Question: What inspired "Sons and Other Flammable Objects"?
Khakpour: My novel was mostly inspired by my own background as a new Iranian-American growing up in sort of unique circumstances in a suburb of Los Angeles. And then 9/11 was a major kick in the ass for me. So that in a way . . . maybe it was the prime inspiration. But I also often joke that poverty and desperation were also big inspirations in writing my novel. I was given a fellowship after getting my Masters degree at Johns Hopkins, and I knew that I’ve always been struggling to survive. And I had a seven month, eight month period to write a long work. We’re sort of encouraged to do that – not required, but you know sort of encouraged. And I thought, “Wow. I might never again in my life be paid to write like this.” And I was working with a wonderful writer, Alice McDermott, at Hopkins, and I know she always sensed that I was a novelist. And so I thought, “Let me just try it because I don’t have any other options.” What am I gonna do? Go back to New York? Be a freelance journalist again? Barely scrape by? Am I gonna move to California with my parents, which I had never really done after college? What . . . what can I do? And what do I have the steam to write about, you know? And so Alice McDermott used to tell me, “Write what you know,” and I always thought that was so gauche, and outdated, you know and pedestrian. And I tried it, and I assumed the manuscript would be tossed, and that my actual published novel would come sometime later. But it just so happened that I became interested in it, and I became more interested in my experience of 9/11, and my experience growing up as a wrote the novel. So it was a strange chicken and egg phenomenon with the inception of the novel, I think, in my case.