Coming to the Festival of Books: Peter Bognanni
Peter Bognanni is the author of the novel "The House of Tomorrow." It's his first book, and he's one of five finalists for the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, which will be awarded at the L.A. Times book prizes Friday night.
He'll be at the Festival of Books on Saturday, on the 12:30 p.m. panel "Fiction: Close Portraits." He answered Jacket Copy's questions via email.
Jacket Copy: In your book “The House of Tomorrow,” a teenager is being brought up by his grandmother in a Buckminster Fuller dome in Iowa, and she's pretty obsessed with Buckminster Fuller. Do you share her obsession?
Peter Bognanni: I definitely shared her obsession during the writing of the book. Generally, I tend to move like a virus from obsession to obsession. One day it might be Norse mythology. The next day it could be breakfast cereal commercials from the 1980s on YouTube. But my fascination with Bucky Fuller lasted quite a while. I love his grand sense of the possible and his contagious enthusiasm for audacious ideas. And I still get a thrill when I’m out driving and I stumble across a dome home. I usually yell out, “A Dome!” even if no one is in the car with me.
JC: The main characters in your novel are unusual -- one is homeschooled (mostly in the teachings of Buckminster Fuller), and the other has a punk attitude and a recent heart transplant. How does their outsider status help you tell their story?
PB: I realized at some point as a reader I have a hard time identifying with characters who aren’t outsiders in some sense. This probably has to do with the fact that while I was growing up in Iowa, I liked to take puppetry classes, make profane hourlong “comedy tapes” in my room, and write epic fan letters to my favorite cartoonists. I didn’t know too many “insiders.” Something I hoped to capture in the book was the possibility of strange intimacy between fellow outcasts. Oddly enough, it’s their shared sense of isolation that brings them together.
JC: You went to Iowa, the top writing program in the country, teach at Macalester College and have recently published your first book. Do you have any advice for writers who are starting out?
PB: Read. Reread. Write. Rewrite.
If you can consistently work hard at those skills, you have a fighting chance. The “re” part of the equation is especially important. I read to fall in love with a book. I reread to understand how I fell so hard. I write what fascinates and entertains me. I rewrite to make sure this comes across to a reader. It also helps if you enjoy yourself once in a while. That probably isn’t mentioned enough.
JC: Are you looking forward to anything in particular at the Festival of Books?
PB: I still consider myself a beginner, so seeing writers that are smarter than I am talk about their craft is invaluable. There are too many festival attendees who fall into that category to name. But aside from the many fiction writers I want to see, I’d love to hear Dan Clowes talk about the graphic novel. His work has influenced me as much as any novelist’s.
JC: What do you hope to see or do in L.A. apart from the Festival of Books?
PB: I’m not hard to please. I only ask to see one A-list celebrity doing something embarrassing.
Tickets to the L.A. Times Festival of Books are available now from Eventbrite.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Peter Bognanni. Credit: Melissa Copon