Dan Blum Speaks on His New Novel, The Feet Say Run

Today, I welcome to my blog the multi-talented Dan Blum, satirist, poet, and novelist.  Dan's first novel, a satire called Lisa33, came out in 2004 from Viking.  He has also written two wonderful literary novels--with none of the stuffiness that people often associate with 'literary novel.'  The first of those, The Feet Say Run, is scheduled to be released by Gabriel's Horn Press this September.  From the publisher's website:

Dan Blum, fiction, holocaust, Nazi, literary fiction, historical fiction
The Feet Say Run is the story of a life spent running--a literary novel that is also a suspenseful page-turner, a work at once emotionally gripping and darkly comic.

In his waning years, Hans Jaeger finds himself stranded on a desert island--the last island not mapped by modern GPS--with a small band of survivors.  What is my particular crime, he asks.  Why have I been chosen for this fate.

And so he begins the chronicle of his long life.  He tells the tale of his life in Nazi Gemany, the Jewish girl he loved, and his years fighting with the Wehrmacht.  His war experiences are vividly individual--a struggle for survival in the most harrowing of circumstances--and yet also the broader story of the cruelty and absurdity of the Nazi regime, the madness of men, and of war itself.  Hans's story is the story of all the madness, irony, and horror of the modern world--and the story of one man who finds redemption when there's nowhere left to run.

Today, Dan talks about his writing.  His interview will appear over several days, so be sure to come back for the rest.

What are your main interests in fiction-writing?

My interests vary very widely, so this is hard to answer. I really like literary fiction that is plot-driven and emotionally intense. But I also enjoy a certain kind of twisted humor and I even must confess to occasionally descending into the dark art of poetry. Really, I love the craft of writing - the puzzle and challenge and the chance to entertain.

The one thing I tend to avoid is writing too directly about myself. There is something that feels a bit less creative, and a bit less liberating, in fiction that is too autobiographical. I am much more interested in conjuring a fictional world that is not exactly the one we inhabit than in probing into modern society as we know it.

What have been the biggest influences that got you interested in fiction writing?

My childhood was unremarkable in most ways. I grew up in an affluent, Jewish family on Long Island. But in one respect it was quite unusual: my father was a well-known psychoanalyst, my mother a clinical psychologist. Later, my brother and sister also both went into the field. So, in some sense, I was immersed in thinking introspectively, and in the Freudian concept of the unconscious, from a very young age. I learned it by osmosis.

If that background does not incline one to see the irony in life, I’m not sure what will. So definitely my sense of humor is both heavily influenced by this and also a reaction to it. But the worldview in my more serious writing is also influenced by it. For example, I often think of a good metaphor as bringing to the surface some connection between two things that readers may already have made subliminally, but are not yet consciously aware of.

How did you come to this topic of World War II for your novel?

This is difficult to answer. I truly never came to a decision to write about this era. Like so many things in novel-writing, it just sort of happened.

I had a vision of a man’s life that would span the better part of the last century and in some way tell the story of that century. I had my narrator – an old man looking back on his past from a deserted island. And then I wrote this one scene of his childhood in Germany, more or less as an experiment. And it felt right. So I just kept going. It was only once I wrote a bit of his early life in Germany that I started doing historical research, found what I really wanted to describe that seemed new and different and universal, and decided that this would be one of the main focuses of the book.

Did you feel uncomfortable, as a Jewish person, writing about the Nazi era from a German perspective?

Definitely, yes. But isn’t that what being a writer is about – transporting yourself into the time and mind of another world? At first, as I said, it was more or less an experiment. As the story progressed it felt more and more like it was an important perspective that had really not been told – an essentially sympathetic portrayal of a German young man living in the Nazi era – neither a courageous anti-Nazi nor an anti-Semitic believer, but a complete, complex human being – imperfect like all of us – sharing his experience.

As I thought more about it, it seemed who else could write this? A German novelist writing this book might well be accused of being a denier or an apologist. Who knows what I might be accused of. I am certainly no apologist for unspeakable atrocities. But I am also not a big believer in collective guilt. In the end, I have simply tried to remain faithful to the history I have read and to my own sense of the extreme complexities and contradictions of human nature.

Thank you, Dan!  I can say that having read the book, I find it remarkable writing, and a poignant story, that tells a side of history we rarely see. 

Dan Blum Interview Part Two  Dan Blum Interview Part Three

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