Robert Coover’s first novel, “The Origin of the Brunists,” concerns a doomsday prophet and his followers. It was published in 1966. Since then, he has established himself as a preeminent voice of the American avant garde and a strong proponent of incorporating technology into creative writing. Earlier this month, Coover released his latest novel, “The Brunist Day of Wrath,” a sequel to his long-ago debut. Coover lives next to Brown University, where he has taught for more than three decades, but he rarely writes in Providence.
CAFÉ SOCIETY: [My] daytime writing happens in cafés. The cafés I’ve used have been primarily overseas, [since] most of the writing I do is out of the country. At noon, I get up and play around with [my work] a bit . . . and then head off to a café. There’s usually a favorite or two in one neighborhood or another. Around Brown there aren’t — they’re usually filled with students, and I try to avoid that.
NIGHT SHIFT: Working at night started out as just a bad habit, but soon it became essential . . . I didn’t work at anything but temporary jobs until the early ’80s, and by that time, I was 50. I had somehow managed to escape the day-to-day with writing and the occasional teaching gig, and finally it became a necessity to find something steady. With that, I found myself getting drawn deeper and deeper into activities that had nothing to do with the writing. I had been [writing at night] for other reasons because of how my metabolism worked and how raising a family worked . . . but when I got into full-time university stuff, I had to do it as self-protection.
DIGITAL INSPIRATION: One of the things I managed to do in the final decade of my teaching was to shift entirely to electronic writing . . . I was able to escape, finally, the debilitating experience of reading student manuscripts all day, then trying to write yourself. That can be by itself disruptive — you can find yourself having a hard time getting out of the cadences of a workshop seminar type of situation, and your head gets full of these stupid things that get said.
DOWN IN THE MINES: I wrote [“The Origin of the Brunists”] in the ’60s and had contrived a sequel, maybe even two if I had written them at that time. I was writing that book reluctantly. I had by that time written some of the stories that were in “Pricksongs and Descants,” and I was convinced that that was the direction I was going to go. Several times, I almost gave up on the Brunist book, but I decided as a duty to the craft I would go down into the coal mine so I could work my way out of it, hopefully without a disaster . . . I left those sequel ideas moldering in the bottom drawer, and every now and then, I’d pull them out and reconsider them and think, “That’s a good story, I really should do it.” . . . until the election of young Bush, a moment of the revival of the evangelical crowd. I had an almost visceral reaction to these crowds of extremists. That was 10 to 12 years ago, and it’s consumed me ever since.
COMIC TOUCH: A lesson I learned from reading [Thomas Pynchon’s] “V” has stuck with me all my life: All my work is basically comic, and even though this book has very harsh and violent scenes, its modus is still comedy. That’s the only thing I have ever written. Even though they’re not always viewed as such, the books are all meant as comic works.
Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson @gmail.com