Mateo Askaripour on Maintaining Plausibility in an Absurd World
In Conversation with Courtney Balestier on the WMFA Podcast
Writing can be lonely work; WMFA counters that with conversation. It’s a show about creativity and craft, where writer and host Courtney Balestier talks shop with some of today’s best writers and examines the issues we face when we do creative work. The mission of WMFA is to explore why we writers do what we do, so that we can do it with more intention, and how we do what we do, so that we can do it better.
In this episode, Courtney Balestier talks to Mateo Askaripour, author of Black Buck, about writing from personal experience while also leaving room for invention, managing plausibility, and what we learn from the novels we don’t sell.
From the episode:
Courtney Balestier: I wanted to talk to you about working within this framework of satire. Because I think what the book does really well, and what’s so tricky—and I was thinking about it afterward: when did I ever consciously sign on? And I don’t think I ever needed to. The voice is so strong and the world is so well-built—as you say, multiple climaxes; things ratchet up and ratchet up and ratchet up. I know the book gets compared a lot to Sorry to Bother You, and I see why. Sorry to Bother You goes more absurd maybe. Well, not maybe. Love that movie; very different thing. But as the reader, you just keep buying into it again and again and again. And I wondered if that was something that you had to recalibrate, maybe even as you were having conversations with readers and editors. Was there ever a sort of credibility or believability hurdle that you had to smooth out as these crazier and crazier events happen?
Mateo Askaripour: I’m so happy that you asked that question. That for me was important because I wanted there to be like in a video game, new bosses at the end of every part, new stages or a new hurdle. Because in some of the movies—especially mob movies, like Goodfellas—there’s always a next challenge. There’s always a bigger heist. They want to rob an airline, you know what I’m saying? There’s always something bigger. And for me as the reader, I was like, that’s what would keep me engaged—if things get crazier and crazier.
However, there is the question of plausibility, right? Because if you go too far, then you could lose readers who thought this book was really sincere and earnest and rooted in reality. And then you can have readers say, hey, yeah, I thought most of this was good, but this feels more fantastic. It’s just not as real. It’s pretty absurd. I can’t believe it.
And to that, I say, listen, what’s absurd comes down to who you are and the experiences that you’ve had. Because for me, everything in this book, while it does get really crazy and goes to crazy lengths and people take it to crazy places, I could actually see all of this happening. And there are crazier things that have happened this year, that have happened over the past couple of years. You know, an example I use is what if ten years ago, you tell the American public there’s going to be this reality TV guy who’s on your small screen and then he’s going to one day become president? You’d say that’s fiction, that can’t happen. And then look what happened.
But to go back to the original question, I didn’t want to stray way too far from what was plausible in the world that I created. And I don’t think I did. Because just from the beginning, when Darren enters Sumwun, it’s a crazy place. And I’ve worked at a place that was way crazier than what I even put in this book, that was way more intense, and there’s a lot of wild stuff going on. So I think that within the confines of the world that I created, everything is plausible. But some people won’t agree. It’ll be so outside the scope of what they could even believe pertaining to reality, even Darren’s reality, that they’re going to think it’s absurd. And that’s okay, too. That’s fine. Read it how you want. Just read it.
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Mateo Askaripour was a 2018 Rhode Island Writers Colony writer-in-residence, and his writing has appeared in Entrepreneur, Lit Hub, Catapult, The Rumpus, Medium, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, and his favorite pastimes include bingeing music videos and movie trailers, drinking yerba mate, and dancing in his apartment. Black Buck is his debut novel. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @AskMateo.