What inspired your novel?
Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area (South Pasadena, to be exact). Her first language was Farsi, her second (and luckily mostly forgotten) tongue, Valley Girl. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and The Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MA program. She has been awarded fellowships from Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo.
She began writing as an arts and entertainment journalist—her subjects have spanned from clubs (Paul Oakenfold!) to couture (Paul Poiret!); Maggie Gyllenhaal (Maggie’s first big feature!) to Fabio (Porochista’s first feature at 16!); New York City’s finest drinking establishments (Paper magazine bar columnist, 2000-2001, as well as New York magazine online bar critic) to rural Illinois’s most dangerous skydiving compound (2004 staff writer stint at The Chicago Reader). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Village Voice, The Chicago Reader, Paper, Flaunt, Nylon, Bidoun, Alef, Canteen, nerve.com and FiveChapters.com, among others.
She currently spends a third of her time in New York City and two thirds three hours away in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where she teaches Fiction at Bucknell University.
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.
9/11 was a major kick in the ass, Khakpour says.
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