met Douglas in New York City recently, early
in 2000. He was staying in a hotel in the upper 50s. I called him on the
phone and he told that he was wearing a bozo suit and he would be easy
to recognized. I had interviewed him before and was ready to be subverted
by Coupland. When I interviewed him more than five years ago, he didn't
really answer any of my questions. So this time I just had a conversation
with him, and hopefully we would talk about his new book, Miss
Wyoming, which I liked.
I didn't really
want to talk about Gen X or Bill Gates. So
AL: How did you celebrate the year 2000, the Millennium?
DC: I was going to have this big bonfire where I live, down on the beach. Of course there were no Y2K disasters. So the municipalities and the police had nothing better to do than to crack down on anything that seemed seditious like a bonfire. The bonfire was canceled. So we had to think of something else to do. We drove around in Vancouver on the most blank part of freeway possible. And 5, 4, 3, 2, 1....
AL: In Seattle they canceled all the celebrations there.
DC: They overreacted though. You're not from Seattle, are you?
AL: No, but I went there once. In the summer of 1991.
DC: (laughs) Things were more interesting then. There's so much going on there now. (Looks at movie reviews in paper.) I only read reviews after the fact, to see if they agreed with me. I don't watch trailers. I am usually buying Raisinettes at that time. I just read where it is and what time. When you go see a movie I don't want to know what's going to happen. It's been a great year for that. There's been so many great films this year, like Being John Malkovich, Run Lola Run, and Magnolia. (Looks at an advertisement). Who's Ani DiFranco?
AL: She's a singer/songwriter. She has her own label. Not really my cup of tea. Do you listen to a lot of music?
DC: She's one of the names. I probably would know her if I heard her music. You know what I'm listening to now is Stereo Total. Also Guided By Voices. I saw them in November in Tokyo and I thought "This is great!" and got the whole thing.
AL: You have been involved in a few think tanks. What do you do there?
My real strength in that department is that I can predict how things are
going to go wrong. I can look at any situation, like that bartender getting
us some drinks, to any political situation. I can see the weak links,
where it failed, and who forgot to bring the backup disk. That's a practical
thing in the short term. But in the long term, I think that they should
teach children in first grade reading, writing, social studies, and stochastic
forecasting. It is something that we are all capable of doing. The ability
AL: What about the human body? Could you imagine any improvements?
If you have people who are 120 years old but physically they're 30? What
are old people like? They're crabby, they know what they like, they know
what they don't like, they're opinionated, nothing going to sway them.
So you got these "old" young people walking around.
AL: Your new book, Miss Wyoming, is with a new publisher for you, Pantheon. Is it sad to leave Harper Collins?
DC: Generation X was with St. Martin's Press. And two of them were with Simon & Schuster, but I stayed with the same editor. In publishing, you allegiance is to your editor, not to your publishing house. Jim Fitzgerald was my first editor. He became an agent in Los Angeles, and is the official representative for the Hell's Angels. He's a likable guy. But St. Martin's would buy the second book. But I don't want to discuss my publishing. Boring! Boring!
AL: Have you been doing any day trading or playing the stock market?
DC: I have yet to meet a day trader. Do they ever make any money? They are really contributing to society. Everyone I've ever met with even a little trust fund is messed up. Having money at a young age is a guarantee of nothing happening in that person's life. This is a sample sentence you would get from a trust fund kid: "Well, I'm working on this novel and it's really coming along okay, but I need a bit more time to think about it, so I am going to Boca Raton for a week or so." And a year later: "I'm not writing anymore, now I'm producing a film. Do you think I should get engaged?"
AL: Years back I used to work in San Francisco in a building that housed a bunch of new magazines like Might Magazine, and Wired magazine was on the second floor. They'd have bottles of champagne every month celebrating each issue. We'd be there working on our little literary magazine or whatever scratching our heads and wondering what all this technology shit was. You used to write for Wired?
DC: Might Magazine was so funny. Have you seen Wired lately? It's different. I don't know anyone there anymore. I went through that. Everyone goes through that. The whole 1980s was like that for me, watching everyone having a party in the big ballroom, and banging my head on the table. I'm hardly in the ballroom now.
AL: During the 1980s you were living in Japan and doing sculpture and art. What was that like?
DC: I went to school there and then worked there. I never just hung around in Japan. I took my second holiday in my life just last November.
AL: What do you parents think of what you're doing?
DC: They don't have a clue. And bless them. I've given up trying to explain. Things got better when we agreed to stop talking. My Dad who doesn't read anything, is reading the new book. It's weird. I never kept a diary but it's like having someone read your diary. He's more interested in my car's tire pressure. My Dad asked me "Do you know that your tire pressure is low?"
AL: I read that you have sold over or nearly one million books. That's a lot of trees. How do they figure that out?
DC: Oh that's easy to find out. The publishers can track that stuff in five minutes. Why are you so interested in numbers? Numbers are out there, you can't change them.
AL: Did you spend a lot of time in Los Angeles and Hollywood in preparation of the writing of Miss Wyoming?
DC: Yeah. Met a lot of people down there, some are friends. You encounter this certain type of person in the film industry down there, who you wonder biologically, clinically, theologically, if they have a soul. They are these "things." Maybe if they don't have a soul, how can they get one? Or they figured the only way to get one is to find one of their own. So you have John who is this movie mogul and then you have Susan, and in my head I see Kristy McNicol. But everyone sees different things. I like L.A. It's not an L.A. bashing book.
AL: It reminded me of Paris, Texas. The guy freaks out and goes on this spiritual journey. Was that an influence?
DC: No, but I loved the movie. It's a recurring theme in the arts. It's one of the last noble gestures you can make: finding yourself before you implode. Which is what my main character did. I lived in the desert down there for a year. In Riverside, I don't like the heat but I like everything else about it. Since I'm from Canada it will always be exotic to me. I didn't really like the image of the desert as a symbol, I just liked the geography of it. The feeling of it. (Looks at some people walking outside on 50th Street). Where is the New York style that we know? Everyone looks so beleaguered.
AL: Are you involved with the Douglas Coupland website?
I'm involved in it. I know a lot of people in web design business. The
publisher doesn't give you any money for the website. They ask you: "Are
you going to have a website?" And you say: "Why, are you going
to help out?" And they say "No, but we can link it up to our
website." And there website is something the size of a nutrasweet
packet, saying "Available January 2000." Thanks guys.
AL: People have at least an email account. Things have changed in that way. They feel a need for that.
DC: Everything gets better in a year, doesn't it? I got this laptop. It was Powerbook 3400C. When it came out it was "Wooo" but now it's just a wood burner. It's a joke and now I have to upgrade. Now I'm at the point of should I go PC or Mac? I can't find a compelling argument for either one so I'm still on the fence.
AL: Are there any TV shows that you like?
DC: I watch The Simpsons. I'm finally getting into Futurama. I always know it's going to be on at 8pm on Sunday. If they fuck with that, I'll never see it again. The other thing I like is America's Best Car Chases. When Good Times Go Bad which is like wedding dresses catching on fire. Ho! Ho! These people are so surprised when the animal fights back. Oh please.
(A limousine pulls up)
AL: Your car has arrived for your next engagement.
DC: That would be Courtney Love's car. I'm just looking at that office up above there. It looks like the most joyless looking working environment. What's that thing in the corner?
AL: That box?
DC: A surveillance totem?
AL: It's usually a heater or an air conditioner. The windows are sweating so maybe they have the heat turned up? Are there any covert messages you'd like to say to your fans?
DC: No. Maybe I'll go over to the MoMA bookstore before the reading tonight. I get the feeling that there's a real question that you wanted to ask me. You can ask me a question.
AL: No, not really.
Alexander Laurence is a writer who lives in New York City. He has interviewed over 100 novelists, many of which are accessible through the Internet. His book reviews have appeared in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, American Book Review, East Bay Express, LA Reader, Bay Guardian, and American Book Jam. He has been the editor of Cups magazine since 1993.