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Scott Spencer
What does the title A Ship Made of Paper refer to?
The title has three meanings to me. The words themselves come from the lyrics to a blues song, different versions of which I have heard sung by Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Phoebe Snow, and Paul Butterfield. I am from Chicago and the blues is the music of my youth and is still very important to me. The title also suggests the fragility of life, and the vulnerability of our enterprises, and it reminded me strongly of the predicament my characters found themselves in. Finally, a ship made of paper seems like an interesting way of thinking about what a novel is –a vessel which takes us to a new land but whose sea worthiness is a kind of miracle.
Daniel advises Mercy – "You don't have anything to feel guilty about. You have a right to make yourself happy. You're not obliged to stay where you're miserable.". To what extent do you agree with Daniel?
I had Daniel give that somewhat dubious piece of advice to the baby-sitter because I believe that often when people attempt to advise others they are speaking so directly from their own experiences and preoccupations that they may as well be speaking to themselves. Once a character is formed in my writing, I don’t particularly concern myself with whether or not I “agree” with what they say or even approve of what they do. What my primary concern is whether or not the character would say or do such a thing. That said, I of course believe that people have a right to make themselves happy. Sometimes when you choose your own happiness you make someone else unhappy. Children who are gay and choose to stop hiding their sexual preference can sometimes make a narrow-minded parent very upset. However, there are situations in which honor or compassion might encourage one to put ones personal happiness to the side –a spouse whom you no longer love may be terminally ill, on which case you stick it out even if there is someone else with whom you long to live. The so-called right to happiness needs to be constantly interpreted, unlike the other human rights –life and liberty -- mentioned in the American Delcaration of Independence.
Is there really any hope for Iris and Daniel’s relationship given the weight of circumstance against it?
I think there is hope but it won’t be easy. Let’s say something like 50 percent of all conjugal unions end in separation, giving Iris and Daniel a fifty-fifty chance of staying together. I would say the pressures on them would reduce those odds, making it about sixty-forty.
Why did you start the chapters with a ‘teaser’ of the story to come? When I read it I thought it was the new novel that Kate was writing and I was confused when it became apparent it was an actual part of the narrative.
In the first and second drafts of the novel, Daniel and Hampton have their misadventure in the woods in the first chapter. When I changed my mind about the book’s structure, I sorely missed the sense of consequence the story was given by telling the reader about what happened in the woods. I really wanted the reader to know something catastrophic was going to happen and taking bits of that former first chapter and putting them at the front of the first thirteen chapters accomplished that for me.
Is love (especially the kind of intense passion that Iris and Daniel feel) a form of madness?
Love and especially passion can shake us loose from the bonds of self-interest. Love and passion can undermine our belief systems and the structures of our everyday life. Sometimes this is just what we need. Sometimes not.
Which writers do you especially admire?
There are many writers whose work is meaningful to me, writers who have taught me how to write and how to live. I will name a few: Hemingway, Graham Greene, Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, Raymond Chandler, Alice Munro, George Orwell, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Lore Segal.
We're looking forward to reading your new novel, WILLING, which is due out in March this year. Please can you tell us a bit about it.
WILLING is the most overtly comic novel I have written. It is about a middling writer-for-hire whose young girlfriend cuckolds him. Feeling sorry for him, his uncle bestows a strange gift upon him –a spot on a very pricey international sex tour. The novel’s protagonist accepts the offer, thinking he can get a best seller out of the experience. And, indeed, he is able to pitch the idea and get a hefty contract for a book before even setting out. What follows, of course, is an absolute nightmare.
Scott Spencer

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