display | more...

George Saunders was raised in Chicago. He wasn't particularly encouraged to become a writer, but it happened.

First, though, he worked for a petroleum company in Sumatra, and later as a doorman, and later as a knuckle-puller at a slaughterhouse. He applied to the creative writing program at Syracuse, and got in. He met a woman there and married her and they had a daughter. He needed a decent job, so he went to work for a heinous pharmaceutical company where he witnessed many grotesque events which further disenchanted him with the miserable working world.

George and his wife had another daughter, and he switched jobs again, working now for an environmental company. Once, he had to go drive a special plow through a swamp, checking to make sure there were no residual bad effects from a small paint spill which had happened ten years earlier. The tests cost a few hundred thousand taxpayer dollars, and showed no trace of paint, but did turn up trace amounts of hydrocarbons, which were from the plow, which was leaking oil. "That was really great."

The whole time, George was writing, or trying to. He flipped between computer screens all day at work, writing in tiny chunks. "I had five or six seconds of time to hit that Shift-F3 and get the other document up and I had this whole drill of facial expressions - you know, look tense and clench my face and look as constipated as possible. It took me about five years to write CivilWarLand in Bad Decline." The work he produced before this point, he says, he "won't let out of the house."

In 1997, when CivilWarLand was published, Garrison Keillor wrote that Saunders was "a brilliant new satirist bursting out of the gate in full stride," and Thomas Pynchon said Saunders's voice was "astoundingly tuned."

CivilWarLand and Pastoralia, published in 2000, are both collections of short stories (CWL also includes a novella). George has recently written a children's book, sort of, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, illustrated by Lane Smith. It's very good.

George now teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University, the same program he prayed to be accepted to as an undergrad.

He has a beard. He's a cutie.


"Everybody needs some way to get into a story, and for me theme parks are often the simplest way. I just say, 'Okay, it's a theme park about the Virgin Mary. Ha ha.' No sweat and tears deciding what topic to take on. It's just that: a theme park about the Virgin Mary. So then it comes down to small-scale problem solving. What do you see when you first come in? Who do they hire to play the Virgin Mary? What does the manger look like? What does Joseph do on break? Because I'm kind of a bonehead, I distract myself with these stupid little problems so my unconscious mind can work on something bigger - child labor, maybe, narcissism, whatever."

"The word 'funny' is a bit like the word 'love' - we don't have enough words to describe the many varieties."

"a guy with armpit goiters who's constantly measuring them with calipers"

"There's a whole list of things I can't do in fiction writing, that I wouldn't even try -- no, I have tried them, and that's why I know I can't do them. I only started having fun when I started saying, 'Okay, I can't write a straight sentence. I can't describe nature. I don't really care what happens when a divorcing couple sits down in a café. I just don't care.' When I turned away from those things and turned toward things I like to do - dialogue, humor - then suddenly everything opened up for me. But I'm always aware of writing around things I can't do, and I've come to think that that's actually what 'style' is - an avoidance of your deficiencies."

"One day you can think, This is the greatest story in the world, and then the next you think, This is the biggest piece of shit in the world. Well, maybe it's neither."


CivilWarLand in Bad Decline


The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip

thanks to:

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.