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Five Questions For Padgett Powell

The acclaimed writer Padgett Powell is fascinated by what it feels like to walk through everyday life, to hear the swing and snap of American talk, to be both electrified and overwhelmed by the mad cacophony—the "muchness" - of America. The Interrogative Mood is Powell's playful and profound response, a bebop solo of a book in which every sentence is a question.

Perhaps only Powell—a writer who was once touted as the best of his generation by Saul Bellow and "among the top five writers of fiction in the country" by Barry Hannah -could pull off such a remarkable stylistic feat. Is it a novel? Whatever it is, The Interrogative Mood is one of the most audacious literary high-wire acts since Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine Powell's unnamed narrator forces us to consider our core beliefs, our most cherished memories, our views on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In fiction as in life, there may be no easy answers—but The Interrogative Mood is an exuberant book that leaves the reader feeling a little more alive.

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write this book?

Padgett Powell: Let us say I received workplace emails exclusively in the interrogative, like this: "Is it time for our esteemed Director [I was the Director] to have a chat with the Provost about our autonomy? Are we remembering what was promised us last spring by the Dean? Will we be content, again, to let History repeat itself?" and let us say I started wanting to have some ready answers: How do you stand in relation to the potato? Do you love the velvet ant as much as I?

And could not stop, for 140 pages.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

PP: That it kept going, that it actually became a process.

JG: What would you be doing, if you weren't a writer?

PP: I was a commercial roofer before this, until about age thirty. I will not work others under me and do not want to work under others. Am innocent of money and ambition in any real worldly sense. Thus, it is fair to say I would be a burnt crippled failure of some sort.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

PP: I am reading The Onion Field, inspired to do so by a review of the movie of that name by Barthleme Donald in 1979; I am reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee; I am reading Intruder in the Dust. I have just gone to Morocco where I did not enjoy Marrakech very much and spent time reading two other Faulkner novels. He reads well there. He had a big radio and good drugs.

JG: What's next for you?

PP: I am writing a book more improbable than The Interrogative Mood that I call Manifesto. It's two guys talking who speak artificially conveniently. I have another unsalable book called Cries For Help: Forty-Five Failed Novels.