Greg Olear, author of the page-turning, retro 90's novel "Totally Killer", has held a number of amazing and eccentric jobs: administrative assistant, benefits coordinator, writer of SAT practice questions, web designer, infomercial voice-over artist, freelance journalist, graphic designer, astrologer, keyboard player, indie record company manager, and recruiter. He is also the senior editor and a frequent contributor of The Nervous Breakdown, an online literary magazine.
I want to thank him for taking the time to answer the following questions, and for sending me a copy of his novel "Totally Killer" for review (which can be seen here.)
According to your Goodreads bio, you have had quite an interesting work history (as noted above): Out of all the positions you have held, which was the biggest let-down, and which was the most fulfilling (worth killing for)?
Novelist comes the closest. But there are no jobs worth killing for; all jobs are let-downs in some way. Even the plummest of the plums have their attendant stresses and headaches. With that caveat, “novelist with trust fund” would come closest to being Quid Pro Quo-able.
I have read quite a few of your blogs on TheNervousBreakdown.com. Most recently was the article entitled "Giant Leap", which is quite personal. Do you ever worry about the reactions from friends or family when you share private information with the public?
Of course. The first novel I attempted, in college, was “semi-autobiographical,” and one of the friends I wrote about was so upset at my portrayal of her, she stopped talking to me for years afterward. So I’m very sensitive to that kind of thing. That said, you can’t go around worrying about what your mom will think about this passage or that, or you’ll never write anything real.
What's a day in the life of a writer like?
Coffee is prominently involved.
How did you decide on the time, place (NYC 1991), and plot line for "Totally Killer"?
The central conceit was inspired by a joke a friend of mine cracked in 1993 or so. I don’t recall the exact quip, but it invoked the premise of killing someone to land a job. It was always a New York book—I started the original version right after living there for the first time in ’93. As for the 1991 setting, that came later, but 1991 was the nadir of the last recession, and it was just one of those years that are historically important. Plus, as you know from reading my latest post on The Nervous Breakdown, I am personally fond of that year.
How long did it take to write "Totally Killer"? What was the publishing process like?
Not counting the two earlier incarnations—the screenplay of 1993, the novel of 1998—TK about six months of writing time, plus a month or two to edit.
After reading "Totally Killer", and visiting Totallykiller.com, I have to know - How did you chose the songlist that appears in the opening of the novel, and on the website? Was it one that you actually created back in '91?
I wasn’t cool enough in 1991 to have a song list that included the Pogues, Elvis Costello, or the Velvet Underground. I made that mix last year, on CD, for my (excellent) editor at Harpers, Jen Schulkind, and did the Old School cassette sleeve as a joke. She took one look at it and said, “We have to use this.” And we did. So not only is my writing published, my writing is published.
If you could go back in time, (either before or after you were born), which decade would you most like to live in and why?
Paris with Hemingway has its appeal, of course, but I’m partial to the Nineties. I think I would live in the East Village in 1991. Although I don’t know that I can explain why.
What were your favorites in '91: Band? Tv Show? Subject in school? Pastime/Hobby?
I was still in my rock star phase at the time, which was ridiculous because I was also listening to a lot of Billy Joel (see what I mean? Not cool). I remember disliking 90210, which the girls in my French class would talk about nonstop, but I can’t recall what I did like. Certainly it was something dorky.
Bringing us back around to the current decade, what is your take on eBooks and eReaders, as an author and a reader?
I prefer reading books in book format, but I understand the appeal of the Kindle, especially for people who travel a lot. A friend of mine is a big reader, and she likes the Kindle because, as she explains it, with a Kindle, people sitting next to her on the plane can’t tell when she’s reading trash. As an author, I’m just happy that people are reading my book. The format—book, e-book, smoke signal, semaphore flag—doesn’t matter to me.
If your house were on fire, and you could only rescue 5 books from your bookshelves, which 5 would you save and why?
Not counting photo albums? I would pick not necessarily the books I like the most, but the copies of the books I like the most—that were irreplaceable. First on the list would be the Scribner paperbacks of The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby that I stole from my mother in high school. I am fond of my hardbound edition of Robert Graves’s The White Goddess. The Case for Astrology by John Anthony West—a fantastic book, if you’re into that sort of thing—is out of print, so I’d definitely want that. And last would be the oversized edition of Paradise Lost that I used in college. I’m a big Milton fan.
What authors/novels/ websites would you recommend to our audience?
The best literary magazine in cyberspace is The Nervous Breakdown (www.thenervousbreakdown.com), and I don’t say that just because I’m the senior editor. Great, great content there.
The best novels I read last year were Banned For Life by D.R. Haney, The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter, and Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones. I highly recommend the first two; the Littell, a thousand-page opus involving a Nazi SS officer, is not for every taste, but it’s staggering achievement.
Other writers I like (I’m not including obvious ones like Salinger and Nabokov): Brad Listi, Jonathan Evison, Claire Messud, James P. Othmer, Robin Antalek, Jessica Anya Blau, and Paul Theroux. I love Paul Theroux.
Thanks again Greg, for allowing us this opportunity to learn a bit more about you and your novel! And to all you readers out there, if you were in high school, college, or entering the work force in the 90's, you MUST pick up a copy of this book, and check out it's website at TotallyKiller.com!