Joshua Ferris ('Then We Came To the End')
'The Beginning Of The End Is Near'
From The Man Himself: I was born in 1974 in Danville, Illinios, a small town just over the Indiana border. I went back recently and the house where I grew up had taken something out of Alice in Wonderland and shrunk to half the size of what I remembered it being. In 1984 my mother, sister, brother and I moved with my step-father to Cudjoe Key, Florida, where I learned how to fish, boat, snorkel, and work.
At ten I had my own landscaping company for Cudjoe residents happy to pay three bucks an hour to have their weeds pulled and lawns mowed. I had my first proper job at a Pizza joint in 1985, busing tables and washing dishes. I moved back to Illinois, to Downers Grove, a suburb of Chicago, where I attended high school, after which I went to the University of Iowa, where I received a BA in English and Philosophy.
I got my first job in advertising in 1998, at a Chicago firm called Davis Harrison Dion, and also worked for Draft Worldwide, before leaving Chicago for Long Beach, California and the MFA program at the University of California, Irvine.
Joshua Ferris has just released his debut novel 'Then We Came To the End,' a wickedly funny, big-hearted novel about life in the office signals the arrival of a gloriously talented new writer.
The characters in 'Then We Came To the End' cope with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, secret romance, elaborate pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks. By day they compete for the best office furniture left behind and try to make sense of the mysterious pro-bono ad campaign that is their only remaining "work."
Taking it from the top, and knowing that you are a former ad man yourself, what was it about this environment that (back in the day) first struck you as being a novelist's gold mine? "I did yeoman's work in advertising for about three years, and I was fascinated by the behemoth structure in place — the hierarchies, the coded messages, the power struggles. I thought such an awesome, malignant, necessary, pervasive, inscrutable place deserved a novel's attention. What first struck me, though, was probably the witty banter of my colleagues."
In reflection, which of these broad-stroke characters do you best associate your prior existence with? "Given that the book is told in the first-person plural, or from the perspective of the group, I feel bound to say all of them. Working in an office is one way of accessing your inner schizophrenic."
Having read this book in just four sittings, I have to say that although I found it hard to put down, that the last third re: Lynn Mason's private life and cancer dealings seemed to slow things down somewhat. Was that intentional, perhaps? "The tonal progression was absolutely part of the plan. I had little interest in writing a book that was only about what's funny at work. There are some pretty effective TV shows that do that. A novel asks more time and attention from its readers than TV shows do of its viewers, and the novel's form has always demanded a scope as all-encompassing of life as its practitioners can deliver. Sometimes that means a book slows down, or speeds up, or goes in a direction the reader might not expect -- or in fact even desire. At the conceptual level, I knew it had to be more than the sum of its jokes, and the pages involving Lynn and her mortality allowed me to do that."
Being that this is your debut novel, how easy (or hard) was it to write this book, to get its first-person plural narrative perfect, etc.? "Very hard, though I suspect that has little to do with it being a debut. My suspicion is that every book is as hard as the last, unless you're a genius, which I am decidedly not, or an amphetamine addict in need of an advance."
How much of this book's ad world info is comic entertainment and how much are truthfully insightful workplace observations? "I think it's equal parts comic entertainment and truthful insight. The surprising thing might be how often those two things occur in the same sentence, how remarkably unmutually exclusive they are."
Was there ever a moment whilst writing this novel that Tom Mota was going to be using a REAL gun?! "No. Wouldn't have worked."
"Walking Spanish" was a great phrase! Where did that first come to your attention and did you instantly know it had to be in your book? "The Tom Waits' song "Walking Spanish" from his great album "Rain Dogs." I looked into the etymology of the phrase and learned it came from sailors being dragged by the scruff of their neck through the ship in preparation of walking the plank. That seemed an appropriate metaphor for being laid off from a job, and given that advertisers euphemize everything -- it's a big part of their daily task -- I knew my characters would not be content simply with "being laid off"."
Has work begun yet on your follow-up and if so, can you please tell us more about what to expect? "Work has begun, but I wouldn't know what to say about what you can expect so early on. I'm still trying to figure that out myself."
Lastly, and on a comedic tip, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins ... do you?! "They are very funny animals, penguins, very structurally odd and unlikely, and if I were a creationist, they would be the first thing I pointed to."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Joshua's new Book 'Then We Came ...,' and you think you know all there is to know about the man, just answer this easy question: As noted above, Joshua had his first proper job at a Pizza joint in 1985 ... but what was the name of that Pizza place?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these new AUTOGRAPHED Books! Just send us an e:mail here before August 1st with your answer and the subject title 'CONTEST: JOSHUA FERRIS SIGNED BOOKs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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