Interview with Andrew Armacost

1. Describe your novel in three words.
Bleak yet honest.

2. You once worked as a prison guard as does your main character, Wesley, does in this novel. How has your personal life influenced your writing?

That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked, because the casual reader will sometimes confuse a narrator with the author, especially when the story unfolds in first-person, and I’m no more related to Wesley Weimer than Nabokov was related to Humpert Humpert, the narrator of Lolita. Anthony Burgess wasn’t a murderous villain. Mark Twain wasn’t a barefooted boy from a broken home.  Nor was S.E. Hinton some sort of switchblade-wielding gangster. Irvine Welsh was never a degenerate cop. And so on.

True, I worked briefly in a prison. And I do have two beautiful biracial children, but I’m happily married to their mother and they live with me. Never been divorced. I’m not currently impoverished, and I’ve had excellent travel and educational opportunities. So I’m pointed about one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees away from the novel’s narrator, in terms of circumstances--and therefore, my attitude toward life.

What I will say is that this novel is essentially the autobiography of a sponge.  Meaning, many of these stories are based on the direct experiences of people very close to me… Either people I grew up with, or people I knew while working at the prison. As Joan Didion famously quipped: “writers are always selling somebody out.” I suppose that’s true.

Anyway, the tone and the first few pages of the novel grew from a very dark place unrelated to Wesley’s, to my narrator. In fact, I had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. My mother and I were very close, and she died from cancer while I was posted overseas. I missed her last moments by one day, due to a missed connection in Frankfurt. I suppose that was the essential soil for the novel, a period of great bereavement.

3. "THE POOR MAN’S GUIDE TO SUICIDE is a noir why-done-it that shoves a microscope into the guts of a bleak yet fascinating subculture while managing to throw a spiritual life-ring to a drowning demographic: non-custodial fathers." What made you want to tackle this subject?

Divorce has been a huge formative force in my life. My parents divorced when I was young. Both remarried. And then came the joy of step-parent relations. I also have siblings and life-long friends who are divorced. Granted, children suffer the worst. But the second-place trophy for suffering always goes to whichever parent fails to get custody. Losing your children seems like an emotional amputation. Granted, I don’t understand enough to endorse any specific changes to policy, and besides which I’m pretty much apolitical these days, but I do know that, as a society, we need to think a bit more, and talk a bit more, and do a bit more about the problem of non-custodial parenthood.

You know, I never thought about this consciously until I was asked a similar question in a different interview, but anyway, I do wonder if this novel wasn’t sort of a warning to myself, a way of fully appreciating the stakes of the game, of how important it is to work hard at keeping the family together. Because none of it happens automatically. None of it runs on autopilot. You have to try, and try hard.

4. You've lived in numerous places. Which one is your favorite and why?

Actually, that’s one of the problems with moving around too much…you wind up creating this ideal city-state in your head, cherry-picking all of the greatest hits from around the globe. So, I’ll take the food and crime-rate from Singapore. From Japan, I’ll take the literacy rates and social courtesy. I mean, people still bow over there. Now let’s pull in the architecture from Scotland and the sunshine from San Diego. Finally, I want to pump all of that stuff back into the Midwest so I can move my family next to the people who matter most to me.

5. Which actor would you want to play you in the movie of your life?

Well, if it’s a drama, I’ll go with a French actress, Isabell Huppert. If it’s comedy, then probably Amy Schumer. I figure, if Cate Blanchett can play Bob Dylan, then why not?

About the book:
Wesley Weimer, a twice-divorced prison guard and failed father of two, realizes that his life has grown lifeless. Child support payments suck him dry and so he’ll never finish that degree. Most of his free time is spent tending to his crippled mother or else writhing through painful visits with his children.
So with Christmas right around the corner, Wesley persuades a prisoner to strangle him for ten thousand dollars—this way, at least his kids can cash in on the life insurance. The only problem is, he doesn’t have ten thousand dollars…

THE POOR MAN’S GUIDE TO SUICIDE is a noir why-done-it that shoves a microscope into the guts of a bleak yet fascinating subculture while managing to throw a spiritual life-ring to a drowning demographic: non-custodial fathers.