Photo credit: Erik Jensen
Describe your latest book.
Currently I’m promoting my essay collection, Sometimes I Think About It
, and the rerelease of my novel, Happy Baby
. I’m also deep in a new novel tentatively titled, A Painter Is a Spy for a Lazy Country
, and writing and directing the web series Driven
What was your favorite book as a child?
This would almost certainly be Flowers in the Attic
Petals on the Wind
by V. C. Andrews, followed closely by If There Be Thorns
and Seeds of Yesterday
. I was in fourth grade and I remember the book didn’t have a cover, which might have been what drew me to it. I think it was in my older sister’s room. I remember the teacher didn’t think it was an appropriate book for me to be reading. That was also the year I became a problem child.
When did you know you were a writer?
I still don’t know that I’m a writer. That’s a glib answer. I started writing very young, when I was like nine years old. But I didn’t study writing or do an MFA. I just wrote all the time. I was actually really surprised when I started publishing, and then I got the Stegner Fellowship when I was 29 and suddenly I was like, Oh, I guess I’m a writer
. I had written three books before I published anything. I didn’t think it was going to be my identity or my job. It was just a hobby. It’s curious to me when I see younger people identifying as writers. Like, how do they know what they want and who they are so early in life?
What does your writing workspace look like?
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
I’m 45 now, and this is my eighth book. I’ve met so many readers at this point. On the other hand, it’s been over 8 years since I’ve put a book out. On my last book tour, 8 years ago, I did readings in people’s houses and that was a very interesting way to tour — really meeting people. I even did a series of interviews with some of the people I stayed with and published them as mini-interviews on The Rumpus.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I really love Chris Krause, particularly I Love Dick
, which was made into a fantastic television show. It seems that most people still aren’t familiar with her work. Also, Chloe Caldwell is a special writer. People should read Caldwell’s Women
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I have a large collection of Eric Stanton
What's the strangest job you've ever had?
I’ve had a lot of weird jobs, mostly because I’ve been so bad at holding onto them. I was a barker for a live sex show in Amsterdam when I was 20. That was a particular experience. But I also worked the overnight shift at a 24-hour adult bookstore on the North Side of Chicago. And I was a stripper. So a lot of stuff in the sex industry. But I also changed sheets at a youth hostel for six months and that was really interesting.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Yes. I went to see the slaughterhouse where Kurt Vonnegut
was held as a prisoner of war during the firebombing of Dresden.
What scares you the most as a writer?
Losing the ability to write.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Offer a favorite sentence from another writer.
“Without children or partner, without meaningful family or a home, a day can last an eternity: a life without those things is a life without a story, a life in which there is nothing — no narrative flights, no plot developments, no immersive human dramas — to alleviate the cruelly meticulous passing of time.” (Rachel Cusk, Transit)
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
"Two years later he was killed in a freak accident at a shooting range outside of Tucson, shot dead by an 11-year-old child with an Uzi."
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
I don’t really have grammatical pet peeves because my own grammar is not so great.
Do you have any phobias?
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
I watch football. I guess this would also have been a good answer to the question about what I’m embarrassed to admit.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
My father told me that it was really hard to write a book, but any idiot can make a million dollars in real estate. It was really good advice, but I didn’t listen to him.
Write a question of your own, then answer it.
What are you going to do about it?
I’m not sure anything can be done about it.
But it gets dark earlier now.
That’s true, but I kind of like that. I’m in Los Angeles now and frankly there is too much sun here. You can’t hide from it. It gets into everything.
Share a Top Five book list of your choice.
This is a tough one. I’m not going to name books I’ve already mentioned in this questionnaire, like Women
and I Love Dick
by Roberto Bolaño
This is probably my favorite book, but it’s not at all the right book to read by Bolaño if you’re new to him. Start with By Night in Chile
or Distant Star
. If you never ready 2666
though, here is a paragraph on the meaning of love:
What’s sacred to me? thought Fate. The vague pain I feel at the passing of my mother? An understanding of what can’t be fixed? Or the kind of pang in the stomach I feel when I look at this woman? And why do I feel a pang, if that’s what it is, when she looks at me and not when when her friend looks at me? Because her friend is nowhere near as beautiful, thought Fate. Which seems to suggest that what’s sacred to me is beauty, a pretty girl with perfect features. And what if all of a sudden the most beautiful actress in Hollywood appeared in the middle of this big, repulsive restaurant, would I still feel a pang each time my eyes surreptitiously met this girl’s or would the sudden appearance of a superior beauty, a beauty enhanced by recognition, relieve the pang, diminish her beauty to ordinary levels, the beauty of a slightly odd girl out to have a good time on a weekend night with three slightly peculiar men and a woman who basically seems like a hooker? thought Fate. Do I really know enough about Mexican hookers to be able to recognize them at a glance? Do I know anything about innocence or pain? Do I know anything about women? I like to watch videos, thought Fate. I also like to go to the movies. I like to sleep with women. Right now I don’t have a steady girlfriend, but I know what it’s like to have one. Do I see the sacred anywhere? All I register is practical experiences, thought Fate. An emptiness to be filled, a hunger to be satisfied, people to talk to so I can finish my article and get paid. And why do I think the men Rosa Amalfitano is out with are peculiar? What peculiar about them? And why am I so sure that if a Hollywood actress appeared all of a sudden Rosa Amalfitano’s beauty would fade? What if it didn’t? What if it sped up? And what if everything began to accelerate from the instant a Hollywood actress crossed the threshold of El Rey del Taco?
by Emmanuel Carrère
It’s a biography, but it wouldn’t matter if it was a novel. Impossible to classify, really.
by Taeko Kono
My favorite story collection. Written about women in the Hiroshima area following World War II. Dark and intensely erotic.
Paying for It
by Chester Brown
A comic book memoir of paying for sex.
The Vermont Plays
by Annie Baker
Why not plays?
There are so many books and authors I want to talk about that I’m not putting on my Top Five list. It’s really quite arbitrary. I could easily swap this list out with five different authors and not lose anything. I just realized that Annie Baker is the only American author on this list, for what that’s worth.
÷ ÷ ÷
is the author of eight books, including Sometimes I Think About It
, Happy Baby
, and The Adderall Diaries
, a Best Book of the Year in Time Out New York
and Kirkus Reviews
, and one of 50 Notable Books in the San Francisco Chronicle