With 'Holy Cow,' David Duchovny is finally, officially a novelist

February 9, 2015 

For his first book, David Duchovny is not telling behind-the-scenes stories of "The X-Files" or opening up about the sex scenes in "Californication": Heís written a caper about a cow that goes on the lam.

"Holy Cow" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 224 pages, $24) is a fable for adults, full of puns and silly jokes. A turkey is jive. A pig peppers his speech with Yiddish like a grandpa in the Catskills. In fact, the story is set in upstate New York, where the three animal heroes, led by Elsie Bovary, decide to escape their farm to fly to countries where theyíll be safe from being eaten.

Duchovny spoke to us by phone from New York.

Q: You interviewed Craig Ferguson onstage about his novel in 2006. Was writing a novel yourself on your mind back then?

A: Itís been on my mind forever. If youíd asked me when I was 20, "What are you?" I would say, "Iím a writer," even though I had nothing to show for it. Itís always been my self-identification. My father was a writer; he published his first novel when he was 73, so I guess Iíve beaten him by a little bit.

Q: Youíve written a loopy fairy tale. I wonder what inspired you to make that choice.

A: I wish I could tell you that I make choices in life, but I kind of fly by the seat of my pants. I had this idea a long time ago as an animated feature. Thatís the business I find myself in, Hollywood, and I pitched it to a couple of places ó they didnít bite. And I didnít think they would, because thereís some religion in it, some politics, thereís some discussion about whether or not keeping animals to eat them is a good thing or bad thing.

I wasnít surprised when they didnít want to make it, but I always had this idea ó I thought, "If I was a cow, Iíd try to get to India." Last year, I woke up and I thought... "Youíve been saying youíre a writer your whole life, why donít you ... write something?" Thatís how that all started.

Q: In the book, Elsie engages with her editor, whoís giving her a hard time for being too political. Did you get that kind of feedback about the book?

A: Not at all. My editor was Jonathan Galassi at FSG, and he was nothing like that. The editor, in my mind, was the person I would have pitched the movie to, the powers that be that would tell me: "You canít make an animated film about Muslims and Jews and not eating meat."

Itís possible that they were right. [Laughing.] Iím saying theyíre right. Iíve been saying theyíre right from the beginning.

Q: Philosopher Peter Singer basically has the same ideas as Elsie, that you shouldnít eat animals, but he can be divisive. How do you approach that idea, of being vegetarian or vegan, without alienating readers?

A: Well, I didnít conceive of it as a polemic, I conceived of it as an entertaining tale. I didnít worry so much about alienating anybody, because things happen in books that people like or they donít like, and itís part of the fiction.

Singer I find very interesting; he tries to talk about animals as if they have rights, which is fascinating, beings with actual civil rights. But I think actually, if you were to boil down Elsieís philosophy, I donít think Peterís going to be on my side either, because Iíve got Elsie saying, "Nature is obviously a very competitive, survival-of-the-fittest place, and a lion is not going to eat tofu, ever, heís not supposed to, thatís the way of the world."

But there are other questions to ask, especially for humans, who have a choice of what they eat. And Iím also interested in the taxing of the environment in terms of our meat-eating lifestyle. The sheer number of cattle, pigs and chickens that ó through no fault of their own, theyíre kept by us humans ó are polluting the environment in ways that are shocking.

Q: Elsieís discovery of the meat industry is really kind of scary. Does that parallel your experience?

A: For me, it was fun to play with the cowís consciousness: She knows about Homer but doesnít know sheís going to be eaten. Thatís kind of fun, huge ignorance on the one hand and a liberal arts education on the other.

Q: Which does maybe characterize liberal arts education. Tell me about your education: Princeton and Yale? Did you really write a thesis on [Samuel] Beckett?

A: I wrote my Princeton senior thesis ... on Beckettís novels. That knowledge has stood me well in Hollywood. Then I went to Yale. I was in the PhD English literature program, but I didnít write my dissertation, so I donít have a PhD.

Q: That means youíre ABD!

A: Thank you for knowing that terminology! I hate "ABD" because everybody else has a Latin kind of abbreviation. PhD, doctor of letters, you know? Doctor of philosophy. ABD is all but dissertation, itís like slang. Itís not cool enough....

Itís possible there are some professors at Yale walking around thinking, "I wonder when Duchovnyís going to hand in that paper? Havenít seen him around."

Q: Are you also releasing a record this year?

A: I am, soon.

Q: Are you going for the EGOT? You know: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony?

A: Maybe Iím just going for an EGO, I donít know.... As I said to you, I have always defied myself as a writer, even before I would say actor. In fact, whenever I see my name and it says "actor" after it, I always think: "Thatís not true, Iím a writer." And I never played music and never wrote music until four years ago. Itís one of the most amazing, serendipitous turns of events in my life.

Q: Is it scary to do two different things in one year that are so totally different from what youíre known for, Duchovny-comma-actor?

A: Itís scary in the sense of, you know, people are going to think Iím just dabbling or not serious or whatever. That doesnít bother me. Itís not scary in the sense of if the book bombs and the album bombs, my kids are still going to be able to eat, because I still get to act. Itís not my day job, so thereís a certain kind of freedom and fearlessness that I get from that.

Q: Do you pay attention to social media?

A: I am on the Twitter and the Instagram. I am told that Iím supposed to be on it and that I should be on it. Itís not my world. I have a 15-year-old daughter ó I watch her, itís completely natural. Itís exactly what she does, understands, speaks it fluently. I donít. Itís foreign to me. I donít get it, I donít feel it. But I recognize that itís there and Iím happy to try, and hope that I donít ruin my life doing it. Thereís so many people, and I like to be funny. I tend to approach things in that way. And itís hard to be funny in the written form without half the people getting it wrong. Then youíre on the apology tour. I donít want to go on that.

Q: "Holy Cow" is funny in the written form. Did you share what you were writing with anyone when it was in process?

A: Thereís a certain kind of laughing that goes on inside your head, I guess, when you read a book. Sometimes you laugh out loud when you read a book, very occasionally, but thereís certainly that sensation of humor when youíre reading. I think thatís where my particular sensibility heads towards is off into funny stuff.

I told Tea [Leoni, his ex-wife] that Iím actually trying to write that story up ó Ďcause I had this idea long, long ago ó as a novel. I find the more I talk about something, the less I do it.

Q: Are there any creative written projects that you left by the side of the road that that happened with?

A: That I talked out of existence? Iím sure there has been. Letís say my best stuff I talked out of existence.

What I might end up doing, because Iíve written a number of screenplays over the years for what always turns into kind of an independent film, which is a very difficult world to make movies in. I got to make one, and I hope to make more. I have these screenplays, but theyíre also ó they could be novels.... If Iím not so lazy, I may try and sit down and turn one of those screenplays into a novel.

Q: I have to ask: Are they really bringing back "X-Files" and "Twin Peaks"? Can it possibly be true?

A: Seems like it. I would bet on it if I were you. I think "Twin Peaks" is happening for sure. I hope my character comes back, I think she does. And then "X-Files" ó Fox made some kind of shadowy announcement last week. Certainly, somethingís happening. Somethingís brewing. Itís like the Eaglesí greatest hits tour ... by me.




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