Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Interview with David Halperin

. Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Journal of a UFO Investigator: A NovelToday I have the pleasure of welcoming author David Halperin to Meta Modo. His premier novel, Journal of a UFO Investigator, released by Viking on Feb 2011 is a coming-of-age story full or heart and action.

Welcome, David!

Q: The number one thing readers want me to ask is how you came up with the premise of your book where you got the idea. Can you answer that for us?

A: I took the basic situation from my own past. Like my protagonist Danny Shapiro, I lived most of my teenage years with a mother who was slowly dying of heart disease. Like Danny, I coped by immersing myself in UFO research.

This was the early 1960s, which UFO buffs nowadays look back upon as a sort of golden age for "UFOlogy." UFOs weren't just mysterious disks zooming around the sky. A rich, ramified, often haunting mythology had grown up around them. There were the "three men in black," who visit those who've discovered what the UFOs are and terrify them into silence … the "Philadelphia experiment" and the disappearing ship, and the mysterious annotated copy of M.K. Jessup's "The Case for the UFO" … the persistent rumors of some monstrous evil lurking beneath the earth's surface. All this I absorbed when I was Danny's age. In the novel, I set this mythology in motion, with Danny as part of it.

Together with this collective dreaming, I mixed private dreams and fantasies from my own adolescence. I recall having a dream--I must have been 14 or 15 at the time--about a rambling old house somewhere in the country, and a meeting of ultra-serious teenagers like myself, dedicated like me to exploring the mysteries that lie just beyond the boundaries of science. One of them was a beautiful blonde girl in an evening dress.

The memory of this dream stayed with me through the years. From it grew the scene where Danny first visits the farmhouse that's the headquarters for the "Super-Science Society," and is first drawn into the orbit of the lovely, dangerous Rochelle.

Blurb and kick ass kudos for Journal of a UFO Investigator: Against the background of the troubled 1960s, this coming-of-age novel weaves together a compelling psychological drama and vivid outer space fantasy.

Danny Shapiro is an isolated teenager living with a dying mother, a hostile father, and without friends. To cope, Danny forges a reality of his own, which includes the sinister "Three Men in Black," mysterious lake creatures with insectlike carapaces, a beautiful young seductress and thief with whom Danny falls in love, and an alien/human love child who--if only Danny can keep her alive--will redeem the planet.
As Danny's fictional world blends seamlessly with his day-to-day life, profound questions about what is real and what is imagined begin to arise. As the hero in his alien landscape, will Danny find the strength to deal with his real life, to stand up to demons both real and imagined?

"Journal of a UFO Investigator is a remarkable book. Part science fiction, part novel of growing up, part surrealist voyage into the imagination, it is a disconcerting and satisfying experience." --Iain Pears, author of An Instance of the Fingerpost

"What's in this book? What isn't? History, mystery--even aliens, for God's sake. The most compelling and original coming-of-age story I've read in a long time." --Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish
"Journal of a UFO Investigator is the story of a quest, for knowledge and self-knowledge, for growth and the secrets hidden behind the everyday, the strangeness lurking within the familiar. Most of all it is an exploration of the mystery of love, a story you will not be able to put down or forget." --Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek

Q: I loved reading the chase scene and was left breathless at the end of that chapter, wondering what had happened, was happening, what would happen. What is your favorite scene of your story and why?

A: I think I'd pick the scene, about three-quarters of the way through the book, where the two Dannys--the Danny of day-to-day reality, the Danny of the UFO journal--face each other across the border between Israel and Jordan. In that scene, Danny's presented with a moral choice that echoes through the the book. Will he acknowledge and accept his real self, flawed and pained though he is? Or will he betray and abandon himself, and turn away?

(And the voice comes out of the air: "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?")

Q: Did you use any musical references in your writing? If so, do they play a significant role? Name 3-4 of your favorite musical artists/groups.

A: There are a few musical references, to the popular songs of Danny's adolescence ("Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Barbra Streisand's "People") and to songs reaching back into his parents' youth ("On Moonlight Bay," "The Bells of St. Mary's"). "Moonlight Bay" does play a significant role: that song, and the feelings it evokes in Danny, shape much of the imagery of the book.

The "Charlie on the MTA" song, popularized by the Kingston Trio in 1959, is also important--when it dawns on Danny that he himself is "poor ol' Charlie," "the man who never returned." And that the song isn't one bit funny if you're the one trapped inside it.

Favorite musical artists? My Number One would be the Israeli vocalist Chava Alberstein. Her voice entrances me with its sensuality, its tragic feel for life, and the heroic defiance it expresses for life's cruelties. Number Two would be the Beatles. (Yes, I know I'm dating myself when I say that. I can't help it.) Number Three would be Pam Di Lavore.

Pam's name is not exactly a household word. I don't think she's made any recordings; I've mostly heard her sing at the Unitarian church we both attend. But the beauty and expressiveness of her voice is unsurpassed, hardly even equalled, by commercial artists I've heard. That she's mostly unknown is the world's loss.

Q: What's one piece of writing advice you've found priceless on your journey to publication?

A: "Ripeness is all," says Shakespeare. Agent Donald Maass says: the novel is an exceedingly difficult art form which takes years to master. This--the difficulty of what I was trying to do--was something I had no grasp of when I wrote the first paragraphs of "Journal of a UFO Investigator" 14 years ago. I've learned it since. Hearing it stated explicity, by Maass and others, has brought me comfort and inspiration.
Most of those 14 years, as I look back on them, were spent ripening the art. When the art is sufficiently ripe, good things can happen. And the ripening takes place in God's time, not ours.

Q: Do you read your book reviews? If so, has there been any particular reviews that made you do a happy dance?

A: I do read my reviews. There have been some which I've experienced as though I'd been given a rare gift.
I was thrilled by Stuart Schoffman's review in the "Jewish Daily Forward": " 'Journal of a UFO Investigator' is intricate and subversive … a captivating, wildly idiosyncratic book, a rare mashup of genre fiction and high-flying myth that lingers in the mind and invites rereading." Schoffman well understood "the interpretive layers of … metaphor and mystery" that lie beneath the book's narrative surface, and in his review he expressed them succinctly, clearly, and with panache. I couldn't have been happier than I was after reading his review.

Except, perhaps, when I read Marnie Colton's review on "I might have laughed if someone had told me that it was possible to write an enthralling and deeply sad meditation on adolescence and Judaism in the guise of a novel that includes futuristic spacecraft, bug-eyed aliens, and conspiracy theories, but Journal of a UFO Investigator is that book".

I was particularly touched by a review by Stefan Melnyk in Washington Square News, the NYU student newspaper. Melnyk, whom I imagine to be not much older than Danny Shapiro at the end of the book, writes that "Halperin's larger subject … is the price of growing up, and it is a theme that he handles with extraordinary finesse and understanding."

If you'd asked me while I was writing the book, I wouldn't have told you that was what it was about. But looking back, I can see Melnyk is absolutely right, and he's taught me something about my book of which I hadn't been consciously aware. Now that's a gift for an author, indeed.

Q: What’s next in line for you? DO you have a new book in the pipeline?

A: I’m working on a sequel to Journal, to be entitled "The Color of Electrum." This novel begins the year after Journal leaves off, Danny Shapiro is once more the main character … and I think that’s all I want to say about it right now.

There’s also a novel I’ve been working on, off and on, for several years. It’s called "The Mending"; it’s about a woman psychiatrist in the year 2000, one of whose patients starts to recover memories and dream fragments belonging to a 17th-century Jewish Messiah. Like all my fiction, it's basically about religion--faith, and the loss of faith. And the return of faith; because however ill-grounded and illusory our faith may be, we humans couldn't live without it.


Sounds Amazing! I look forward to reading both in the future.

Thanks again for visiting us on Meta Modo.

Love, light, and laughter!
Jocelyn Modo


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