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First Book: Interview with Michael LaPointe

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Photo Credit: Alex Warrender

First Book: The Creep

Published: June 1, 2021

This is your first book - why did you need to write this ‘one’?

I wish I could say this was the first book I ever wrote. The truth is that I'd written several manuscripts before this one, and when I was writing The Creep, I naively believed that one of those earlier works would get published and this would be my second book. In any case, I spent about a year investigating a true crime feature for The Atlantic, an experience that sent me around America, at times entering into uncomfortable, perhaps even dangerous situations. I had a wealth of unresolved feelings about that experience, a sort of shadow-side to the story that eventually made it into print, and I wanted a place to explore and dramatize those feelings. When I struck upon the plot for The Creep, it seemed like a vessel into which I could pour all the pent-up energies of that year.

What was your journey from idea to publication?

I wrote The Creep in 2018, which was probably the hardest single year of my professional life. I'd sunk about five years into manuscripts that didn't get published, and was facing down a steep, jagged mountain of debt. It was only that piece for The Atlantic that brought me back to zero, financially, and rather than building up some savings or whatever, I decided this was my chance to write another novel. I had about a 6-8 month window in which it was feasible, so I got to work. It was overall a deeply pleasurable experience—I always have fun when I'm writing, because I superstitiously think the reader can tell—but the broader financial context of the composition was anxiety-inducing; I tried not to think about it. In any event, I finished the book, and Random House Canada acquired it in 2019. Of course no one at the time knew that the most intensive period of editing would take place against the backdrop of a global pandemic, but we got it done. I recall my editor calling me while a burst gas main in his kitchen was spewing fire: yet one more adjustment to working from home that everybody made with such aplomb.

Give me your best elevator pitch for The Creep.

A journalist with the habit of bending facts investigates a medical breakthrough, but ends up on a trail of grisly fatalities in a story even stranger than she could imagine.

You’re a journalist writing about a journalist - tell me about your main character Whitney Chase?

Whitney is a culture writer on staff at a New York magazine called The Bystander. In the aftermath of 9/11, she wants to stop writing about rock stars and novelists and tell the stories that "really matter." What people don't know is that Whitney has the tendency to fabricate details in her stories, a drift across the fact/fiction divide that she calls "the creep." Whitney is a lonely person: a friendless careerist who, for various biographical and psychological reasons, instinctively revolts against intimacy. She likes to drink, and she's a Lakers fan; I relate to one thing, and not the other. In some regards, I picture Whitney as a novelist trapped in a journalistic life. What for a novelist is normal artistic process—taking something "true" and giving it an artfulness it doesn't have in reality—presents an existential crisis to a journalist who's meant to stick to the facts.

What was your playlist when writing The Creep (either literally or thematically?)

I can't listen to music while writing, but I do recall that, while walking around and imagining the book, I had some of Nico's songs in mind, like "Janitor of Lunacy," "Secret Side," and "Frozen Warnings". Her unnerving style on the harmonium always put me in the mood to get darker.

What do you know now that your first book has been published that you wish you knew when you first had the inspiration to write it?

It seems to me that one of the hardest things to learn for young writers is patience. The initial composition is time-intensive enough, but the process of rewriting requires a truly superhuman effort of patience. The more time you take between drafts, the better, and the longer you take to rewrite each scene, the better. This is difficult, especially when you're flat broke; the material pressure to start sending the book around can be overwhelming. But the worst thing you can do is send out a manuscript when it isn't ready. Writing this book—and especially editing this book, with the help of my great editors, Anne Collins and Rick Meier—was a lesson in just how much time a project like this takes, and that you have to resist the urge to share it until you actually can't endure it anymore.

What’s next for you?

My life-preserving project during the pandemic was a new novel. It's called Watch Close, and it's about a movie critic who finds himself investigating the murder of his childhood friend, a magician in Los Angeles, in 1997. It's a noir that straddles the worlds of movies and magic.

MICHAEL LaPOINTE's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and the Times Literary Supplement. He writes the "Dice Roll" column for The Paris Review. His fiction has appeared in The Walrus and Hazlitt. He has been nominated for the National Magazine Awards, the Journey Prize, and the Digital Publishing Awards, and his fiction has been anthologized in Best Canadian Stories. The Creep is his first novel. He lives in Toronto.

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