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Five Things: Writer Victor LaValle On Comic Books, Metallica, And Malcolm X

Teddy Wolff

This week's guest is a writer who -- appropriately enough -- I first learned about on public radio. Victor LaValle was giving an interview on Fresh Air about his 2012 novel, "The Devil in Silver," and he said something that really struck me: “Journalism tells you what happened, fiction tells you how it FELT.” As a journalist and an aspiring fiction writer, that really spoke to me.

So I emailed him and told him I appreciated it. Much to my surprise, he responded, and we corresponded about writing for a little bit. Turns out, he lives right around the corner from where I used to live in New York City. We probably used to see each other at the deli.

"The Devil In Silver" is a masterful blend of horror and social commentary -- horror's not typically my thing but I loved it. LaValle has won all kinds of awards and accolades, and his latest book, "The Changeling" not only received glowing reviews, but it's in development for a television series. His recent comic book, "Victor LaValle's DESTROYER," is a continuation of the Frankenstein story with a Black Lives Matter twist.

When I was in New York over the summer, I reached out to see if LaValle would be up for doing an episode of Five Things, and he graciously welcomed me to the apartment he shares with his wife and two kids. We sat at the kitchen table on a sunny morning and talked. Listen in the player above.

When he first talked to someone about death:
"I remember being a kid, maybe 6 or 7, and my grandmother was already in her seventies, and I said to her something like, 'Jaja, I hope you live to be a hundred.' And she laughed and she said, 'Why would you curse me like that?' And I was totally shocked, and she said, 'I hope I don't live that long.' And we got into this whole conversation about, she was saying 'I've got glaucoma, it makes it hard for me to read, I like watching "Days of Our Lives" but already I can't really see all the people on the screen, Bo and Hope are a little blurry, I read the Bible every day but I can't make out the words, why would you want me to be here as that got worse?' And I just was totally flabbergasted."

On reading an X-Men comic and realizing it took on serious themes:
"All these big ideas were introduced to me, maybe in a way I didn't understand at the time. It was the first time I came to understand you could have a thing that was considered popular, genre-y, all that stuff, but that in a weird way, because it was a story about comic book superheroes, it bypassed some of my maybe natural defenses against 'I don't want to talk about that big political stuff.' It could bypass all that, because it was just a story about X-Men, mutants, and Magneto -- just read it, it's fun. And then two-thirds of the way through, starting to be like, 'Oh my God, this is about prejudice and institutional power being used to crush minorities. Oh, wow, I've gotta think about this.'

On his early love of heavy metal music:
"I grew up in Flushing, Queens, at the time the most ethnically mixed neighborhood on Earth. I grew up on the two great working-class male music forms that America has created, hip-hop and heavy metal, but heavy metal was first. And 'Kill 'Em All' [by Metallica] was the first album that I bought on my own, with my money. Sometimes when I say I was a metalhead, there's a picture of what that means. What is a metalhead and what do they look like? But the person who introduced me to Metallica was a Persian kid named Cameron, and the other metalhead in our group was a Korean kid named Jimmy."

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