You’re invited to an evening of conversation with author Michael Zadoorian on Thursday, January 24 at the Main Library Annex from 6 to 8 p.m.
Zadoorian is the author of several books, most recently Beautiful Music (May, 2018). His 2010 book, The Leisure Seeker, was recently made into a feature film staring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. In preparation for his visit, the library asked Mr. Zadoorian a few questions:
Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library (CRCPL): Who is your literary hero and your literary nemesis?
Michael Zadoorian: I would have to say it’s probably the same person, which would be the various personas of Jack Kerouac that appear in his books. I’m basically obsessed with The Beats. I’ve devoured all of Kerouac’s books along with the myriad biographies. I love Kerouac, but also he drives me crazy. There’s a lot to deal with in the books, much of it heartbreaking, like his twisted issues with women, homosexuality (his own and others’) and people of color. He was always all over the place, often contradicting himself in the books and in real life, alternating between very progressive stances (for the time) to ridiculous stereotypes and ideas. It helps to understand that there were so many sides of him fighting it out inside of that brilliant and beautiful head. But in the end, the booze took over and turned him into the conservative Christian who had just given up on everything, killing himself ever so slowly with the bottle.
CRCPL: Why are Detroit and Michigan so important to your books?
Zadoorian: Detroit is an enormous part of who I am as a person and a writer. I grew up in the city, got both my degrees at Wayne State University in Detroit, met my wife here, lived my life here, so it’s deeply ingrained in me. It’s home. I love it here and don’t want to live anywhere else. There’s a determination and spirit that Detroiters possess that you won’t find anywhere else. There’s something about being from a place like this that inspires creativity. Part of that is because of Detroit’s many troubles, from being a place that felt abandoned and broken, that the rest of the country mocked and derided. You worry less about “making it” here. You just want to make something.
There’s definitely a Detroit aesthetic. I see it in the writing, the music, the art, everywhere. Living around here, you gain an appreciation for the imperfect, the forgotten, the broken, the abandoned, and it imbues your work. Artists from around here often find beauty in things that others may not find beautiful.
CRCPL: How many unpublished/half-finished manuscripts are in your closet?
Zadoorian: A tender subject, I’m sure for most writers. I have one particular manuscript that I kept returning to once I’d make a little progress in my literary career. I’d work on it more, then it would torpedo whatever momentum I’d had. For now, I’ve given up on it, but who knows? I do have one other ms. that I’m not going to give up on. I wrote it a while back, but I still love it. It’s a comedic novel that chronicles life in Detroit during a very particular time in the 21st century. I also have a new book making the rounds now. I’m hoping that one doesn’t end up on this list. Fingers crossed.
CRCPL: What got left out of your most recent novel, Beautiful Music?
Zadoorian: Not a lot. I’m more likely to take things out of a book than an editor. I’m rather ruthless with my editing. These days, a novel better be in pretty good shape when it goes out to editors, especially if you’re writing what might be considered literary fiction. Most editors are already insanely overworked, so I don’t think they have much time to work long hours with a writer getting their novel in shape. I fear those days of a writer and editor toiling closely to form a literary work, like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Maxwell Perkins did, are long gone.
CRCPL: Your novel The Leisure Seeker was recently made into a movie starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. What did you think?
Zadoorian: It was something I never expected to have happen. Frankly, I was amazed when it became a book, so for it to end up as a film was totally surreal. As for the film itself, I don’t think it’s surprising when the author wishes that some things hadn’t been changed or added. For instance, when I first read the script, I seriously wondered why there was political content in the film. I think they took a story that could have felt timeless and universal and made it strangely specific by placing it in September 2016, in the middle of the most contentious election in American history. It seemed unnecessary. The critics agreed.
That said, the performances from Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland were wonderful. The film looked beautiful and I liked the tone of it. Many critics felt that the film couldn’t make up its mind whether it wanted to be a comedy or a drama, which was interesting because no one ever said that about the book. People liked that the book had humor in it.
Happily, since it was an Italian production, I don’t think that it ever occurred to the director or the writers or producers to change the ending, which some people found controversial or at least quietly shocking. If an American studio had made a film of The Leisure Seeker, that probably would have been the first thing they discussed: what to do about the ending?
All in all, it was thrilling to see it on screen. And there are twenty new translations of the book, so my work has been exposed to new readers all over the world. As a writer, it’s hard to beat that.
CRCPL: You must have a vinyl collection. What’s your most prized title?
Zadoorian: Is it that surprising that mine would also be Danny’s from Beautiful Music? It’s my original copy of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, bought when I was sixteen. I still love that album. You might be able to tell by the way Danny waxes poetic about it in the book.
CRCPL: What are you currently reading?
Zadoorian: Honestly, it’s been a crazy year, so my reading habits have been very erratic. Early in the year, The Leisure Seeker film came out which resulted in a number of events and publicity. Right after that, Beautiful Music was released. Basically, I’ve been doing publicity for it for the past five months, with lots of traveling and literary events, along with writer’s retreats, book fairs, panels and things like that. It’s been hard to focus on reading, but I have been enjoying short stories lately, especially those of Denis Johnson. I’m late coming to that party, but I’m glad I finally arrived. I absolutely loved Jesus’ Son and am now reading his second and last collection, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. Pretty amazing stuff. I also just started Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.
Books will be available to purchase at the event or in advance at Wheatberry Books in downtown Chillicothe.
The BIG READ is sponsored by the Friends of the Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library. Free and open to the public!