latest book is Miss Wyoming, the bittersweet tale of a beauty pageant queen turned
TV star turned washed-up celebrity. This book
's mature themes reflect a more pensive Coupland,
an author dealing with the questions of life after
talked with Coupland during his book tour through
the Midwest to get a first-hand analysis of his
work in a new century.
earlier books like Generation X
and Microserfs seemed to have a youthful optimism. Now, it seems
like your work reflects more world-weariness.
I don 't know if I would call Gen X
an optimistic book. I think that if all seven
books were lines on the ground, they wouldn 't
be heading in any direction. They would just look
like the Alps. But there are two big reasons for
why the work I am doing now is different, Miss
Wyoming in particular. But it 's not like a one-sentence answer
and it 's not like a manufactured answer. I call
it the dead battery tour because it takes a while.
are you talking about methodology?
think part of it is methodology. When I decided
I was going to write fiction and stopped doing
everything else, I became a compulsive note-taker—which
I have now found out is one of the first things
they tell you in any creative writing workshop
or journalism school. Just notes, notes, notes,
and I burned through one of those little pocket-sized
notebooks every 10 days for like six and a half
to seven years. The way I looked at it was that
every day you or me or anyone else will see one
or two things, or hear one or two things, or have
one or two ideas, which at the moment don 't seem
to have any larger meaning other than the fact
that they just have resonance.
if you take a year 's worth of collected note
pads, cut out each individual notation, and arrange
them on a dining room table, you 've got thousands
and thousands of these little fortune cookie-like
pieces of paper. I think these papers represent
the subconscious that 's been working full time.
you saying that your writing has become a subconscious
you sift through these little fortune cookie papers,
certain voices appear and things and places and
ideas that you weren 't even aware that you were
really focusing on during that year. So the books
were quilted, I guess. About 1996 or 1997, I stopped.
I began losing interest in taking notes and stuff
like that. And it was just that the note-taking
process had become internalized. I think that
if you studied for a language for six, seven,
eight years suddenly one day, boom, it just works
for you. And I began to really resent notebooks—they
were looking like homework.
Miss Wyoming began, I told myself, "I am not going to use one
single note in this entire book. I 'm not going
to sketch anything out. It 's going to be like
completely out of my head. " That 's one
reason why it has a very different texture from
there other reasons for this different outlook?
one gets to be 38 without family stuff and people
dying and all sorts of weird things happening.
But now I 've got to figure out a way of addressing
the fact that the world can be a really crappy
place for very nice people, and making some kind
of moral sense of all these things that can go
wrong in life. I think that is a worthwhile challenge.
lot of your books can be summed up by the title
of your short story collection, Life After
God. It's almost as if you're trying to make moral sense
of this new place without any religious
traditions to be signposts.
parents decided—and it was the only anthropological
experiment they ever did in their life—to
raise myself and my brothers without any religion
or any politics so that whatever we found when
we were older would be something that we discovered
on our own. It wasn't a decision made lightly.
My mom was a comparative theology major.
you don't grow up with you don't miss, so I don't
have this yearning for an orthodox religion or
for partisan politics. But human beings are political.
On a sliding scale of one to 100, I am probably
around 27. Yet we also have an innate sense of
yearning for something transcendent or better
than ourselves. I think on a sliding scale of
one to 100, I am 100 on that one.
characters often have unique or even quirky perspectives
on life. How does that relate to your own personal
Calgary, Alberta, they had this exhibition
at a local museum where they recreated 100 years of prairie
living. They had Conestoga wagons from
one period, and in another period they have old Model T's and old washing
machines, and then they
had things from later on like fast food cups.
As we left the museum my friend said, "Wasn
just a great show?" and I said, "You
know, I never really left it."
I mean the show continued; it's all one big museum. That's just the way
I go through life. If I try to look at the world
like it's normal without a protective irony coating,
and without a protective humorous coating, and
without a protective collection of distancing
lenses, the world is carnivorously boring. And
I just refuse to be consumed by mundaneness.
do you consider your artistic peers?
only other book writer that I know is William
But lately, there has been a lot of new work in
narrative, and I feel like finally someone else
is doing it too. Spike Jonze, a good friend of
mine, made Being
John Malkovich. And there 's Fight Club, which is a great movie—and a great book. I think
for the first time in 10 years, I feel like there
are kindred spirits.
interesting that you find community in other art
of my background in art school, my viewpoint on
the creation of artifacts is different. In the
art world there is no passport required to go
from high culture to pop culture. But in the literary
world there has never been any connection between
literary culture and pop culture. And I think
what 's going on right now is probably the same
sort of catharsis that happened in the late '50s
when everything suddenly shifted from these existential
painters and went pop.
think writing is going very pop right now. That
's great. I have always been. And I think a lot
of people are still confused by it—a lot
of people are kind of scared by it, too. A lot
of people have a lot of their identity or tenure
based in maintaining the old guard. I think it
is a fractious period right now in writing, which
had been almost comatose since TV usurped the
primacy of reading as the dominant means of gaining
a societal overview.