Editor’s note: Comment has been plugging the recently-released film Cult of Sincerity. Today’s Q&A subject is one of the film’s contributors—seen here in the film’s introduction (Daniel is the guy with the hat and orange shirt on the viewer’s right).
Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, “The Questions” in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.
Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?
DN: I con people into believing I have interesting things to say. But con games are like beauty pageants—the blondes always go further. So, I keep a day job. Is your daddy around? Would he be interested in a highly lucrative investment opportunity? My day job is actually as a pastry chef.
Comment: What first drew you to this work?
DN: Growing up the very first thing I had to do, upon meeting anyone in my town, was explain why I came from Iran, the long journey in between, and how I ended up in the rural Midwest. It turns out, I really enjoyed telling that story, changing the details I presented each time and the order in which I told the plot. I found that I had to create a thousand tessellations of the same story, not for them, but to keep myself interested.
Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?
DN: When I sparred with the Hays boy and he used a jump turn swing kick (illegally I might add). His heel flew around, smashed into my neck, and I fell to the ground like a bag of soup. I woke up ten minutes later and realized a few things. Turns out, I am not the greatest.
Comment: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
DN: “You can’t be great until you love pain.” (Coach Arndt)
Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?
DN: Biblical events, Yotsuba&!, Salman Rushdie, Moby-Dick, Raymond Chandler, Shadow of the Colossus, Cowboy Bebop, Cyrano de Bergerac.
Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?
DN: Structure is something sorely missing. I write in the nooks and crannies of my days ? I wrote my first screenplay entirely on the F-train during my commute. If I ever went to the dentist, I’d write while waiting for him. That or catch up on my Highlights.
Comment: What are your favorite tools?
DN: I write in a notebook by hand. I transcribe my writing to my laptop on the weekends. I like to say it’s because I “edit while transcribing as an added measure of quality,” but really it’s because my laptop is heavy and I don’t like carrying it around on the weekdays.
Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.
DN: I really enjoyed writing a ten-page script for Blake Henry, an animation/comic artist. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing my thoughts come to life in such dramatic images, conjured with limitless resource of imagination and composition. Image/text theory is most fertile in comics, I think (and William Blake, Michel Foucault, and James Joyce would agree—for you snobs out there).
Comment: How do you plan your work?
DN: I write the first third completely spontaneously. Then, after I’ve put something down, I go back and plan where to go from there.
Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?
DN: I believe every piece of art should have an altar call, if not overtly (though I wouldn’t mind overtly), then certainly layered not far below the surface. I believe all of life comes down to just one thing, and that’s to know Jesus and make him known. I believe my art is worthless if it doesn’t do that.