• In Which Colson Whitehead is Highly Concerned with the Exploration of Inner Space

    And How Does Whitehead Defeat Writer's Block? Tackle the F*cker.

    Colson Whitehead’s newest novel, The Nickel Boys, tells the story of two boys who are sent to a hellish reform school in Florida during the era of Jim Crow. Available now from Doubleday.


    Who do you most wish would read your book?
    When I was in 8th grade, I thought John Carpenter was the greatest director alive. Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Halloween, The Thing. Writing, directing, composing the music—the man did it all. He’s been touring the world the last couple of years, performing the soundtracks from his films. I hope to see him the next time he swings through. His genre-hopping style was a big influence on me, and I’d be thrilled if he read one of my books, whichever one sounds the least boring to him. And Carpenter’s Dark Star, of course, provides a cautionary tale about the perils of journeys into the realms beyond our known Earth. . .

    What do you always want to talk about in interviews but never get to?
    What’s all this talk about going to Mars? The cosmic radiation will kill us. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), an astronaut traveling to and from the Red Planet would receive 60 percent of their career dose of radiation on the trip. “[The particles] rip through you like you’re cellophane,” says one scientist. That’s why we must devote our energies to exploring the true Final Frontier—Inner Space.

    What time of day do you write?
    10am to 3pm is a nice block, good for one to three pages a day. Do that three or four or five days a week, and you’re getting a good accumulation. Some people say you have to write every day, but that sounds like a bit of a grind. If you wake up and don’t feel like working, don’t. See a matinee with the other weirdos. Work on a hobby, such as making macramé plant holders, or the construction of a great vessel that can handle the rigors of a journey into the Final Frontier—Inner Space.

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    How do you tackle writers block?
    The element of surprise is key, and a carefully considered angle of approach. Speed is a big factor. Then you just ram into it and take the fucker down. Planning, cunning—these skills will come in handy when humanity makes its leap forward into the uncharted universe within.

    Which non-literary piece of culture—film, TV show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?
    The sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage (1966) is about a submarine that is shrunk to microscopic size and injected into a human body to perform micro-surgery. Couched in a piece of mass entertainment, it is foremost a piece of propaganda, the U.S. government’s first attempt to prepare its citizens for our mass exodus into subatomic realms. It counts Donald Pleasance and Raquel Welch among its cast.

    Which book(s) do you return to again and again?
    In the early 1970s, stagflation, the oil crisis, and the Recession of ’74 put an end to the so-called “First Wave” of Inner Space colonization. By necessity, the Second Wave unfolded as a multinational effort. In 1976, U.S. toy company Mego licensed the Japanese Microman action figures and promoted them under the Micronaut brand. One of the results of this joint effort between the U.S. and Japan was the Marvel Comic Micronauts, with its “right under our noses” tagline, “They Came From Inner Space.” Written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Michael Golden, the series concerned an immortal battle between the forces of good and evil, unfolding in the so-called “Microverse.” It was believed that marketing the comic book series to children, and seeding the reality of Inner Space at an early age, would prepare Americans for the coming conflict in 2027. I have all of Bill Mantlo’s run in mint condition, stored in my bunker in plastic bags.

    [Ed. note: we look forward to a very good novel about the coming Inner Space Wars.]


    The Nickel Boys is out now from Doubleday.

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