Andre Dubus III follows best-seller with new novel

Some authors may be intimidated to write another novel after a mega-hit, but Andre Dubus lll isn’t o

Some authors may be intimidated to write another novel after a mega-hit, but Andre Dubus lll isn’t one of them. His 1999 international bestseller, “House of Sand and Fog,” has now sold over two million copies, was a National Book Award finalist, an Oprah book pick and a successful 2003 movie.

Andre Dubus III

WHERE: University at Albany

WHEN: Reading at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Recital Hall located in the Performing Arts Center; seminar at 4:15 p.m. in the Standish Room in the Science Library


MORE INFO: New York State Writers Institute, 442-5620

“I was totally taken back that ‘House of Sand and Fog’ ever got published,” said Dubus in a recent phone interview from his home near Newburyport, Mass. “I went to 24 publishers before finding one that took it on, which had also happened with my first two books. It’s such a dark tale. I didn’t expect anyone would read it.”

Dubus accepted a long time ago that the world was never going to pay attention to anything he wrote, but he was still going to write anyway. “If I don’t write,” he said, “I just don’t feel like me.”

Perhaps some of this attitude came about from being the son of the celebrated short story writer Andre Dubus.

“When I was a kid, my dad made $7,000 a year as a school teacher,” said Dubus. “I thought of him as an obscure writer and only later did I realize he was writing great literature that few people were reading.”

Starting to write

When Dubus was in his early 20s, he fell in love with art and literature and that’s when he decided to become a writer, like his father. “I took a lot of jobs at night so I could write in the morning,” said Dubus, “and that’s when I began to get so much grief about having a father who was such an excellent writer. People thought he helped me write and helped me get published, when the truth was that we rarely talked about writing at all.”

It bothered Dubus that so many celebrated and popular writers were nothing compared to his father. “My father was one of those writers that could just take your face off with his stories and he was known only by a handful of other good writers. In his last few years though, my father felt he had gotten a lot of attention, and I know that his work will continue to be read.”

On Tuesday at 8 p.m., Andre Dubus lll will read from his new book “The Garden of Last Days” (W.W. Norton, 537 pages, $24.95) at the Recital Hall in the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany’s uptown campus. Earlier in the day, he will give a seminar at 4:15 in the Standish Room of the Science Library of the uptown campus.

“This new book took five-and-a-half years to write, and I’ve never done more research in my whole life,” said Dubus.

The story takes place during the days leading up to 9/11. What intrigued Dubus was an article he read that described how the hijackers, while fanatically fundamentalist, spent their last days drinking in strip clubs. He interviewed a local woman who worked in a club, flew down to Florida to see what these clubs were like, read the Quran and did a lot of speculating.

In this new book, Dubus imagines a cast of characters such as Bassam al-Jizani, the conflicted Saudi Arabian hijacker, and April, the dancer he becomes obsessed with, a young woman who sees her job as a means to a legitimate life for herself and her 3-year-old daughter. Other characters include A.J., a Puma Strip Club regular and an angry, lonely working-class guy, whose deluded attempt to do a good deed leads to chaos and disaster.

“It’s easy for me to think up these characters if I get out of the way and sit and wait for them,” said Dubus. “That’s when I’m able to capture these people as they are and not as I wish them to be.”

Although his books are often suspenseful, and he is sometimes referred to as a mystery writer, Dubus actually sees himself more as a character-driven writer of drama.

“I don’t want the reader to turn the page to find out what’s going to happen next,” said Dubus. “I want the reader to turn the page because they’re starting to care about the characters whether they like them or not. I think a lot of beginning writers fall into the trap of trying to make their characters likable. Well, I think most importantly they have to be real, and they might not always be likable.”

Creating a terrorist

He was reluctant to write from the point of view of the terrorist Bassam. “I knew in order to become this character I had to try to capture him fully, and that meant I would have to withhold judgment of him,” said Dubus. “I tried to make him human.”

Dubus was not worried how the public might react to this character. “I believe if there’s one enemy to creativity it’s self-consciousness,” he said. “I never worried about what the public would think of my portrayal of these terrorists. A good writer needs to fully surrender to their creativity, which explains why writing fiction to me is finding the story rather than telling the story.”

Still, writing can often be a struggle even to someone who has found such success in the past decade. For the past 25 years, he’s been trying to write an autobiographical novel about Vietnam, divorce, violence and drugs. “I’ve really struggled with it,” said Dubus. “What I’ve begun to realize is that I’m just not capable of writing about my own life. Hemingway and Capote could do that, but I can’t.”

What he’s currently trying to do is take some of that autobiographical material and turn it into a collection of personal essays. “Writers always complain about how hard it is to write,” laughed Dubus, “but, come on, if it was too easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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