Colin Marshall sits down in Los Angeles’ Sunset Triangle with Jay Caspian Kang, editor at sports and pop culture site Grantland and author of the novel The Dead Do Not Improve. They discuss his youthful Midnight in Paris dream of drinking in red leather bars with dead authors; the racy science fiction of L. Ron Hubbard; the current or former importance of New York City as a destination for a youngster with literary ambitions; his avoidance of the role of “tribal writer,” tacitly assigned with explaining his culture to outsiders; growing up imprinted by the last “dangerous,” pre-pop hip-hop, which he used as a tool to deal with otherness in his North Carolina high school; filling his main character Philip Kim’s head with that and other preoccupations of the era in which he grew up, such as The Simpsons; the thirty-ish generation’s combination of high ambition with almost patternlessly scattered efforts, as exemplified by Lena Dunham; slightly younger creators’ instinctive consciousness of themselves as a “brand” based on their volume of output; his desire to write a hyper-real novel of San Francisco that would skewer — sometimes by actually killing — that city’s more self-satisfied sort of residents; the divide between old and new San Franciscans, and those who fell in between by growing up there in the eighties, when the utopian dreams had fallen through and the town needed an identity; how Chris Isaak turned up in his book; the Virginia Tech shooting, and how he and other Korean-Americans knew immediately that an Asian school shooter had to be Korean; the comparative racial situations of San Francisco and Los Angeles, and what makes Crash “one of the worst movies ever”; coming out of a “hoity-toity MFA program” and writing a genre novel versus one that uses the elements of genre; Troy McClure quotes providing the book with a “funny unreal superstructure,” and other aspects of The Simpsons‘ “large intrusion” into the text; and Los Angeles as a writer’s escape from the writerly life which doesn’t demand that you be as young, old, rich, or poor as New York does.
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