"Why Read an Author Who Hasn't Lived?" An Interview With Joe Quirk

A few weeks ago, I posted an interview with extremely gracious author guy Christopher Moore. In it, he noted that he'd recently read Exult, by Joe Quirk. Joe saw that and asked if I'd like to give his book a try. Brilliant, no? So I did. And had a hard time putting it down. Fast-paced and energetic in a wild-eyed, adrenaline junkie kind of a way, this book takes hang gliding and the maniacs who practice it by the balls, shakes them like a bad martini, and then -- almost inexplicably -- brings it all in for a smooth landing.

I've been hang gliding (once). And about one third of the way through Exult, where something harrowing takes a lot of pages to unfold, I started wishing not only not to hang glide again, but to un-hang glide the hang gliding I've actually done. What looked like a pretty casual occupation undertaken by some mellow surfer-like guys becomes -- in Joe's hands -- the feat of physics, mathematics, luck and faith that it actually is. Now, in his notes at the end of the book, he cops to the fact that he emphasized the danger for dramatic purposes, but still.

2010-08-15-joe_quirk.jpgJoe, it turns out, is an interesting fellow. When describing his work, he says that he switches brain hemispheres every year -- writing about the science of sex and relationships one year, and fiction the next. And judging by the intensity with which he goes about his fiction, it's probably medicinal for him to change gears and rest a lobe. His style reminds me of people I knew in college. People who threw great parties.

Mazel tov, Joe. And many thanks for the opportunity to read the book and pester you with some questions.

Thea Joselow: How did you come to write a book about hang gliding?

Joe Quirk: When I was hang gliding, I saw my fellow pilots as mythic figures -- Odysseus or Icarus or Prometheus. They had decided that adventure was worth the possibility of death. I wanted to write a novel worthy of the life we were living.

TJ: And how much of it do you do yourself?

JQ: I stopped hang gliding immediately after I experienced an incident almost exactly like the turning point in the novel.

TJ: What one piece of advice would you give to someone considering going hang gliding?

JQ: Humans have always dreamed of flying like a bird, and now we can really do it. At the very least try tandem hang gliding, which is when an experienced pilot flies the glider with you.

TJ: I got the sense that you identify strongly with the main character, Jack. Am I far off?

JQ: You're right on, actually. As a young man, I dedicated myself to the pursuit of transcendent experiences and had disdain for being tied down. Men don't give birth, and many don't get practice with intimacy except in sexual relationships, so I think men face unique challenges when it comes to settling down and accepting the drudgery that comes with responsibility. It's a sacramental experience for a young man to give up on peak experiences and confront the responsibility of being a sober adult. Exult dramatizes that transition.

TJ: Jack says at one point that a novelist is "someone who does the best job of faking life... stories are for people disengaged from the drama of their actual lives." Kind of a downer from a novelist, no?

JQ: Writing shouldn't be a substitute for living. Why read an author who hasn't lived? Jack challenges other characters to live lives worthy of a great story. Meanwhile, the characters challenge him to come down to earth.

TJ: What are you working on now?

JQ: I just finished my second funny science book, Tools Are From Men, Talk Is From Women: Why the Other Sex's Brain Is Weird. It's about cognitive science and relationships. Researching the biology of sex differences has changed my life.

TJ: What are you reading now?

JQ: The Widow's Husband by Tamim Ansary. Most captivating historical fiction I've read in a decade. Right up there with Erika Mailman.

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