Interview with Author of Beatitude, Larry Closs
Thank you Larry for allowing us to interview you. I have to say, you are a mysterious man. I looked at your bio on your site and there was only one sentence about you so I hope I can get a bit more from this interview. Now, in that one sentence I was able to form my first question. Where have you traveled in your lifetime and tell us some of the things you've seen and done.
My travels began right after college, when I drove cross-country with a couple of friends and camped every night along the way for six weeks. I hadn’t read On the Road by Jack Kerouac at that point, but, in retrospect, it was a very On the Road experience—“all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it”—and inspired a desire to see the world.
Since then, my travels have been divided, in a manner of speaking, between cities and mountains, and nearly always in other countries. There are few experiences I find more exhilarating than waking up in a place that is completely foreign in every respect—culture, customs, food, transportation, architecture, language, landscape, electrical outlets. To that end, I’ve traveled in Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Nepal.
Spain is a favorite in the “cities” column, for the art, the food, the pace of life and the company I keep when I go there. The Costa del Sol, the Alhambra, the Albayzin of Granada and Gaudi plus fresh chocolate croissants, café con leche and Choco Clack ice cream bars—it doesn’t get any better than that.
Cambodia and Nepal are “mountain” favorites. I spent a week exploring the ruined, breathtaking temples of Angkor Wat, including the rarely visited Beng Mealea, which is several hours from the main complex, way out in the jungle. A friend and I were the only two there at the time, avoiding snakes and “Danger: Mines” signs while imagining ourselves as the first-ever explorers to stumble upon the magnificent remains of a lost civilization.
Nepal holds a special place in my heart. I’ve been there three times and spent several months trekking in the Himalaya through Langtang, Gosainkunda, and Helambu as well as the Annapurna Circuit. I’ve also visited Nepal’s most remote region, Humla, which is accessible only by foot or by plane. I went there to shoot photos and videos for Next Generation Nepal, a nonprofit that reconnects trafficked children with their families, where I serve as Director of Communications.
When I’m not traveling, I’m in New York, which is as close as you can get to experiencing what it’s like to be on the road even when you’re not.
As for my professional background, I have been a national writer, editor, photographer, and videographer for nearly twenty years at News Corporation, TimeWarner, Hearst and Viacom. At Gesso, a communication design studio I co-founded, I worked with clients that included Sony, Estee Lauder, Smithsonian Institution, USAID, National Cancer Institute and the NBA. I’ve also produced digital shorts for the Travel Channel and co-produced two mobile apps.
Tell us about your novel, what was your inspiration for Beatitude and how did you come to write the story?
Beatitude began as a story about two young men, Harry and Jay, who become fast friends over their shared fascination for the unfettered lives of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation. The book was inspired by own love of the Beats and the coincidental spike in their popularity in the mid-nineties, when Beatitude is set. As the book evolved, so did Harry and Jay, and their relationship. Jay’s girlfriend, Zahra, took on a larger, surprising role. When the parallels between the entanglements of the Beats and Beatitude’s main characters became apparent, the Beats themselves entered the picture and became characters in their own right.
I live in New York City and I was lucky to be able to set Beatitude there. New York is instantly familiar to nearly everyone on the planet and instantly epic at the same time. Nearly every book, movie or television show that’s set in New York has an air of verisimilitude, which is something I wanted to convey. I’ve always loved books that blend fact and fiction, especially in New York, to create a sort of hyper-reality—Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, Forever by Pete Hamill. You want to believe that they really happened, or could have happened, and that makes the story and the characters more identifiable.
Who are some of your inspirations in the literary world?
Beatitude might lead you to believe that the Beats are a major influence, and while I’ve read just about everything they’ve written—as well as most of what’s been written about them—in the end, they inspired me not to write like them but to write, period. That said, my inspirations and interests vary widely. I love modern fiction, creative nonfiction and adventure. I recently read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson—incredibly compelling biographies brought to life by years of intense research. I could imagine just how much work went into each based on the amount of research I did about the Beats for Beatitude.
A modern novel that continues to resonate is Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which I read a few years ago. In the book, Pi, the young narrator, tells two versions of the same story, one fantastic, the other dull. When asked which is true, he replies, “Which is the better story?” With Beatitude, I set out to write a book that discovered truths in everyday life, but I discovered that everyday life can always be improved upon and Pi’s message really guided me—tell the better story.
Have you begun to write on a new project and if so what is it about?
There’s a file on my laptop but that’s all I will say. I don’t like to talk about writing projects until I at least have a first draft. For me, writing is a process of exploration and I don’t always know which path I will take or where a path will lead until I follow it. When I do, I may discover that I need to go back and take another path—“the one less traveled by.” It may take me several drafts of a manuscript before I even know what it’s about, or what it could be about, and I want to know that before I show it to anyone else.
Tell us a bit about the cover art for Beatitude and the inspiration for that
Every author imagines what the cover of his or her book might look like. In most cases, it’s the first visual representation of all the purely conceptual work that went into writing the book. I’m not an illustrator or a designer, but I co-owned a design studio for several years and have a design sensibility. To get ideas for the cover of Beatitude, I studied thousand of covers on websites like Book Cover Archive. I also visited bookstores, stared at walls and tables of books and noted which ones caught my eye. I wasn’t trying to come up with a design, just an approach.
A friend put me in touch with Anthony Freda, an incredible artist and illustrator whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Esquire, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, Playboy and many others. Anthony read Beatitude, liked it and agreed to do the cover. He asked me if I had anything in particular in mind. I said only that I preferred covers that were simple, iconic and graphic. We talked about some of the book’s key elements and images. Anthony latched onto the cat and the subway token and combined them with a distressed-paper background and grungy typography to create an intriguing, eye-popping cover that is simultaneously classic and contemporary.
Another amazing designer, John Barrow, created the equally important spine and back cover, which features a reverse image of the cat on the front cover—the yin to the yang that figuratively reflects Beatitude’s two main characters, Harry and Jay. John also pointed out just how perfect the image of the cat and the subway token are: Short of a Buddha, nothing but a contented cat could better represent a state of beatitude. And nothing conjures New York City—and the journey that Harry and Jay undertake—like a subway token.
I am thrilled with the cover and eternally grateful to Anthony and John for illuminating the intangible and making it look magnificent.
What is your all time favorite book, if you had to choose just one?
Like everyone, I have many favorites and the list changes with every new book I read. I’m not sure I could pick just one but, in line with Beatitude, I would say that one of my all-time favorites continues to be On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Certain elements are dated and what was once provocative—an experimental attitude toward drugs, sex, relationships and religion, as well as a rejection of materialism and middle-class conformity—might now seem much less so. But the joy of seeing the world for the first time and the sheer elation of experience for experience sake continues to captivate.
Do you have any wisdom you'd like to share with other authors?
The best advice I can give, besides “Don’t give up,” is “Don’t get too attached.” Ask for feedback from those whose opinions you value and trust—and listen to them. An editor friend suggested cuts to Beatitude that I ignored for far too long because I was too attached to certain sentences, sections and paragraphs. “But that’s some of my best work!” I protested. When I finally did agree to the cuts, scenes that crawled suddenly took off, dialogue buried in too much exposition suddenly snapped and the barely interesting became intriguing. A tough lesson to learn and one that I will definitely never forget.
Give us your links, let us know where to find your book.
My site—www.larrycloss.com—is the best place for everything you’d like to know about Beatitude: News, reviews, readings, the book trailer, my Instagram photos. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram (@larrycloss). Beatitude is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Rebel Satori Press,and multiple independent and international booksellers through AbeBooks.
Interview with Author of Beatitude, Larry Closs