How Business School Applications Inspired a Debut Novel

By Maryann Yin Comment

Since we last we spoke with debut author Teddy Wayne (pictured, via), we wanted to find out more about his debut novel, Kapitoil. So, we went back for a longer interview about his work and the books he recommends for aspiring writers.

Q: I do not intend to talk about your first novel, but how did you land the deal for your second novel, Kapitoil?

A: That first novel you’re not intending to talk about, which I wrote when I was 25, never saw the light of day, fortunately, but it did get me my current literary agent. For Kapitoil, it took a dispiriting round of rejections and a major revision before it garnered offers from a few different publishing houses. It was, I think, the first time in my life that adversity inspired me to work harder. I promise it will never happen again.

Q: Having taught writing at the college level, what do you recommend young writers to read?
A: Here are the stories (and a few excerpts from books) on my introduction to fiction writing syllabus:
John Gardner – selections from The Art of Fiction
Flannery O’ConnorA Good Man Is Hard to Find
J.D. SalingerTeddy, A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes, selection from The Catcher in the Rye
George SaundersThe Barber’s Unhappiness, Sea Oak
Russell BanksSarah Cole: A Type of Love Story, selection from Rule of the Bone
John UpdikeA&P
Mark Haddon – selection from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
A.M. HomesA Real Doll
Sherman AlexieWhat You Pawn I Will Redeem
Mary GaitskillSecretary
Julie OrringerNote to Sixth Grade Self
Ernest HemingwayA Clean, Well-Lighted Place; Hills Like White Elephants, The Killers
ZZ PackerBrownies, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
Michael Chabon – Son of the Wolfman
Roald DahlMadame Rosette
William Carlos Williams – The Use of Force
Raymond CarverCathedral

Q: What actually inspired you to write Kapitoil?
A: I had a job in my mid-twenties editing business-school application essays over the Internet, mostly from ESL applicants from Japan, China, and South Korea who had learned English through financial and technological jargon. It gave me the idea to write from the perspective of a character with a similar late-capitalist notion of language. The challenge was wedding that sterile discourse to a soulful character and making his voice lyrical, humane, and humorous rather than sterile and machinelike. I was eventually fired from the job for slacking off.

Q: What’s your secret for creating a funny story?
A: I simply watch reruns of Empty Nest and transpose the episodes’ narrative structures, deep character studies, and delightful wordplay to the literary form.

Q: Jonathan Franzen gave a blurb for Kapitoil; have you read Freedom and if so, any thoughts?
A: I’m mostly surprised he didn’t ask me to blurb Freedom in return, which I read with enjoyment and admiration. Surely my endorsement would have helped gin up a little more attention for his eminently worthy novel. So here’s my belated blurb, which his publisher is welcome to drape across the paperback: ‘Freedom is both a penetrating macro- and microscopic overview of post-empire America, as Dickensian in its social sweep as it is Tolstoyan in its piercing insights into the human heart. Jonathan Franzen has a bright future ahead of him.’

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m working on another novel, freelancing for various publications, dipping a wary toe in the seductive waters of comedic screenwriting, and, like everyone else, slowly advancing toward death. Happy New Year!