a community that is portable – take relationships with you. You need that support and it’s not always there once you’re done with school.
Also – this is going to sound cheesy, but it’s true – write for yourself. Frankly, there’s no guarantee for what’s going to happen on the publishing end, so you’ve got to take your joy from the process.
NINA REVOYR will do a Q& A at Fresno State on Thursday, Oct. 30, at 3 p.m. in Alice Peters Conference Room (PB 194) and then do a reading later that evening at 7 p.m. in Alice Peters Auditorium (PB 191). Parking is available in the UBC Lot.