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Interview Mon Nov 16 2015
Last week author Dave Reidy saw his first novel The Voiceover Artist released by Curbside Splendor. Gapers Block Book Club reviewed the book, but I wanted to follow up with him to discuss his writing and influences. Tonight, Monday, Nov. 16, Reidy hosts the Lit/Comedy Roundtable at Annoyance Theater, 851 W. Belmont Ave. at 7pm. This roundtable mixes Reidy's interests in entertainment and literature, which we touch upon in this interview.
What was the transition from writing your short story collection to your first novel? Did anything about your writing process change?
The first several drafts of the novel were written entirely from the perspective of its main character, Simon Davies. But Simon still wasn't coming alive on the page in the ways he was in my head, so I tried a different approach, writing chapters from the points of view of Simon's mother, father, brother, voiceover agent, ex-girlfriend, and others, interspersed among chapters told from Simon's perspective. I was determined that the book would remain a novel with narrative threads that moved forward through each of the book's chapters. But I did draw upon some of my short-story-writing technique in ensuring that each of these first-person chapters was complex and, as much as is possible for a piece that is a novel chapter and not necessarily a stand-alone story, complete.
You've been part of the Chicago literary community for a long time. How have you seen things grow since the publication of your first story collection?
For one thing, I think that Chicago's writing programs--Columbia College, The School of the Art Institute, Roosevelt, Northwestern and others--are continuing to attract quality writers, and that many more of these writers are staying in Chicago, writing, editing, publishing, and curating their own reading series. The talent, energy, and integrity among this crowd of younger writers, editors, and impresarios are enormous. They produce work for an audience and offer themselves as an attentive audience for their fellow literary folks and, in so doing, they largely refuse to allow artificial boundaries of genre, form, race, ethnicity, or gender stand in their way. Ten years ago, when I returned to Chicago from graduate school, this phenomenon was building around featherproof books and the burgeoning live lit scene, but it's flourishing now. And now Chicago has both featherproof and Curbside Splendor Publishing, among other vibrant indies, drawing the eyes of serious literary people--many readers among them--to the work being done and the art being made in Chicago.
Your characters usually have backgrounds in the arts and entertainment industry as comedians, musicians, printmakers, basketball players and now voiceover talent. Because there is such a presence for those jobs in this city, how does being a Chicagoan influence why you've written characters with those backgrounds?
One of the things that makes Chicago such a fertile literary setting is the city's contradictions. It is the recognized home of long-form improvisation, yet it is notoriously difficult for Chicago actors to earn a living while working here. Chicago is a city of immigrants and migrants with a history of welcoming "the other" with the right hand and mistreating her with the left. In our collective consciousness, we carry a chip on our shoulder and suffer an inferiority complex, especially in the areas of entertainment and sports, especially where New York and Los Angeles are concerned. I find Chicago a particularly appropriate place to write indie fiction and make indie art of any kind because Chicago's artists must come to grips early with the fact that there is so much beautiful art being made here, and that the rest of the world's failure to take notice doesn't diminish the quality of the art.
Do you have a connection with arts and entertainment that draws you to write about it?
I've dabbled in performance. I took an improv class at Second City when I was in college, I played and sang in a three-piece band for a couple of years, and I've read my written work before live audiences many times. In some ways, performing is, for me, the road not taken--or the road not taken all the way to its end, anyway. I've heard other writers say that they write fiction because one life, defined by the irreversible choices an individual must make, could never be enough to satisfy her imagination. This take resonates with me. Fiction gives me a chance to inhabit characters whose lives could never be mine, but they give me a good taste of what I may have missed--the good and the bad of it. That cocktail of aspiration, gratitude, relief, and fear of missing out excites me and compels me to keep writing. What's more, I find the personal and professional journeys of artists (some of whom are also entertainers) fascinating. My list of favorite podcasts (WTF, You Made It Weird, Otherppl, Chicago Humanities Festival, Fresh Air, Bullseye, Sound Opinions) verifies this.
In The Voiceover Artist, you get into the details of what an audition is like and how to work with a talent agent. How deep did you conduct research to make sure there is authenticity in the details?
My first job out of college was with Coudal Partners, the famed Chicago design firm. At Coudal, I was given the chance to write radio scripts, audition and book voiceover talent, and, later in my tenure there, direct recording sessions. My bosses at Coudal Partners and the owners/engineers at Hubbard Street Studios showed me the ropes and, working with some of the city's best voiceover talent, I came to see that there was potential for humanity and even art in what some might dismiss as the cacophony of consumerism's advertising engine. Since then, I've had a chance to record a few voiceovers myself, mostly scratch tracks that would be redone later by union talent. So I was fortunate in that I didn't have to do a lot of research into voiceover. I already knew just enough to be dangerous.
Of all the professions you've written about, which do you think you'd suited for if you weren't a writer?
That's a tough one. I think there's a good chance I'm already engaged in the only creative pursuits I'm actually suited for. As far as other artistic or entertainment professions are concerned, I'm (mostly) content to leave them to those who can't imagine doing anything else, just as I can't quite imagine a life without writing.
Photo provided by the author.