From Indie Week:
John Darnielle crafts intensely emotional songs as The Mountain Goats. Now he’s crafted an intensely emotional first novel.
Wolf in White Van follows Sean, a disfigured loner who distracts himself from the pain of living by running a play-by-mail role-playing game called Trace Italian. We sat down with Darnielle to learn what he wanted to achieve with the novel and how he separates it from his music.
INDY: Has it been frustrating trying to separate this novel from your music?
JOHN DARNIELLE: The only thing that’s frustrating is this question everybody asks, “How is the creative process”—that’s the term they use—”different when writing a novel versus writing a song?” To me, that’s like asking, “How is the cooking process different when making soup versus bread?” Well, I’m in the kitchen for both of them.
A song is sort of a—”explosion” overstates it, but something you make in a fit. I revise songs, but I write them really fast. With a novel, you come back to it every day, or you let it sit for weeks, then come back. There’s a lot more freedom. A song is like a puzzle—that sounds unemotional, but actually, puzzles aren’t inherently unemotional—whereas a novel is a long journey.
So songs have compact, specific goals, but in novels, you’ve got room to spread out?
Yeah, there’s a lot you can do with songs. But one thing you don’t do is listen to part of a song, come back and listen to another part the next day and not get the whole picture for a while. There’s some similarities in how you build it to a pitch. There are little climaxes and drops. Usually you can tell when I’ve reached a point where I thought something cool just happened, because that’s when I’ll end the section. There’s an inherent music to prose, but it’s more symphonic, maybe. There are movements, a place you start and a place you end up.
Someone asked on Tumblr about bringing Mountain Goats merch to the book tour. You said that in places you’d never been, bring it; otherwise, leave it at home. Why do you want to keep the book separate?
If I’m blending them, then it’s sort of the John Darnielle show. I want my book stuff to be about the book. I don’t consider myself an over-dignified dude, but it would be undignified to go, “Here’s my book, now a little song and dance! I’ll do all these things that you like about me, me, me!”
If people want to hear my music, come to a show. I’ll play music all night long. But I want to let the story have its moment. I think it would be mean to the book to go, “Just in case you didn’t want to see me read, I’ll play a few songs to get you in the door.”