1. What is your name?
David Burr Gerrard. No relation to Aaron Burr unless Aaron Burr was a Russian Jew. The ancestral names my names are derived from are Burschotskys and Ginsburgs. Burschotsky was shaved like a conspicuously long beard (no one in my family is sure of the original spelling of Burschotsky, or whether the original name was ever transliterated in the first place). My father’s father, Nathan Ginsburg, changed his name to sidestep anti-Semitism. He maintained that he chose “Gerrard” because there was a jar of “Gerrard Pickles” at the table when he made this fateful decision. After my grandfather’s death in 1982 (when I was an infant), my father did a great deal of research to locate this pickle company. As far as he could discern, no such pickle company ever existed. This story is, to the best of my knowledge, true, but there is so much fabrication in my blood and name that you probably shouldn’t believe it. Maybe this is why I’m a fiction writer.
2. What is the title of your new book?
3. When was the book published and by whom?
March 18, 2014, by Rare Bird Books.
4. What other books have you authored?
This is my first.
5. What section should this new book be shelved under?
6. What is the book about? What is its plot, focus, or subject?
It is about Arthur Hunt, a former 1960s student radical, now a journalist famous for supporting America’s wars in Iraq and elsewhere. A mysterious blogger has just realized Arthur’s great secret, namely that in 1969 Arthur had sex with his own sister. For the most part, the book takes the form of Arthur’s self-defense. One of my favorite authors, Fiona Maazel, was kind enough to write this blurb for my novel, which I think nicely sums up the themes: “An astute and searing look at the political and cultural mores of the last fifty years–in all their savagery and good intentions.”
7. How did this book come about?
I graduated from college in 2003, at the start of the Iraq War (though “Mission Accomplished” was announced a couple months before graduation). At the time I was reading a lot of books and articles by Baby Boomers who defended the war in Iraq as a war for freedom, and therefore as the fulfillment rather than the repudiation of their ‘60s ideals. At one point I found this argument quite persuasive. When the war went terribly I started to wonder how this argument could have made sense to me, or to the people who made it, or to anyone. So I started writing about Arthur. Ten years later, here’s the book.
8. What was the hardest thing for you about writing/creating this book?
Deciding which doubts to listen to.
9. What was the easiest thing for you about writing/creating this book?
Generating doubts. I think that our society engages in far, far too much uncritical veneration of the military, but I do like the Navy SEALs’ famous motto: “The only easy day was yesterday.” For a writer, or at least for me, the only easy sentence was the last one. And that one needs to be taken out.
10. Who are some of the authors (or artists) you admire that have inspired you?
Philip Roth and Franz Kafka are my biggest influences, followed by Bellow, Nabokov, Proust, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis. My interest in the link between incest and American history predates my knowledge of Faulkner and Nabokov and can be traced to my childhood love of the movie Back to the Future.
11. If it were entirely up to you, what would the film adaptation of your book look like?
My book has a black humor that I think the Coen brothers would draw out. The actors I would be most interested in seeing play Arthur are, at different ages, Heath Ledger and Philip Seymour Hoffman, so I am very sadly out of luck.
12. What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel called The Epiphany Machine, about a device that tattoos epiphanies on the arms of its users. The scope is, like that of Short Century, roughly from the ‘60s to the present day, though The Epiphany Machine is an even more exaggerated, more surreal version, tilting more towards Roth than Kafka. I’m interested in how the way we think about ourselves and the world has changed and has not changed over the past several decades. If Short Century is in some oblique ways a riff on a film I love, Back to the Future, The Epiphany is in some oblique ways a riff on a film I hate, Forrest Gump. I suppose you can erase all my other influences and view my career as an extended argument with Robert Zemeckis.
David Burr Gerrard“s work has appeared in The Awl, The Millions, Specter, Extract(s), and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing at Manhattanville College. His debut novel, Short Century, has just been published by Rare Bird Books.
Questions by PMc Magazine
Photography Courtesy of Rare Bird Books
Design by Francesca Rimi
Cover of Short Century & David Burr Gerrard Author Photo, Photography Courtesy of Rare Bird Books