Festival of Books: Author Victor LaValle


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Although Victor LaValle used to duck the limelight, he’s had a pretty public profile lately -- not only can you see his living-room renovation in the N.Y. Times, but he’ll also be at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on Saturday, at the panel ‘Writing the Fantastic.’ Our columnist Ed Park loved LaValle’s latest book, ‘Big Machine,’ which he wrote had ‘a dazzling array of flashy moving parts -- secret societies, backstories toggled for maximum effect, angels and demons, suicide squads recruited from among the homeless.’ LaValle answered Carolyn Kellogg’s questions by e-mail.

Jacket Copy: Our columnist Ed Park called your book ‘Big Machine’ weird and surreal, but he emphasized how funny it was. Do you ever crack yourself up when you’re writing?


Victor LaValle: I’m always trying to make myself laugh. I’m the most enthusiastic audience I’m likely to find, so if it doesn’t make me smile then it probably won’t work on you. The jokes that only make me shrug get cut.

JC: Though the book also has elements of horror, like Stephen King, it reads very differently than a Stephen King novel. Do you consider it in the horror genre?

VLV: It’s my great hope that this book will be considered a horror novel! Sometimes reviewers and readers have been resistant to offer the label, maybe because they think it’s some kind of insult. But the horror genre is vast and full of brilliance. Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Herman Melville, the book of Esther. I’ll happily join that list.

JC: What are you currently reading?

VLV: I’m trying to keep up with stuff that’s recently out. I’ve just finished a novel called ‘Wench’ by Dolen Perkins-Valdez that I would recommend to everyone. And Sam Lipsyte’s hilarious ‘The Ask.’ I just picked up ‘Matterhorn’ by Karl Marlantes. And I polished off a gang of Ambrose Bierce’s fiction recently.

JC: What are you looking forward to at the festival?

VLV: I’ve never been to the festival so I’m an excited newcomer. There’s the mystery panel called ‘Dark Tales From the Golden State’ which sounds cool. And ‘Poetic Interludes’ which features a number of wonderful poets. And I want to go to that discussion called ‘Rebooting Culture.’ I want to count how many people show up just to yell at David Shields.

JC: What do you hope to see or do in L.A. apart from the Festival of Books?

VLV: A bunch of my friends live in L.A. and I haven’t seen them in months, or years. Since I’ve never been to L.A. either I’m going to be relying on them for guidance. But I might have to act like a cheeseball and take that bus tour through ‘Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles.’

-- Carolyn Kellogg