Describe your latest project.
Right now I'm working on a collection of personal essays I hope to deliver to Norton this year. After years of trying to express some aspects of my life as fiction (growing up in a broke, single-parent household, drugs, premature sex, violence, etc.), it's become clear it will only work as memoir. There are writers who can write fiction that is directly derived from their lives. I'm finally beginning to learn I'm not one of them.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I've had a lot of interesting jobs because most of them involved working with people in trouble; in my early 20s, I worked in a halfway house for convicted adult felons from a maximum security penitentiary. Some of these people had raped, robbed, and killed other human beings. I think I began to learn then, to quote bumper-sticker Christianity, to hate the sin and not the sinner.
I also worked for a bounty hunter and actually flew to Mexico to track down a contract killer. U.S. marshals and agents from the DEA and FBI were hoping we'd find him. We never did, and I'm relieved!
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Larry Brown. And start with one of his best novels, Father and Son.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
This is the first line of Norman Mailer's novel, Barbary Shore: "Probably I was in the war."
How do you relax?
By working out. I've been lifting weights and running three to six times a week since I was 14 years old. I'm 48 now and have only missed workouts whenever I was sick or injured. I say this not so much to pat myself on the back but to show perhaps how important regular and vigorous exercise is to my sanity. If I didn't do that, I fear I'd be drinking too much and maybe doing other things I shouldn't do, either.
Why do you write?
I like what the novelist Thomas Williams once said: "I write so that I don't die before I'm dead."
I know this: if I don't get in those daily writing sessions, I just feel far away from me, whoever the hell that is.
Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
I get an awful lot out of good music, especially
singer/songwriters who write with heart and compassion about people. At the top of the list would be Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Lucinda
Williams, Kris Kristofferson, and Bob Dylan. Lately I've been getting into The Killers, that band from Las Vegas whose sound makes me feel
hungover and broke and left for another. I love that!
Do you read blogs?
No. Honestly, I still barely know what a blog is. It sounds like something heavy and wet, creeping into your bedroom to do you harm.
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Five great books about boys and men, something that lately I've been thinking more about:
This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake by Breece D'J Pancake
Father and Son by Larry Brown
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines