Thursday, February 15, 2018

In Which I Interview Myself with Questions Stolen from Teddy Wayne

Without summarizing in any way what would you say your book (FORTY CROWS) is about?

Any descriptor is a form of summary, and summary is a reduction, so I hate to say it’s a coming-of-age story, even though that’s what it is.  It’s about getting in over your head.  Love, loss, history. You know: go big, or go home.

                                         Photo by Dave Jordano

Without explaining why and without naming other writers or books, can you discuss the various influences on your book?

I can barely talk about anything at all without naming writers or books.  But here goes: cultural and historical people and events: Diego Rivera, Henry Ford, Detroit, Viet Nam, Mexico City, the 1970s.  Boxing.  Childhood.

Without using complete sentences can you describe what was going on in your life as you wrote this book?

I already didn’t use complete sentences in the last answer, extra credit?  Mainly trying to be a parent.  The job there is never enough time for.  Most of the book was eked out a page at a time.

What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your writing by readers/reviewers?

I haven’t had too may reviews, but most were positive.  One was not.  I remember thinking “I see what he means” and then instantly put it behind me.  I forget now what his critique was.

If you could choose a career besides writing (irrespective of requirements and/or talents) what would it be?

You can call writing a career if you want, but it doesn’t pay the bills for very many people.  Toni Morrison and Richard Ford work in universities!  I am lucky to have found teaching as a career and I have often thought about what I would do differently if given the chance and never been able to come up with a better choice.  I think about the first cardiologist I went to. I was about the same age as she was (late 30s!) and she was new in her practice.  It was probably the first time I spoke with a doctor as if we were equals.  Somehow it came out in the conversation that if she hadn’t amassed a zillion dollars in student loans, she would rather be baking bread.  And my condition went undiagnosed for another few decades.

What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at?

While I feel reasonably competent at talking about the writing other people do, I tend to look at my own work as some mysterious object I had no conscious hand in producing, like: “Where did this thing come from?”   I have a tendency to want to tell the whole story when everyone would be a lot better off if I could just learn to start in the middle of things, like I always tell my students to do.

How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has, or should have, an interest in what you have to say about anything?

I’m very grateful for every reader who finds me, but, in truth, it’s not a very large club.  Hubris is a double-edged sword: if you don’t have any, you won’t write anything at all; if you have too much you will be appropriately resented.  In Jonathan Lethem’s You Don’t Love Me Yet, a character says “I want what we all want.  To move certain parts of the interior of myself into the external world, to see if they can be embraced.”  Some days I feel like that.  But mostly when I’m working, I’m in the writing world, and what happens to the work when it leaves me is, quite literally, out of my hands. 

Note: These are the questions Teddy Wayne asked  in “5 Writers, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers,” in on February 13, 2018.

The photo of the four guys was taken by Dave Jordano, who has two books of photos about Detroit, visit him at Used with permission.

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