Describe your new book.
Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire is a retelling of the ancient story of Cupid and Psyche. However, I tell the story in the voice of a man who has been married six times, or thereabouts, and is not shy about talking about his ex-wives, giving advice on love and how men know very little about love.
I wanted to write the book in such a way that people will see that mythology is as relevant to their lives as it was 2,000 years ago when this story was first written.
I did a lot of research into Greek and Roman mythologies and brought together many of the stories about Cupid that are scattered throughout those mythologies. I also incorporate stories about Venus, Cupid's mother, as well as Apollo, who has a minor role in the original story.
I've never had as much fun writing a book as I did this one. It is a very, very funny book that also has a lot to say about love, desire, and life.
Describe your most memorable teacher.
My most memorable teacher was my 7th grade homeroom teacher, Miss R. K. Caldwell. This was in Kansas City, Kansas, where I lived from ages 214. Miss Caldwell taught history, and the way she did it was by making us aware of the history around us as we walked to and from school every day. As I walked over Jersey Creek every day I would try to imagine the native Americans who had once lived along its banks. So much of what I do as a writer is to try to make the past come alive. That's what Miss Caldwell did for me.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
Oh, there are so many. Since 1961 I have copied into a book the sentences and paragraphs I underline in whatever I am reading. It is one of my most prized and valuable possessions because, in its own way, it is a record of my spiritual journey.
I keep a log of the books I've read since retiring, and the best one I read in 2006 was That Summer in Paris by Abha Dawesar. It is so well-written. One line that is absolutely perfect:
"Ella Fitzgerald was slithering out of the stereo in Prem's living room."
Slithering. Just that one word, and I can hear Ella Fitzgerald.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
The last good book is the one I'm reading now, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. My wife wanted to read it and I bought it for her. She liked it so much, I decided to read it.
Books come to me either on my wife's recommendation, or more often, I buy them. I am a compulsive book buyer. If there is life after death, I hope I can read. That's the only way I'll ever finish all the books I buy.
What is your idea of bliss?
My idea of bliss is the life I have right now. I taught at the University of Massachusetts for 32 years and retired at the end of 2003. At age 68 I can say that this is the best time of my life. My children are all adults and out living there lives. I have enough money to be financially secure, and I can get up everyday and there is nothing I have to do. If I want to do something, I can. If I don't want to, I don't. My new slogan is:
"I don't want to. I don't have to. You can't make me. I'm retired!"
Why do you write books for kids?
I write for all ages. But I enjoy writing for children because children like stories. Literary fiction has, to a great extent, moved away from story and seems to be written for the academic literati. I like stories. I like to tell stories; I like to listen to stories. So do children. Even in the fiction I write whose vocabulary and structure would be beyond children, my emphasis is still on story. Story can illuminate where we've come from, who we are, and where we might be going.
Tell us about your pets.
My wife and I have two cats. We had to put our previous cat to sleep over a year ago, which was one of the most difficult things I've ever been a part of. An utterly horrible experience. The house felt so empty, so we got a kitten, whom we named Psyche, as in Cupid and Psyche. She's grey and after having her for a mother, it seemed to us like she needed someone to play with, so we got another kitten, whose name is Duncan for Duncan MacCleod of the Clan MacCleod. (If you watched the TV series Highlander, you understand.) Duncan is the most adorable creature I have ever encountered. Psyche is stand-offish. Duncan will jump into my lap unbidden, put chin on my arm, and go to sleep. I hope to die before Duncan does because I don't know how I will ever bear his death.
What's your favorite holiday and why?
My favorite holiday is Rosh Hashanah. I like that the Jewish new year begins in the autumn, a time when, in our hemisphere, the earth is beginning to be dormant, which is the first step of renewal. Having the new year begin in January never made sense to me. I like going to synagogue; I like the music of the Rosh Hashanah services, music that is heard only once a year at Rosh Hashanah. I like the sense of community, of Jews all coming together to worship and to greet the New Year. But I can't separate Rosh Hashanah from Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, a day of prayer focused on being forgiven for our transgressions of the previous year. Because Yom Kippur comes a mere ten days after Rosh Hashanah, having a day of atonement as the way to start the new year is startling but appropriate. So, the Jewish New Year is different from the secular new year. The Jewish one is designed to be more of a time of reflection and joy that extends from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur.