Jim H.: Do you feel that Harry is ultimately disappointed with what he finds at the end of his quest, or, in your mind, is it the journey that matters most—i.e., how he got there? Or are you making a more general statement about the bleakness/emptiness/ghost town-like nature of memory and desire?
Detman: I think Harry might be a perpetually disappointed person, but he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. I think of him as someone who is looking to find himself, after the dawning realization that he might have missed his chance. Personally, I think the journey is what matters, and if you are confused and aimless, you might then be searching for a remedy to that. This is the process of finding oneself, perhaps.
Jim H.: I like that: the finding is in the looking. In this regard, the titles of the six sections—Artifact, Memory, Material, Amalgam, Pilgrimage, Offering—feel somehow sacramental.
Detman: I thought of the novel as a quest, in a sense. My advisor at Goddard, Carla Harryman, told me early on she considered it a mystery, at least, having the movement of a mystery. I’d say it’s an oblique mystery, since I left it somewhat open at the end. It’s a mystery that doesn’t get solved, per se. As for the quest, and the sacramental notion, the quest is meant to be a pilgrimage. It’s like the Police song, “When you’ve made your secret journey, you will find this love you missed,” even though he’s not necessarily looking for love, the sentiment is the same: he has to make this ritualistic passage to arrive at something he can’t know of. I think I skirted right up to the notion of any religiosity with the cross imagery and such, as well as the titling of the sections. Mainly I intended a reverence for Basher’s life, from Harry’s point of view.
Jim H.: When JFK was assassinated by such a virtual nobody as Lee Oswald, it shocked the world. The general feeling was that such a great man would have to have been taken down by a vast conspiracy. I got a similar feeling reading your novel. Basher is larger than life (certainly in Harry’s appreciation), and though all the evidence points to his death having been accidental and, importantly, meaningless, I wanted to discover a larger plot against him. And apparently so does Harry. But sometimes there is no closure, emotional or otherwise. The reality is that danger is out there and sometimes things go horribly wrong. How will Harry reconcile such a meaningless death to the vaunted memory he hangs onto of his beloved friend without losing either his sanity or himself?
Detman: I got the idea of Basher from a story I recalled from childhood, where a similar event was broadcast on the national news. It was shocking to me as a ten or twelve year old, and though I’ve never gone back to find the original material, I let that impression inform my novel. I took it a step further. Of course, now we have youtube videos, and the subject seems timely to me.
I don’t know if Harry’s sanity is at stake. I think it’s more that he is driven by the injustice of his friend’s death, and the need for closure of some kind. That’s the driver of the novel.
Jim H.: What of the person who filmed Basher’s death? What happened to him? Do you think Harry tried to find him?
Detman: That’s Simon Rasmussen. I suppose I could have had a chapter on that, but that thread came up late in the writing, and I worked it in as a way of establishing that someone had to have filmed it. It’s a thread I could have explored more, though it would have become a different novel.
Jim H.: A sequel perhaps? Can you tell me something about your publisher: Figureground Press? Any other books in the works?
Detman: Figureground Press is an imprint I established when I wanted to put out IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF BASHER THOMAS. I thought it would be an opportunity to put it out and do it the way I wanted, which is to say, as a slowly becoming enlightened publisher. I’ve learned a lot on the way, and I hope to not make the same mistakes twice. I designed everything, did all the work myself. It’s been an unimaginable headache. But also a lot of fun. I now have the ultimate respect for publishers.
As for a sequel: there was initial material on Harry’s life and his family in Michigan, for an entirely different novel that preceded this one, a prequel of sorts, though I don’t know if it is as interesting as IMPOSSIBLE LIVES, so I may just leave it in the drawer or harvest it for the future. I’m beginning to see this novel as one part of a trilogy, which is an idealistic way of figuring out how to organize the novels that I’ve written since IMPOSSIBLE LIVES, and seeing that they are actually related thematically.
Jim H.: I'll be first in line! Tell us something about yourself. What else have you published? Can we find any of it online?
Detman: My work is out there. I’m google-able. I have a website and a blog, and I am writing all the time. I write a lot of book reviews, which I discovered early on was a good way to get published. I love reading and writing.
[editor's note: If you're interested in reading other of Robert's work, here's a good start.]
Jim H.: Finally, what next? What are you working on now?
Detman: I have a novel I’ve been working on, which is somewhat of a cross genre science fiction meets Philip Roth thing. It’s a story of a writer who survives a disastrous Everest climb and loses a bunch of fingers, based on a story I wrote that was published in the Antioch Review. In one of those happy accidents (or miracles) that happen when you go on vacation, the title for the novel came to me just last week: INCIDENTAL MUSIC FOR TWO HANDS.
I have a stack of writing—stories and essays—that I’m continually working on. So I usually just pull something out and edit like crazy till I’m happy with it, then I send it around. I’m always working on something, I have about three or four stories that I will send out soon, and a number of pieces under consideration. Writing is a long process that requires immense patience, but it’s also one of the best things I can think to do with my time. Writing has taught me patience.