Photo credit: Sara Shay
Describe your latest book.
I Will Be Complete
is a memoir in three parts, an inquest into the end of the relationship between mother and son. The first part, "The King of San Francisco," is about how my father made and lost a fortune; after the divorce, my mother and I moved to San Francisco, and when I was 12, I came home from school one day to find she’d moved to New York without telling me. The second part, "The Counterfeit Child," is about how I built a family among my coworkers at a stately, weird, dying independent bookstore in Los Angeles in 1986. The final part, "The Book of Revelation," is about how my mother and I both found soulmates at the same time. Mine was a femme fatale (didn’t go well); hers was a crystal meth addict who was roughly my age. It concludes with neither loving nor hating my mother, but feeling compassion from a distance.
Seeing it laid out like that, I feel I need to add, “NO, REALLY, IT’S ALSO FUNNY.”
What was your favorite book as a child?
by Richard Adams, quickly followed by Harpo Speaks!
by Harpo Marx and Rowland Barber, The Once and Future King
by T. H. White, The Trumpet of the Swan
by E. B. White, and then far too many comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
When did you know you were a writer?
Age 3. I wrote a short story. I plagiarized it. I took the action of an MGM cartoon featuring a goldfish and inserted, instead, my own goldfish into the narrative. This was 1967, so forgive me, as I was attempting to understand postmodernism.
What does your writing workspace look like?
Embarrassing fact: it’s well dressed but empty of myself. I have an office that looks like a writer’s office (has books in it, has a desk, has a stack of bills and correspondence that have aged as well as any fish would, has an actual desktop computer but no keyboard) and I’m never in it. I’m writing this at a concrete table outside in my backyard, watching my cats and drinking coffee. I think I’m afraid of my writing desk, as it seems official, and sometimes it’s best to do work accidentally, taking bank shots and writing stuff down on napkins. When I’m a better person, I’ll use my office.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Myself. What wine you’re serving. Whether people at parties ask questions or not. Driving etiquette. Whether all of this comes to an end in about 20 years.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
Here’s where snark dies — I have had so many excellent interactions with my readers that I get goopy when I think about them. Folks have used bits of Carter
for their wedding vows; people have told me that Charles Carter was their friend when they were down; a reader once asked if my friendship with another writer was lopsided, saying, “He only wrote [insert name of National Book Award-winning novel here
] but you wrote Sunnyside
”; and then there are the intense and personal reactions people have had to the memoir as sons and daughters and parents.
However, clearly this is the best response
anyone has ever had to my work.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Oh wow. I’m assuming that, being in Portland, you’ve got Lynda Barry
taken care of. So: William Gerhardi(e)
(he spelled it both ways). Flourished from the ’20s to the ’40s, born in Russia, lived in England, and he is the hypothetical splicing of Chekhov
made flesh. Psychologically incisive, devastatingly funny, great on class and greed and sex. The book to read is Futility
. About 15 years ago, I became obsessed with him and bought an inscribed copy of it. Turned out to be inscribed to Pola Negri, and it even had a bookmark in it, her ticket to an opera in Paris. (She hadn’t gotten very far in the book.)
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
“Beloved” is generous — “neurotic and fear-of-death-driven” is more accurate. I collected original comic book artwork. Jack Kirby
, Will Eisner
, George Herriman
, that kind of thing. I say “collected” because prices on those things have gone nuts and as much as I love Howard the Duck
, I’d rather pay my mortgage than buy another page.
Also wine. About five years ago, while I was living in a cabin in the woods, I realized that researching wine was soothing. In part because I like the taste, and I like the stories behind the vineyards, and I like the science, the art, the farming, the idea that the weather in 1961 somehow produced wines in Pauillac that still taste great, but the 1962 weather made stuff you wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. But the truth is, I buy wine from a sense of superstition. If I buy something that won’t mature till 2030, I’m not only believing that there will be a 2030, but that I’ll have someone to drink it with. Wine is melancholy. Here’s a Dujac Bourgogne Blanc, not expensive, but kind of a unicorn. Girlfriend is in the background, also kind of a unicorn.
What's the strangest job you've ever had?
First job: helping models change at fashion week in New York. Second job: standing in a freezer at Pioneer Chicken and separating frozen chicken parts into thighs, wings, breasts, and legs. (Until typing this, I hadn’t realized my early work tended to be exercises in objectification.) I also signed up to hand out donuts to Avon Ladies, as I wanted to be someone’s hero, but then found out my job was to keep them away from the donuts until management said they could have them, and so I ended up being a villain.
What scares you the most as a writer?
That with the erosion of people’s ability to follow complex critical thinking, the job title might already be like hod carrier or lamplighter or accordion repair person.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Say, now that’s a little on point. My mother did write my biography, and she called it My Mother’s Lovers and Other Reasons I’m Valedictorian!
Further details are available one click away, where fine memoirs are sold.
Offer a favorite sentence from another writer.
"'Well,' said Sis, 'although I cannot say that your beauty rest did you a hell of a lot of good, I do admire the way you persevere.'” — James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk
This is the most recent sentence that I underlined while reading — just a brilliant, full-body-slam burn delivered with affection.
Describe a recurring dream.
Ah, here we go, memoir again. The last 10 pages of my book explain the only recurrent dream I’ve had as an adult, in which I drown, conclusively. I rarely remember my dreams, and I don’t really care, which might sound awful or like an admission of letting creativity fall to its death. When I was in my 20s, I remembered them every morning and I wrote them down, and the more I wrote the more I remembered and the more elaborate the dreams became.
I even wrote a whole novel based on those dreams. They were three-act stories with Josef von Sternberg depth of field and El Topo
imagery, and they were boring. So, so boring. I showed the book to friends, who hated it. The urgency I felt in having the dreams in no way translated to me having some kind of universal experience, which was disappointing, as I’d hoped I was a lightning rod. Rod, maybe.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
Do you mean to point out in other people and thus feel better about my own idiocy? I’m always stunned when people don’t know the rules that even I remember. The one that trips me up is when to use “I wish I was” versus “I wish I were.” I don’t have an ear for it. I wish I was a grammarian. No, pardon, I wish I were a grammarian. No, hold on…
Do you have any phobias?
I don’t think so, but my girlfriend might point out that I have a pretty specific stance against going upside down that can’t quite be explained with science. She’s a Pilates teacher, and thus every lesson she makes me go upside down, hanging from straps or whatnot, to challenge it. Geez, just typing that is making my palms sweat.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
Strive toward adequacy.
No, seriously. If you try to bat it out of the park, you’re fucked. The contrary advice, that whole “he who shoots at the noonday sun may not make his mark / but surely he aimeth higher than he who shoots at a bush” is charming and a good pep talk, but really — relax. You’ll do better.
Top Five Books I’ve Pretended to Have Read, in Order of the Number of Times People Have Asked Me if I’ve Read Them:
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez
by David Mitchell
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle
by Haruki Murakami
by Karl Ove Knausgård (Volume 1, though to be fair I haven’t been specific about which volumes I’ve been pretending to have read)
Whatever your favorite Neil Gaiman
book is (I know, I know, and no, no reason at this point beyond stubbornness)
÷ ÷ ÷
Glen David Gold
is the author of Sunnyside
and Carter Beats the Devil
, which has been translated into 14 languages. His short stories and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s, Playboy
, and The New York Times Magazine
. He lives in Los Angeles. I Will Be Complete
is his most recent book.