I only know of David James Keaton via Facebook and one novel, The Last Projector, but as a movie buff and former professional film programmer, I became an instant fan. In my humble estimation, it’s just as relevant and rich in style and character as Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer or John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces (which themselves have an ironic, historic link), and I think it will stand the test of time as a cult classic.
Fortunately, unlike Toole, Keaton is still very much with us and working hard to sustain his already formidable reputation as one of the brightest stars on the literary horizon.
Okay, that sounded really corny. And yet, I stand by it. Because it’s true.
Here is evidence of his high intelligence, artistic integrity, and self-deprecating sense of humor:
Cinema appears to be a significant factor in your fiction. Please explain why.
I have two answers to that. Basically, my work is not normally interested in interiority but instead in the exteriorization of interior experience or emotion, or what happens when those thoughts/feelings are translated through language and action and manifested as exterior reality, and this is usually considered "cinematic," as films generally fail to represent interiority, as well. And I mostly try to do this through long metacognative conversations, which become sort of their own magic realism within the moment, and also strive to be an efficient means of manifesting interior experience in the external world. Actually, who am I fucking kidding. I just like movies! Reading is hard.
You write in a variety of genres, including horror and Westerns. Do you have a favorite, as both writer and reader, and is there one you just won’t touch?
Nah, I'd probably touch them all given the chance. Maybe true-crime, because I've been reading mostly true-crime these days while I work on my own horror/crime/lit hybrids, and I probably wouldn't have the stamina to write a good true-crime book. For example, Robert Graysmith says in Zodiac Unmasked that it took him ten years to write that book, then another three years to edit it. Yikes! But it makes you wonder why, if Graysmith was desperate for material to chop, he didn't start by editing out comments referencing the editing of the book.
You’ve published dozens of short stories to awards and accolades, and one notable novel, The Last Projector, with more in the pipeline. You’re also reverse engineering some screenplay concepts. Beyond basic construction, what are the chief differences between these formats, from a creative/inspirational perspective?
The screenplays I wrote were back in the early 2000s, in the days of HBO's Project Greenlight, where I didn't make the second-to-last cut, so as I became frustrated with the "Hollywood No," I started turning those scripts into novels. Some of the adaptations retained a lot of the immediacy of the present-tense descriptions and the incident-heavy construction, but some of the others went in the other direction. So maybe the formats weren't as influential to the final product as the subject matter and what I initially thought were the result of a cinematic process was just cinematic subject matter? I don't know.
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
Today it's Flannery O'Connor. Yesterday it was John Irving, again, especially The World According to Garp, which I revisit a lot. It's sort of the Bat Out of Hell of popular novels (they came out right around the same time, too!). And last Thursday I was really into Pauline Kael movie reviews. This past summer, I discovered John Updike and The Witches of Eastwick, which I'd some how missed first time around, though I'd seen the George "Mad Max" Miller adaptation more times than I can count. It's fashionable to shit on Updike these days, but that book is amazing (sequels are a mess though). And because of Updike, I'm all into metaphors again. He's got more metaphors than Jamaica's got mangoes! I'm also into ratty, old Gordon Williams paperbacks lately. The Last Day of Lincoln Charles, Man Who Loved Women, The Siege of Trencher's Farm, aka Straw Dogs (though that last one I could only find in hardcover). I just picked up a couple Barry Hannah books I'm looking forward to reading over the holidays, in between more true-crime binges.
What’s next for you?
Death by meteor.
Looking forward to it! Cheers.
David James Keaton's short fiction has appeared in over 50 publications, and his first collection, FISH BITES COP! Stories to Bash Authorities was named the 2013 Short Story Collection of the Year by This Is Horror and was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award. Kirkus Reviews called his first novel, The Last Projector, “A loopy, appealing mix of popular culture and thoroughly crazy people," and his second collection of short fiction, Stealing Propeller Hats from the Dead, received a Starred Review by Publishers Weekly, who said, “The author’s joy in his subject matter is obvious, often expressed with a sly wink and wicked smile. Decay, both existential and physical, has never looked so good.” He's also the co-editor of the recent Hard Sentences: Crime Fiction Inspired by Alcatraz, and he teaches composition and creative writing at Santa Clara University in California.
The Last Projector
Fish Bites Cop
Stealing Propeller Hats from the Dead