From The Desk Of The Black Watch: “Your Caius Aquilla”

John Andrew Fredrick has spent the last three decades as the sole constant in one of music’s most perfect and unheralded rock outfits, the black watch. Using the Beatles as a tracing template, Fredrick has applied a kitchen-sink approach to the album at hand since his 1988 debut, St. Valentine, the opening volley in a catalog that would ultimately encompass 15 albums and five EPs, all of which inspired varying levels of critical halleleujahs and a deafening chorus of crickets at the nation’s cash registers. Fredrick will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our band new feature with him.

Set in ancient Rome, my latest novel is a satire of U.S. imperialism and militarism, helicopter parenting (cossetted children and their mad, doting governors), modern marriage, war hero stories, schadenfreude, xenophobia, jingoism, egoism and overconsumption. Martin Amis said that good novels must be about at least two things. Well, I’m not sure if my new thing is good, but it sure is about more than two things. The first draft I did was two pages long. It was meant for The New Yorker‘s “Shouts And Murmurs” section. I sent it in in order for The New Yorker to reject it. I like the fact that they’re consistent, The New Yorker: They reject all my stuff. They never let me down. They’re good like that. So, once I got the ineluctable rejection notice from the aforementioned terrific magazine, I thought, “Fuck it, then. I’ll make this quite long, keep the joke going for a preposterously long stint.” And I found myself (as I do whenever I’m in the middle of working on a book) dying to come screaming home and “be with” my characters, Caius Aquilla, bumbling legionary, and his beautiful and fanciful and quite hilarious (plus indulgent) wife Lora. I find I write best when there’s no plot in mind; I write in order to find out what my characters will do next. I write in order to write myself into and out of corners, so to speak. I write to keep myself from being bored with life. I write in order to make myself laugh—and others too, I hope. Anyone comes up and tells me they’ve read my fiction my only question isn’t, “Did you like it?” but, “Did you laugh out loud—and maybe a bunch?” That’s all I’m aiming at. There aren’t enough, I daresay, funny books in this old world. I’ll tell you precisely what influenced (aside from that atrocious and useless, now I come to think of it, magazine from that wonderful city to the east of civilization) me—save you the trouble of thinking/wondering: Rome (the HBO show, Robert Graves’ immortal I, Claudius, the fiction of George Saunders (Hi, George!), Philip Roth’s crude and over-the-top screeds in the early novels, dumb old movies wherein actors speak in British accents for any given historical setting, Proust’s masterpiece, the slapstick stuff that would set my dear old dad, Bill, giggling like mad whenever we watched telly together, and both Kingsley and Martin Amis (who are comedy gods, if you ask me). Along with Nabokov. Always Nabokov.

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