Matthew Specktor: Welcome to the Machine

Matthew Specktor: Welcome to the Machine


American Dream Machine book coverMatthew Specktor discusses his new novel American Dream Machine, which spans a half-century in Hollywood and features a litany of celebrity cameos, including Jack Nicholson and George Clooney.


Zola: The book is filled with A-list walk-ons: Jack Nicholson, Sheryl Crow, George Clooney (or at least a Clooney doppelgänger). How accurate did you seek to be with their portrayals? For instance, did you do any research to make sure they could conceivably have been at the places and times and stages in their careers in which you put them?

Matthew Specktor: I definitely wasn’t thinking much about accuracy. (Not that one would have to.) Yes, I was aware that these people could have been—and probably were, more or less—where I situated them. But I was more interested in them as imaginary figures, which is what celebrities as we understand them are, anyway. They’re essential to the book’s texture—as they are to the texture of contemporary American life—but not really essential to its core narrative, which is where I was far more concerned with getting things “right.”

Zola: While most of the book is set in L.A., some of the action takes place in New York. Was one more fun and/or challenging to write about than the other? Did you find yourself feeling in a different mood when you were writing about each place?

MS: For sure, a different mood. I’ve lived in both cities, and I suppose each one offered a different set of challenges. I was in Los Angeles while I wrote the book, so that made certain things more available, even if it didn’t make the writing any easier. But New York was a way of ventilating the text, of making sure I didn’t get too myopic in depicting the one city. It let the narrative breathe.

Zola: In addition to your own writing, you serve as senior fiction editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books, which just one year after launching online already has some 40,000 Twitter followers and is planning a print edition. Are you surprised by the immediate success of LARB?

MS: I won’t say surprised. I mean, yes, insofar as it’s always more seemly to be startled by the success of anything—it’s certainly nothing I’d ever take for granted—but Los Angeles is a great literary city. It has a fantastic community of writers, it’s one of the largest book markets in the country, and given its sheer size, only a very antiquated set of notions about the city’s character would possibly argue otherwise. In a city of ten million people, surely some of them will care about books, no?

That said, the success of LARB is entirely dependent on the quality of the writing we publish (i.e. the amazing writers who contribute, bless them) and on readership. Visit the site and see, and if you’re moved to—which I hope you will be—for God’s sake, donate and/or subscribe.

Zola: What are your favorite Hollywood novels? Is there one in particular you feel hasn’t been given enough credit?

MS: In a sense a tough question. The very term “Hollywood novel” can be delimiting, as it might suggest rather implicitly a book that deals with shallow people and topics of glittering but local concern. In that sense, no Hollywood novel is given enough credit. In that sense, too, the whole purpose of American Dream Machine was to write a novel set in Los Angeles that wasn’t a “Hollywood Novel.”

I think people don’t fully recognize the excellence of Michael Tolkin’s The Player (though they’ve seen the movie), or Steve Erickson’s Zeroville, or Eve Babitz’s books, which are out of print. My own vote goes to Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life, Like Any Other, which is a sort of strange, buoyant and terrible fable about growing up in Beverly Hills in the 1950s.

Zola: You’re adapting American Dream Machine for a Showtime series to be executive produced by Dexter star Michael C. Hall. It’s been reported that if Hall appears in the show, it will only be a minor part. So who would you love to see cast in the leads?

MS: I worry that to say too much about this might amount to a form of tampering. (Ha!) I’m just getting down to the brass tacks of writing the pilot script now, and I’m sure the network will have its own excellent ideas of who we should cast. That said, Paul Giamatti’s name comes up a lot (for Beau), as does Philip Seymour Hoffman’s. These are great actors—better than great—and we’d be beyond lucky to have either one. Besides Michael, there are other actors—ones I know or have encountered over the years—I’d have some interest in attracting, but for the time being I’m concerned with producing the best possible pilot script. Every other decision will have to stem from there.

This article originally appeared on Zola Books.