Appetite for the Transgressive: Interview with Author David Low
There’s a powerful scene in the beginning of the book and I was curious about why you decided to open with it.
Christopher Nolan has perfected the art of movie openings. Often, the opening sequences of his films feel as if they can serve as short films that can function on their own. I hoped to achieve something similar with this book. An opening that not only sets the tone from the first sentence but can function as its own self-contained short story. A strong opening and strong finale can really elevate a movie. While writing the novel, I constantly had the pacing and cinematic imagery of a movie in my mind.
Another thought when writing this opening chapter was the reader should know right away what kind of book this was. One test reader suggested removing the chapter altogether and opening the book differently. They believed opening in such a violent and in your face fashion would put some readers off and it’d be better to ease them into the story. I’ve never been subtle. I don’t know how. My stories and characters are pretty blunt, and I didn’t feel like tricking the readers. It just felt like the story’s themes and ideas ought to be very in your face and at the forefront. If the reader accepts, great, if not, no big deal.
Finally, I can’t help but write about things that are personally frightening or grotesque to me. I’m drawn to literature and films that make me uncomfortable.
How did you first get the idea for this book and when did you first start writing it?
This book is a combination of ideas. The name, CoinciDATE, dates back to over a decade ago. One of my buddies and I would stay up late at his place drinking and coming up with increasingly ridiculous ideas for cults and pyramid schemes and dating agencies. We’d try to see how ridiculous an idea could be, how blatantly immoral and obviously a scam, while still possibly attracting clientele. That’s where the idea for the name and the business that appears in the book comes from. The actual plot and characters come much, much later.
The opening chapter, in which the incel character shoots up his school, started out as an idea for a short film dating back to 2017/18. Several treatments had things that would eventually end up in the book. The idea of a short film was shelved when I started writing what would have been my first novel, a first contact science fiction story.
I was living in Ukraine at the time and was about halfway through that novel when various ideas from CoinciDATE kept invading my thoughts and wouldn’t leave me alone. The only solution was to start writing them. I put the other novel aside and started writing CoinciDATE, and for the first time in my life I wrote for days on end without complications or doubts. The book was a combination of a dozen ideas I’d always wanted to write about, but probably wouldn’t have worked as full books on their own. These ideas included writing about the struggle of retail/customer services workers. I still don’t think the definitive novel has been written on that topic yet, but for those who have never worked behind a counter or served food, it is an absolute fucking nightmare. After that, it felt natural to include tidbits about the community college experience and what it was like living in a smallish town where nothing ever really changes and everyone is stuck in a static position.
The sad reality is, school shootings kept happening. The most recent and most prominent one at that time was the Parkland shooting. Living in a different country and viewing the US from the outside, you truly see what an infantile, violent, selfish, contradictory, and possibly even psychotic people Americans can be. This book and these characters could only ever exist in the United States. That fueled the themes and events of the book. This book was never meant to be a big political or cultural statement, and neither was it meant to be the definitive “school shooting” book or an “incel novel”, but those events and characters were inevitable in this type of story.
The idea of writing a story about sex, in which all the characters were sex obsessed, but it was all entirely unsexy was really appealing.
How did you go about constructing the plot and what kind of research did you do?
The beginning of a story is always incredibly vivid in my head. The first 30-50 pages tend to write themselves. Eventually, the momentum slows down and I have to figure out how that beginning connects to the various disconnected ideas that are floating around in my head. At this point, the process becomes very workmanlike and not all that artistic. I write down very basic bullet points of the plot beats from what’s already been written to the end of the story. Once there is a basic plot outline, it’s essentially like finishing a homework assignment. It’s just filling in those vague bullet points with plot and character. From there I have a blueprint and know what needs to be written in. Once I have a rough draft, there is an idea of what the story can be, and I rewrite the story 3-4 times from beginning to end.
In terms of research, a lot of time was spent on reddit and different incel forms. Some of the stuff on there was quite unbelievable, and nothing I could write could ever be as ridiculous as what they were actually saying. It was a circle of men sharing terrible advice with one another, which did nothing more than validate their ill-formed beliefs. I watched a lot of YouTube videos about incels and by incels. YouTube comment sections provided some inspiration as well.
People often asked how much of the book is from my own life or which character is the most like me, and hopefully the answer to those questions is very little and none. I avoid writing about my own life because it’s not that interesting. Rather than things in the book being directly lifted out of events from my life, I look at how I can develop an emotion I’ve felt and give it to a character and have it presented in a way that is completely unique to them.
Take Barry, for instance. A lot of truly embarrassing and unfortunate things happen to Barry, but those are not things that have happened to me. Instead, I think back to a time something embarrassing happened to me, remember what it felt like, and then apply that feeling as the starting off point for circumstances unique to Barry. The feeling may be real, but the circumstances and events are unique to each character
What kind of catharsis did you achieve if any?
Seeing the result of years and years of work manifesting into reality is a good feeling. It was short-lived, though. The stress of editing and beta readers and query letters and formatting soon overtook any joy. The writing process is the only part about this that’s enjoyable. I’m an atrocious editor and I’m terribly impatient.
Your book explores choice and the rogue ways life can sometimes behave. Do people have a choice about who they fall in love with? And what part does luck play?
I tend to lean to the side of those who say you don’t have a choice with whom you fall in love with. Barry falls hopelessly in love with Nastya, but is that love and is he even mature enough to know what love is, or is that lust? Is there a difference? The idea of luck is so interesting because the tiniest detail or most minor thing, once removed or added to the equation, can change everything. People love to believe that, “Had I just talked to that person on Monday instead of Tuesday, I could have ended up with them.” Perhaps there is some truth in that. Instead of love, let’s talk about morality for a moment. Most people like to see themselves as moral and making decisions based on that perceived morality. But every single thing you do, big or small, still affects someone else’s life whether or not you even realize it. Miranda is a character in the book who constantly struggles with doing what is moral, but several things happen. Firstly, whether she is even witness to them, her actions greatly affect others. Secondly, perhaps her morals aren’t as sound as she thought they were, or maybe they were never even sound at all. One person driving like an inconsiderate jerk on the freeway can affect someone in a car 40 automobiles behind them. Due to that one person’s reckless driving, that second person is now 20 minutes late to work and their boss fires them. That reckless driver never knew this person whose life they ruined even existed.
Are most people disappointed with their lives?
Speaking purely for myself here, it’s wrong to think of life or one day or two months in terms of a single, absolute emotion. Often, I feel myself having a really terrible day. It doesn’t seem like the darkness will ever end and all my thoughts are negative, but all it takes is one simple text from a friend, seeing a funny movie, or encountering something unexpected that can completely turn that day around. That previously abysmal day then turns into a good day, or at the very least a tolerable one. Life is a series of moments, not one, static feeling. I truly hope most people are able to find ways to make the most of that so as not to be disappointed. For me, constantly trying to learn something new helps.
How often do you think about death and in what spirit?
Often and usually right when I’m on the verge of sleep and then sleep is no longer possible. More so than death, the concepts of time and eternity are absolutely terrifying. Heaven, to me, is just as scary a concept as hell. The more I read about physics, and time, and gravity, and relativity, and the nature of the universe as a whole, the more horrific everything seems to be. At the same time, I can’t get enough. It’s incredibly scary, but it’s so interesting. Nothing captured this existential terror about the nature of time and infinity and death better than the final book in The Three-Body Problem book trilogy, Death’s End. The places this book goes in terms of imagination and playing with the laws of physics and dimensions in space was so profoundly scary it kept me awake for two or three days after reading it. It also reinvigorated my faith in the power of storytelling and what wondrous ideas the human mind could come up with. I’m on a bit of a crusade to make as many people as I can read The Three-Body Problem series. If anyone was considering buying and reading my book, I’d tell them to reconsider and buy The Three-Body Problem instead, because it’s so much more interesting.
Do you ever worry about being politically correct?
Being offensive purely for shock value or to be edgy is cheap and lazy. There are a million terrible standup comedians who thought their jokes were bombing because they were too “edgy”, but the reality is the jokes simply weren’t funny. I don’t want to offend anyone, but at the same time I don’t care if I do. Taking offense is such a bizarre thing because it is entirely subjective. I always come back to these Christopher Hitchens quotes:
“Those who are determined to be ‘offended‘ will discover a provocation somewhere. We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.”
“If someone tells me that I’ve hurt their feelings, I say, ‘I’m still waiting to hear what your point is.’”
In this country (the US), I’ve been told, ‘That’s offensive’ as if those two words constitute an argument or a comment. Not to me they don’t. And I’m not running for anything, so I don’t have to pretend to like people when I don’t.
Once upon a time, fascist bully Ricky Gervais made a joke about peanut allergies. One woman was so upset by the joke that she reached out to Gervais on Twitter to express her outrage. “How dare you joke about food allergies. I’ve got a daughter who’s slightly allergic to nuts. It’s no laughing matter, it’s disgusting. Do you know how many people die….etc”. Gervais retorted that he makes jokes about AIDS, the Holocaust, religion, sexuality, and famine, and she’s telling him he shouldn’t joke about food allergies. In response, she said, “Yes, but the Holocaust didn’t kill children.” Let that statement sink in. If she had her way, all those other topics are perfectly acceptable to joke about, but not that one, specific category.
Gervais later went on to create a Twitter poll asking which topics are not ok to joke about. One person responded, “losing two children”. That means the death of one child is funny, whereas the death of three children—hysterical. Sophie’s Choice missed a beat there. It could have been far funnier than it already was. Worrying about or trying to predict what may offend someone in your work is pointless.
The book features a school shooting. One would think this would be the most offensive aspect of the book, or at the very least high on the list. I naturally assumed the murder of innocent people might bother some people, or perhaps the misogynistic/backwards views of some of the male characters. One British reader wasn’t bothered by any of that. No. What upset him was the amount of times characters were described taking a shit. He was so appalled by this aspect of the book that in his review he said if I left these descriptions in, it would ruin any potential the book ever had. Naturally, I listened to his advice and added six more references to shitting.
A different reader was offended that a young girl was murdered in the novel (this is something that a person should be upset by), but then they added, “You should make her a year or two older to make it less creepy.” Keep that in mind folks, while the murder of a 15-year-old is wrong, the murder of a 17-year-old is perfectly fine. Don’t worry too much about dead 17-year-olds, he said it wasn’t creepy. (Note to the writers behind Sofie’s Choice….make the kids older).
Any other new or upcoming projects you want to mention?
Millions of different ideas, including rewriting what was almost my first novel. That one was a first contact story. At the moment, I’m still worn out from getting CoinciDATE out there, so I’d really like to write something simple, somewhat disposable, schlocky, and entertaining probably only for me. Perhaps a collection of short, schlocky stories.
End of Interview
David R. Low is a 73-year-old man trapped inside the body of a 31-year-old. He is continuously fascinated, shocked, frightened, and enthralled by America and the American people. Despite living most of his time in places like Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Russia, he finds himself drawn to writing about the strangest country on Earth. When he isn’t creating stories, his time is spent learning and teaching languages.