September 23, 2009 / 1:31 PM / 9 years ago

The seedy side of life with Dan Fante

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - American Dan Fante is a no holds barred author who shoots from the hip. This honest approach is not to everyone’s taste.

Son of acclaimed novelist John Fante, Dan has lived through alcoholism, drug use, poverty, divorce, suicide attempts and therapy, but survived to tell the tale.

His novels, which include “Chump Change,” detail the seedy underbelly to the American dream and have been compared to the legendary work of Charles Bukowski. He is a great fan of Hubert Selby Jr, author of “Last Exit to Brooklyn.”

More popular in Europe than in his homeland, Fante’s semi-autobiographical novels feature anti-hero Bruno Dante.

His new novel “86’d” was published this week in the United States and his other three Bruno novels will be re-published by Harper Perennial in December.

Fante, who quit school at 20 and hit the road, spoke to Reuters about his life experiences and new book:

Q: Why did it take so long for you to get published and what did you do prior to this?

A: “I didn’t start to write seriously until I was 45 or 46. I’d stopped the booze for years before and was doing telemarketer work. My first novel Chump Change took me two years to write. I had to clean it up to avoid being arrested.”

Q: Did having a famous father hinder or help your career? How was your childhood?

A: “John Fante wasn’t famous while he was alive. He was an out-of-work hack screenwriter living on a Social Security check every month. Having John Fante as a father helped after I’d been published a few years, but not much. A review or two perhaps. I’ve spent a long time as a small press author and just assumed I’d stay that way.”

Q: How much of your Bruno Dante books are biographical, and how do you see the character?

A: Much of my Bruno stuff is autobiographical. The chronology can be different in the books but the emotions and experience are real. Bruno is an alcoholic who often loses control. Telling the truth about myself is what connects with the people who read my work. I began my first novel after I was three years sober. I wrote it to expel - to vomit up - some old pain.

Q: How’s life now?

A: My life is good. Damn good. I’m breathing in and out and I’m not in jail. And now my old books are being published in America and my work is available to many more readers. That’s all I’ve ever cared about as a writer; getting into people’s heads one book at a time.

Q: Do you think Europe has embraced your work more than the United States?

A: The British and French have a very different take on fiction than do Americans. My kind of fiction is not mainstream in the States ... it is downstream. Thank Christ people in Europe still read books.

Q: How do you see the United States? Where are you most happy?

A: Well, I’m American and this is my home, so that’s a given. Having said that, I love Europe and seem to connect with readers there very well. I cross the ocean as often as possible.

Q: Who are your greatest literary influences and inspirations?

A: Selby, of course was my greatest influence. But also John Fante. And Eugene O’Neill — I enjoy writing plays — and Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare. Also there’s a terrific American writer who died young named Edward Lewis Wallent. Some of his stuff is brilliant. And of course J.P. Donleavy. Writers who tell the truth about themselves and the human condition have been a great gift to me and have kept me going.

Q: What can we expect from the new novel?

A: My wife tells me that “86’d” is my best book. My wife thinks I’m a genius. I don’t argue — I just laugh. I ain’t no genius. I just write a page a day. I show up. That’s the best a writer can do: show up and see what pops out on the keys. I’d thought I was done with Bruno so go figure.

Editing by Steve Addison

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