ARE YOU DISCIPLINED ABOUT WRITING? DO YOU TREAT IT LIKE A JOB?
It’s very hard to show up every day on time, presentable, in an office. On the other hand, when you do work in an office, everything around you is geared to helping you – or making you – work. When you’re by yourself at home, in a company of one, everything around you is geared towards distracting you. I fight this, and my days feel like a festival of self-abuse. Most of the time, I walk around grousing, “My boss is a bitch. And that girl who works for me is so lazy.”
IS IT EASIER ONCE YOU’VE BEEN PUBLISHED?
Yes. You don’t feel like an impostor in your own life anymore. And there is nothing more exciting, for a writer, than seeing your book out in the world, a physical object. But it doesn’t mean that you’re never going to have another frustration. For a long time, all I wanted was to get a story published. Initially, I had pretensions — the Atlantic, the New Yorker. But reality hit, and for what seemed like forever, all I wanted was to get published in an obscure literary magazine –any obscure literary magazine. Once I’d done that, the bar was raised. And the bar keeps getting raised – there’s always something you want that you haven’t got – a review in a certain place, a better contract, more copies printed.
Still, it’s a much better class of problem to have someone waiting for your work and paying you. I feel very fortunate. It’s a huge vote of confidence.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO WRITE?
If you have to write, then write. If you’re seeking something from it – money, fame, recognition – I would recommend you go into a different field: rock music, professional basketball, movies.
WHAT QUESTIONS DO YOU HATE TO ANSWER?
How many copies did they print? How many hours a day do you work? How many pages is your book?
These three questions usually come together, and it’s a shameless attempt to figure out how much money you’re getting out of this writing business, per hour, or perhaps per page. Not everyone is a reader. Not everyone understands what books are for.
Another question I dislike: How much of your work is autobiographical?
I certainly notice things in the “real world,” and use them, but everything is passed through the mill of fiction, and nothing emerges onto the page unaltered. I might take a habit that I’ve noticed in someone – myself or someone else – and “donate” it to a character. But I’ll probably amplify and exaggerate it, so that it blossoms into a conflict that never happened in real life. I might take a vignette I’ve heard and change the details, or change the outcome, or transplant it elsewhere.
That being said, I do an enormous amount of research to make sure that what I’m writing actually could take place, even if it didn’t. As a reader, I appreciate the details, whether Henry James is providing them, or Lawrence Block. As a writer, I want a reader to recognize the people and places I’m describing. The more specific I get, the more details I can give the reader, the better.
SO, DO YOU OR DON’T YOU BASE YOUR WORK ON REAL EVENTS?
— Sigh. Not everyone understands fiction, the point of it, where it comes from. I’ve noticed that many people who have no patience for fiction are the very ones enthralled by daytime talk shows, where real people confess bizarre details from their personal lives and are thrashed around by the audience and the host. Most of this is scripted, and the real people are paid. There is a general recognition of this, that it’s a big production, and played for entertainment. But somehow the idea that this is “true” is riveting. People seem to want to be fooled. I refuse to fool you. I’m honestly telling you: I make it up. It didn’t happen. It could have, but it didn’t.