Spotlight Interview with Novelist Allison Burnett
For the past several years, I’ve been acquainted with the multi-talented Allison Burnett. Novelist, essayist, poet, and screenwriter, Allison is a man who can do it all. His film credits include Autumn in New York, Feast of Love, Resurrecting the Champ, and Gone; his novels are Christopher, The House Beautiful, and Undiscovered Gyrl. Now Allison is back on the publishing scene with his newest novel Death By Sunshine. I and his other fans could not be more delighted.
In Death By Sunshine, Allison brings back his ever-popular protagonist B.K. Troop. B.K. first appeared in Christopher and then featured in The House Beautiful. In the third entry in the Troop series, Allison gives us his great creation in a new story that is as thrilling, hilarious, and satisfying as its predecessors. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in the last year.
As soon as I put it down, I knew immediately that I wanted to interview him again. This is our third session together and he always makes me feel very much at ease and utterly enthralled. His talents leave me in awe. I am pleased to host him again.
CP: Welcome back, Allison. It’s been a while since we chatted.
AB: Yes, I really must try to publish more novels.
CP: You’ve got a new book out, Death By Sunshine. Tell me about it.
AB: My favorite hero B.K. Troop -- a tall, fat, balding, erudite, witty, chemically imbalanced, gay, alcoholic novelist -- comes to Los Angeles to seal a movie deal. When all does not go as planned, he is ready to hightail it back to Manhattan. Before he can, he stumbles across a mystery that he believes only he can solve. He stays and plays detective.
CP: What led you back to the character of B.K. Troop?
AB: I simply adore him. He is alive to me. I have written two novels without B.K., but when he reappears in my imagination I have no choice but to start typing.
CP: Why do you think B.K. is so popular with readers?
AB: Because he is funny, revolting, brilliant, ridiculous, and poignant all at once. In a world of tedious, navel-gazing fiction that feels more like homework than a delight, he is a bigger-than-life hero.
CP: What was your inspiration for this story?
AB: I have lived in Los Angeles for twenty years now. For a long time, I had wanted to write a Hollywood novel, but I wanted to approach the subject from the outside. Well, no one is more outside the glamour and romance of Hollywood than poor B.K. with his dirty tweeds, failing body, and duffel bag full of cheap wine. It seems like a natural fit that he should be my fish out of water.
CP: Have you been getting a lot of feedback on Death By Sunshine?
AB: From friends and acquaintances, the feedback has been incredible. The book has only been reviewed once, by the Los Angeles Review of Books, and I doubt I will ever get a better review in my lifetime. http://lareviewofbooks.org/post/17152843218/at-home-and-abroad
CP: Will B.K. Troop be back in another tale?
AB: Not sure yet. Sometimes when I am falling asleep at night, he comes to me -- very old, near death, wearing starchy blue jeans and a brand-new cowboy hat. While vacationing in rural New Mexico, he discovers a baby left on his doorstep.
CP: Your last book, Undiscovered Gyrl was popular as well. While reading it, I kept thinking what a great movie it would make. Any chance of that?
AB: You must be psychic. I have adapted the book for myself to direct -- something I haven’t done since I wrote and directed an indie film called Red Meat back in the late 90s. Just as exciting, I have found the actress to play my 17-year-old blogging heroine, Katie Kampenfelt. I can’t reveal who it is yet, because we are only in the early stages of getting the movie on its feet. But I will say this: there is no one more perfect for the role.
CP: Are you working on a new book right now? And if so what can you share about it?
AB: I have finished a new novel called The Escape of Malcolm Poe. It’s about a middle-aged man who has been planning for ten years to leave his wife the instant after they deliver their youngest daughter to college. The novel is his diary in the nine months leading up to her first day of school. It’s John Cheever as told by Nathanael West.
CP: And on the screenwriting front, what’s going on there these days?
AB: Underworld Awakening just opened, which was exciting for me. It was my first experience working on a huge movie that is a success around the world. Soon another movie, Gone, opens, which is from an original screenplay of mine. They shot it word for word and cast the gorgeous and talented Amanda Seyfried. The director is a brilliant Brazilian named Heitor Dhalia, who made a terrific film called Adrift. Meanwhile, I am working on another original thriller.
CP: What have you been doing in your “Allison” time lately?
AB: My wife is screenwriter Chloe King. Sadly, Chloe’s father, the writer-director Zalman King, passed away on February 3. In the months leading up to his death we were with him all the time. We are just now, in the wake of this heartbreak, getting back to our routines. Chloe and I have two boys, 3 and 5. They take up almost every moment of our time away from our desks. But in my few spare hours I like to go to flea markets (I collect Hollywood and literary ephemera) and watch Cleveland sports teams.
CP: What are you reading right now?
AB: It’s tragic how little time I have to read. I am halfway through a wonderful book called 1948, about that year in politics.
CP: Seen any good movies lately?
AB: Yes, I have been watching really good art documentaries on Netflix. I watched films about Keith Haring, J.M. Basquiat, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Alice Neel.
CP: What music are you listening to?
AB: I have been addicted to a Mel Torme mix tape. Yes, that’s right, a cassette tape made for me by a friend in 1986. It still plays fine and luckily my car has a tape player. For my money, no one sings the standards better than Mel.
CP: Are you enjoying winter in L.A.?
AB: Winter in LA is pure heaven. Blue skies, warm days, chilly nights. Like a perfect early spring or late fall in the Midwest where I was raised. I particularly love Christmas here because there are far fewer cars. I imagine it’s a taste of what it must have been like to live here in the 1930s.
CP: What advice or wisdom can you pass along here?
AB: If you are young and want to be a writer, set aside trivial nonsense and devote yourself only to great art -- in all its forms. At the same time, write for a set amount of time, six days a week. If you have talent, you ought to start writing well in about ten years.
CP: What are you most proud of these days?
AB: Two things. My strong relationship with Chloe and our wonderful boys. And my longevity as a professional writer.
Allison's Website: http://allisonburnett.com/