Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kapitoil - Teddy Wayne Author Interview

Teddy Wayne, author of Kapitoil gratuitously offered and answered some questions I posted to him.  If you haven't read my review of the book, check it out.

Here's a little bit about Teddy Wayne:

Teddy Wayne is a graduate of Harvard and the Writing Program at Washington University in St. Louis, where he also taught fiction and creative nonfiction writing. The recipient of a 2010 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, his fiction, satire, and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, Esquire, McSweeney’s, The Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. He lives in New York.

Without further ado, here's the interview:

1. Karim has an interesting outlook on life and way of writing. How did you create his voice? Do you know anyone like Karim?

I had a job after college editing business-school application essays over the Internet (not a very fun task). Most applicants were ESL speakers from Japan, China, and South Korea who had learned English through finance and technology, which partially inspired Karim's voice. I don't know anyone quite like Karim, but I've always found the way non-native speakers implement English interesting and pay close attention to their linguistic patterns.

2. I loved your fairly realistic depiction of the financial firms in NYC. How did you do your research into financial life in NYC?

Well, I'm from New York and have lived here since graduating from college, and know plenty of people in finance. As for the day-to-day operations of working at a firm, I asked people, read up on it through both fiction and nonfiction, and used my own experiences in a range of offices (I've temped in dozens of them).

3. I've noticed that a big theme of the book was how NYC can change a person. As a New Yorker, do you see that a lot?

The cliche is true: New York often does harden people and make them more cynical, competitive, and ambitious to a fault. I was grateful for my own break of three years in St. Louis for grad school, though I'm also glad to be back.

4. After writing this book, has your perspective changed any? For instance, when you read the news, such as the proposal of the mosque near Ground Zero, has this book changed or enforced any of your perspectives or opinions?

I'll get a little polemical here, which may lose me some readers and will indicate what my perspective is, though it likely would have been this way before I wrote Kapitoil. This controversy is one of the more upsetting political machinations of recent years. First, no one cared about this proposal back in December, when it was first reported, or in May, when it was approved. It was only recently, with midterm elections on the horizon, that conservative groups and leaders rallied around the "cause." I have nothing but sympathy for victims and families of September 11, yet here are some basic, irrefutable facts:

--It's not a mosque; it's a community center with a prayer space. (Even if it were a mosque, that shouldn't matter, but somehow the word "mosque" has been turned into a slur.)

 --The location near Ground Zero was chosen by the founder of the proposal to symbolically oppose the actions of the terrorists on September 11 by creating a space that promotes inter-religious harmony; “We want to push back against the extremists,” he told the New York Times.

--Likewise, the name of Cordoba House is meant to evoke the unity of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in Cordoba, and does not represent, as Newt Gingrich would have it, "a symbol of Islamic conquest."

--There were mosques right near the World Trade Center before 9/11, and there were Muslim prayer rooms within the buildings themselves.

--Muslims have been praying at an overflow prayer space in the abandoned Burlington Coat Factory building two blocks from Ground Zero since September 2009, which no one seemed to mind.

The mainstream media have falsely equated Muslims--including peaceful, Americanized Muslims--with fundamentalist terrorists. We are rejecting an olive branch from a moderate wing of Islam and, in so doing, only contributing to the recruitment of real terrorists. And it's all so that politicians speaking against the community center can gain office; I'm highly skeptical of their claims to care about the families of 9/11 victims.

I'm not Muslim and I'm not Middle Eastern. I'm a white native New Yorker who has never suffered an ounce of persecution in this country based on my beliefs or how I appear at first glance. This debate doesn't affect me on any personal level other than reinforcing my disgust that ethnic and religious scapegoating and demonization continues to be used for political purposes in America in 2010.

Rant over.

5. Karim is from the Middle East country of Qatar. Why did you choose that country and what type of research did you do to create a Middle Eastern character like Karim and his family.

Qatar has the second-highest GDP per capita in the world, and about half of its revenues come from oil and natural gas, making it a hyper-capitalistic and relatively Westernized country for the region. Also, it doesn't have the same kind of fraught history as most of its neighbors, so Karim wouldn't be beholden to its past the way he might if he were from, say, Iran. I read up on Qatar and on Islam and interviewed a few Muslims, too.

6. Kapitoil is your first novel. Do you have any plans or ideas for writing another one?

I'm working on one now, though it's going kind of slowly. Maybe I can do another interview with you when it comes out, in 2018 or so.


Woohoo!  I really enjoyed interviewing Teddy Wayne.  I loved his rant if you want to call it that because I totally agree with what he said.  I can't wait to see what he will come out with next!

**What did you think of this interview and his answers?
**Do you have anything to ask Teddy Wayne?


  1. Interesting interview, though I think his views on the Islamic Community Center are completely irrelevant. The bottom line is that the majority of New Yorkers don't want it there. Therefore it shouldn't be built.

  2. It is again this kind of moral quandary, to the build the mosque or not, is what makes a writing more relevant. Majority of Americans were able to be swayed by the power elite to incarcerate Japanese Americans. Was it morally right? Hitler and his Nazi machinery were able to convince most Germans that the Jews and Gypsies and other unwanted persons should be annihilated. Was that morally right? Writers who take up such issues in their writing should be commended.