I spent much of my career as a professor of comparative religion. My graduate work had been in the Christian Theology department of a major Protestant divinity school, where I grew more and more skeptical of that enterprise and its major proponents. When I began teaching, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to give that skepticism free reign. For example, I taught a course called Modern Critiques of Religion. I also started to mix literature with my standard fare. And when I took very early retirement from my tenured position, I gave in to an itch to spending full time writing novels, almost always of the comic, i.e. humorous, genre.
As for my influences, I’d say that my fascination with Charles Dickens is life-long. To me, he is the greatest English-speaking novelist. As for American novelists, the election falls on Mark Twain, especially Huckleberry Finn. As for writers in general, I try to read a Shakespeare play at least once a year. As for cinema, I’ve always been a fan of the Monte Python lads. And in classical music, I am enthralled by Beethoven’s symphonies, which, beginning with the Third, the Eroica, are endlessly inventive.
When I consider my novels as a whole, I’ve come to recognize that they tend to be of the experimental stripe. This is the strand of novels that runs from Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy to Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds and beyond. Many readers and critics seem to think that a novel should follow certain rules. For example, a writer should “show, not tell.” To me, this is a cookie-cutter view of the novelistic enterprise. Said John Gardner in his 1985 book, The Art of Fiction, “Every true work of art . . . must be judged primarily, though not exclusively, by its own laws.”