Author James Tadd Adcox Reimagines Indy in New Novel
He’ll speak at the Wheeler Arts building on December 5.
The Indianapolis setting of James Tadd Adcox’s debut novel, Does Not Love, is a reimagined city: secrets, mysteries, and conspiracies abound as one couple tries to overcome problems both personal and political. The Chicago-based Adcox reads from the novel on Friday, December 5, at the Wheeler Arts building, where University of Indianapolis students and Vouched Books will host a happening called the Electrostatic Showcase. Student readings begin at 6 p.m.; Adcox and others take the stage at 9 p.m. We caught up with him by phone before his visit.
You have family in Indianapolis, and you set Does Not Love in town. Yet it’s also not Indianapolis. How did you decide on the setting, and how would you describe the novel’s version of Indy?
I seem to always write about places after I’ve left them. I spent a lot of time, mostly summers, in Indianapolis between 2000 and 2007, and I started writing about these characters right after that. I think maybe I need some distance between me and a place I’ve known before I can start writing about it–enough distance that I can kind of make the place my own without getting too bogged down in the details of it. The Indianapolis of Does Not Love is the Indianapolis of my memory of those years: strange, flat, a little lonely, filled with secrets that are just beyond one’s sight.
When you come to town now, what are your must-visits?
I really like Crown Hill Cemetery. I spent an afternoon there once with my sister, looking for John Dillinger’s grave (it’s basically impossible to find without a map). And recently, the times I’ve been, I’ve gotten into downtown—Indy Reads is terrific, of course, and there’s a great beer bar on the second floor of the City Market.
Where have you gone on your book tour, and what has the experience been like?
I rented a car with some of the other writers from Curbside Splendor (my publisher) and drove through the Rust Belt to NYC, with readings in places like Cleveland, Buffalo, and Rochester. And as we speak, I’m about to head to the West Coast for readings in L.A., Portland, and San Francisco. The readings themselves have been all over the place—house parties and bookstores and bars. In San Francisco, I’m reading at 826 Valencia, the original 826, which I’m really excited about.
Curbside Splendor is an independent press, and your first book of stories, The Map of the System of Human Knowledge, was published by Tiny Hardcore Press in 2012. How would you describe independent presses (or indie lit, or alt-lit) for the uninitiated?
They’re kind of like indie record labels. They can range from a couple of editors who do all the work of the press—deciding what authors to take on, editing, design, promotion, distribution—to larger operations like Graywolf Press or Coffee House Press. Tiny Hardcore was a really small operation. At the time, it was basically just Roxane Gay and one or two other people. Curbside is at the larger end of the spectrum, with a few full-time employees, distribution to major bookstores, and a fairly large seasonal catalog.
Do you write full-time or have a day job?
I do publicity at University of Chicago Press. I convince people to read poetry and books about medieval studies and the history of science.
Your main characters, Robert and Viola, are reeling after a series of miscarriages. The book intertwines Big Pharma, the FBI, and infidelity. And somehow, parts of the book are comedic. How do you balance the serious with the seriously funny?
Part of my theory when writing this book was that getting the balance between humor and sadness just right makes the humor much funnier and the sadness much sadder than either would be alone. I dated a woman once who showed me that if you put just a little salt on very sweet things, it made them taste much sweeter even though you could still taste the salt. So it’s something like that, I think.
The novel features a large pharmaceutical company, and Indianapolis happens to be home to a large pharmaceutical company. Did you expect readers would make comparisons?
I can’t see why anyone would.
Tell us about the title of your novel.
The title comes from a line in a Dean Young poem, which is itself a reference to a line in a Robert Frost poem. The Dean Young line is: “Something there is that does not love a constructor of roller coasters.”
Follow Adcox on Twitter at @Inauthenticity.