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,
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
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.