Today I was lucky enough to nab an interview with New Jersey writer Peter DeMarco, author of Background Noise, published by Pangea Books and available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
DeMarco and I are neighbors, of a sort; we’re both featured in a recent issue of the Boiler Journal . We’ve also both been published in The New York Times and nominated for a Pushcart Prize in fiction. I think this makes us kindred spirits.
But back to DeMarco’s accomplishments: He placed fourth in the Bartleby Snopes Dialogue contest, and his work can be found in Prime Number Magazine, decomP, Red Lightbulbs, Monkeybicycle, Quarterly, Flashquake, Verbsap, Pindeldyboz, Hippocampus, and Dogzplot.
DeMarco teaches high school English and film in New York City. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Charmaine, and two boys.
How did you come up for the idea for Background Noise? Did it evolve from a short story or was it always meant as a longer work?
The title comes from a movie set when I did some extra work in my pursuit of an acting career. The extras were referred to as “background.” On the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Last Action Hero, I was one of many, many extras in Times Square on a cold winter night. The assistant director called for “background noise,” which was our cue to begin the cheering that the scene required. I thought it would make a good title for a book, a kind of metaphor for a person’s life. I’d always wanted to write a book about a character’s alienation from life in middle class suburbia, so I put the two together.
Have you always considered yourself a writer or did the idea/knowledge hit you later in life?
My mother would sit me down during summer vacations when I was in elementary school and have me work on a variety of writing assignments on a yellow pad. Every day. She must’ve recognized my talent and desire or something and made me write. Which I loved doing. I still have some of those assignments. The first story I wrote was in fifth grade. It was a haunted house story. My teacher wrote that it was very good, but “awfully bloody.” I typed it on an ancient typewriter with screwed up keys. I still have it. I’m really proud of it.
Background Noise is classified as literary fiction. What genre do you normally read?
I’m obsessed with film so I read everything I can about my favorite films, directors, writers. One of my favorite novels is a book about a character who’s obsessed with film. It’s called Zeroville, by Steve Erickson. The main character has a tattoo on his bald head of his favorite movie scene. I love that.
Who are your favorite authors and what are you currently reading?
I love Haruki Murakami. His writing was the catalyst for my short story beginnings. I liked the casual style, and character insights. I felt like he knew me. And I’m drawn to his themes of alienation and the mysteries that reside in the hearts of women. Right now I’m reading a book about the Vietnam War called Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. I’m fascinated by the subject of the Vietnam War. And, of course, there’s a film book. A biography of actor Lee Marvin.
How do you feel about the self-publishing industry? Do you think it helps or hinders writers? Readers?
My friend formed his own company, Pangea Books, and published Background Noise. He’s got a professional editor and marketing person. So the self-publishing industry got Background Noise published, which is a great thing. But because of that, the competition is fierce, everyone has a book out. And now readers have no way of really discerning what’s special, there’s a free kindle download everywhere. My novella is also available as a print on demand, and when you hold that copy in your hand, with our striking cover, it feels special. But how do you get that book into someone’s hand?
What has been your biggest challenge as a writer?
The discipline to write, and feeling like I had anything to say. I felt like everything I wanted to say had already been said before, and said better. I’m very hard on myself. But then I started to use images and feelings from the past, and build stories around them. I wrote my first short story in 2004 and sent it out to a contest in a now defunct literary magazine called New York Stories. I won 2nd prize, $250, and publication in the magazine. That helped my confidence and I continued to build stories around my protagonist, Henry. Background Noise consists of a collection of interwoven stories involving Henry and his troubled suburban existence.
Who do you see reading your books? Do you have an intended audience, a so-called “perfect” reader?
It would be someone who appreciates a variety of writing styles. That person could be a male, or female. Someone who doesn’t get turned off by the darker aspects of life, and is not looking for the rosiest of endings.
What’s up next in your writing life?
I’m working on more stories involving the Henry character. Someone told me to turn Background Noise into a screenplay, which would be a challenge. I’ve never written a script. I see it as a small, independent film, a little surreal, with a touch of the unreliable narrator.