Tag Archives: Jonathan Lethem

Just Talking: My “Conversations with …”

30 Dec

So,

 Looking back to the mid-Eighties when I stumbled unto the opportunity to publish a hip downtown magazine  I am not clear on how I fell into the habit/practice of arranging conversations/interviews with contemporary writers, photographers, film directors, cartoonists, poets, painters and all manner of creative individuals. Though it is not exactly an explanation for ‘why’, I have come to look upon this habit, which has persisted these twenty odd years, as a grand post-graduate education.

Many of these confabulations were first published in Stuff magazine before 1998. In 2000, I found a regular niche at the nascent literary magazine (of sorts) Identitytheory. And, over the fullness of time, I  found myself contributing to cultural news venues such as The Morning News, The Millions, The Virginia Quarterly Review on -line, The Daily Beast, and the LA Review of Books among others.

Along the way, some of these countless ( have lost count on how many I have participated in) dialogues have been anthologized (mostly regularly )in the University Press of Mississippi’s “Conversations with…’ series.  These I am proud to list below (click on the name to go to Publisher’s page for each book):

 9781496808912
9781617032868
9781604739633
1578068878
9781617036071
I expect to continue with these gabfests though I  am ruminating on ways to refresh my methodology. So, let’s see what happens…thanks for reading all the way to the bottom
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Me and Amy Grace Loyd

12 Sep
The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd

The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd

This conversation took place in the summer of 2013 upon the occasion of the publication of Ms Loyd’s debut novel, The Affairs of Others.No newcomer to the orchards of literature, Ms Loyd has served as an editor at W.W. Norton, The New Yorker,The New York Review of Books, Playboy Magazine, and, most recently the (now defunct)online magazine, Byliner. And she has worked with literary fiction practitioners such a Jess Walter, Charles Yu, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Lethem, James Ellroy,Joyce Carol Oates, Chuck Palahniuk, and Nick Hornby.

The Affairs of Others(Picador) is the story of recently widowed Celia Cassill who all but withdraws from life except to engage in the maintenance of her Brooklyn apartment building in which she lives. To be able to maintain her privacy she chooses her few tenants with great care, Nonetheless, she is unable to stay free of their affairs.

Ms Loyd, who is accurately self described as perky, and I chat about her last name, Star Trek 70’s tV programs, defining novellas, Jess Walter, Brooklyn,Playboy magazine,Che Guevara and ghosts. A good time was had by all.

Robert: Why is your last name only spelled with one ‘L’?

Amy: We have no idea but the story we like to tell people is that we were part of the Lloyds of London—big banking insurance company—but we embezzled money so they stripped us of an L and sent us to the New World. It’s not true but it makes for a good story.

RB: Why did you want to become a writer?

AGL: Well, I don’t know. It’s an excellent question and it’s a boring answer: I’ve always just enjoyed reading literature. When I was really little—little-ish—I was probably around 13, I got cast out of a clique of popular girls and then they tortured me for a while…

R: What was your transgression.

A: I told a secret.

R: Oh! Big deal!

A: Yeah. Well, it was a big deal… But it allowed me to spend a lot of time alone and in that time I did a lot of reading and I thought, “Man, these stories are doing wonders for me.” And I began to think, “Well maybe I could write a few stories”, you know. So back then I began thinking that’s what I’d like to do. When I graduated from college I went to New York and got into publishing thinking, “Well, do I want to write or do I just want to be around writers and help them with their work?” It turns out it was a little bit of both. So I became an editor and I was an editor for a long time—still am an editor—and I wrote kind of in secret, on the side.

R: What do you mean you wrote in secret?

A: I didn’t really tell my writers that I was writing—I didn’t tell a lot of people. I didn’t make it an announcement, I didn’t say, “I’m a writer!” I just wrote on my own time. Because I edit Charles Yu, Jess Walter, Margaret Atwood… I was at Playboy for a long time but before that I was at the New York Review of Books Classics series, that wonderful imprint that resuscitates lost works of literature with contemporary writers writing introductions. I worked with Jonathan Lethem there. I told Jonathan I wrote and he has always been very supportive… but if you’re working with writers you don’t want to say, “Hey! I write too! We’re part of the same club!” Because we’re not; I’m there to edit them. I’m not there to swap stories with them.

R: But you could go, like, I’ve got this character I’m working on, I just don’t know if this is what he does or says, right? Something specific…

A: I guess I was a purist. I wanted to keep my relationship with them kind of pure and I wanted their prose to be the focus of our discussions.

R: So do you compartmentalize your editing persona when you’re writing yourself?

A: I try to because otherwise I can’t get any work done. I’m too busy editing… and I’m a real pain in the neck, I’m a very exacting editor in certain ways; there are certain things I get really focused on… which I think my writers mostly appreciate but I’m sure I can be a real pain in the neck sometimes. I certainly am a pain in the neck for myself. If I can’t get out of that headspace, sometimes I’ll stop writing, or I’ll just let myself edit and get that out of my system.

R: What of Jess Walter’s work did you edit?

A: When I was at Playboy we published a few different stories of his: We Live in Water, and was it Anything Helps? I’m forgetting the title of it right now but it was a story about a con man who gets conned by one of his employees. Then I did an interview with him for the Zero that went in the Harper Perennial issue and then when I moved to Byliner—I’m now editing for Byliner [now defunct]—he wrote an unbelievably good story for us called Don’t Eat Cat—it’s both a zombie story and a send-up of a zombie story. When I left Playboy part of the reason I left and was glad to leave was that I couldn’t fit stories of any length in that magazine anymore.

R: Does Playboy still publish stories?

A: It still does, but unfortunately the editorial…

R: I just read the interviews (laughs).

A: Well there are some good ones mixed in!

R: [chuckles] I know.

Amy Grace Loyd [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Amy Grace Loyd [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

A: The page count reduced so much that they do genre fiction and mostly excerpts from novels now. So when I left that was really their focus.

Jess Walter [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Jess Walter [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

R: Jess Walter is a very wonderful writer; that last book Beautiful Ruins was just… it was immensely entertaining and engaging and funny…

A: And expansive! And traveling different times… and also full of longing but, as you say, also tremendously funny. And the way he satirizes Hollywood—it’s great. There are so many ways into that book.

R: And the historical references aren’t gratuitous—they’re not there to just… and I like where he got the title from: kind of obscure but…

A: Yeah! Perfect, right? From Richard Burton. Absolutely.

R: Yeah… Spokane’s own Jess Walter. So most of your editing work has been about short fiction?

Beautiful Ruins by jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by jess Walter


A: Yeah, because I worked at the New Yorker—I was Bill Buford’s assistant when I was in my twenties and I thought, Man, wouldn’t it be neat to continue to edit short fiction? But I’d have to stay at the New Yorker forever and ever and I had other plans at the time. So I went off to MacDowell to write—still this gnawing desire to do some of my own writing…

[adjusting equipment]

R: You’ve been around sort of great literary centers of New York…

A: Yeah, I have! So I worked for Buford, didn’t stay long, decided I’d go off to MacDowell and write. When I came back I got the job at the New York Review of Books, resuscitating those lost classics—I was an associate editor there…

R: What a great job!

A: It was! It was fantastic, it just didn’t necessarily pay as well as one might hope… and while I was there I wrote to Playboy and thought, “Boy, they’ve published some great fiction since 1953, I wonder if they’re interested in hiring a literary editor again.” They hadn’t had one for a while. And I wrote a letter, didn’t hear, thought, Okay, I’m too rarefied a bird for them, I’m not going to hear, but about two years later this man, Chris Napolitano—what a man!—called me up and said, Hey, I got your letter here, do you want to come in and interview? As if I’d written yesterday.

R: So it moves slowly…

A: Yeah, he needed to, I guess, raise the money or persuade whoever needed to be persuaded that they needed a dedicated literary editor again.

R: But in the meantime you weren’t looking at other—weren’t there other venues that might be attractive, especially all the new things that are coming up?

A: Well I was pretty content at my job at the New York Review and then I left that to go to Yaddo and it was after I got back from Yaddo…

R: Going to those places… that’s like vacation?

A: Yeah, and also it allowed me to remind myself that I liked to write and that I cared about writing and while I was there to take care of other writers and their work and that was significant, I couldn’t forget this other thing and that was an itch I had to scratch.

R: What were you writing?

A: I was working on a book of novellas then…

R: What’s a novella?

A: What’s a novella? Excellent question. Some would say it’s just a short novel, some would say it’s a long short story, but it depends. It certainly is a complete story, and maybe you’ve got more time to explore more characters or more action. I love ‘em. And we publish them at Byliner—that’s one of the attractions.

R: Jim Harrison has three or four volumes of novellas…

A: Yeah! And he’s got a new one coming out with Grove/Atlantic soon. You must like him. He’s a free spirit. What other novella writer you can think of?

R: Well, Andre Dubus’s new book has a novella…

A: And Richard Russo writes novellas.

R: Really

A: Yep. There was a book called Interventions of novellas; his daughter illustrated it. Jonathan Lethem writes the occasional long story arching into novella… Margaret Atwood wrote three related long stories for us that are going to now be part of a bigger book… I’m trying to think who else wrote long stories for us… Amy Tan

R: So that’s what you were doing, writing novellas

A: At that time, when I was at Yaddo I was writing novellas; then I came back from Yaddo and eventually got that job at Playboy and I had a book of novellas too, linked, and a wonderful editor at Pantheon named Deborah Garrison was interested in publishing them… she’s lovely; she’s a very good poet. But unfortunately, she had me revise them and we were about to move ahead but somebody there—I still don’t know who—didn’t like the novellas. So it didn’t happen, I put them away in storage…

R: Track them down!

A: I would like to! Give ‘em a… put my boot… where the sun don’t shine. And I started working at Playboy and I was pretty fanatical about getting people to think about Playboy differently and to think about us—despite the nudity, despite Heffner in his robe—to think about us as a literary destination as well. So I was devoted to that. But at some point—I started at Playboy around 2005, was working on those novellas still until 2006 or 7, put them away, only dabbled in writing a little bit, wrote some stories and then around 2009 I began to conceive this book.

R: What did you start with?

A: Well, you know it’s funny: the novellas had been omniscient point-of-view so I really wanted a first-person story and I wanted a voice I could live with for a while, especially while working full-time and working on other people’s work it needed to be a voice that really grabbed me. So I started with her—that first line, the body of a woman aging, a landscape that asks a lot of the eyes. I had read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which I loved—the resignation in that voice, that man looking back on his life—and I thought, Could a young woman, who’s been through some trauma, have a narrative where she’s declaring in a funny way her life over in certain ways? And when you’re at Playboy and you’re on the computer and you’re on the phone and you’re emailing and you’re Tweeting and you’re Pinging and you’re doing all that crazy stuff, the idea of a woman—a young woman—who really wanted to be apart from contemporary demands, the demands of contemporary life—that really appealed to me. And a woman who wasn’t willing to give up her husband even though he was dead—losing somebody doesn’t mean you stop loving him.

R: You know, what made her appealing was not the attempt to cut herself off the grid, so to speak, but was that she was, I thought, very thoughtful and, really, thoughtfully honest about appraising herself and appraising other people.

A: Yeah.

R: That’s really what grabbed me when I first

A: Yeah… And I like that about her too, that her life has become so distilled in a way—she knows what’s important to her, so she calls a spade a spade. And I love that about her. On the other hand, because she’s trying so hard to contain herself, in some ways she’s very unreliable. Right? Because she’ll say, “I’m going up to kick Hope out” but, as you know, something else entirely happens, or, “I respect my tenants’ privacy” but then she breaks into their apartments. But that’s when things begin to disintegrate for her a little.

R: But those are all understandable—I don’t think she’s a different person, and I’m not even sure I would say that’s unreliable, as you say, but perhaps that’s responsive to these odd things that are going on.

A: Well, I love you for that because that means you really connected to her. You know, a lot of people didn’t like her—I remember somebody wrote me an angry email saying, “How could she break into her tenants apartments?”

R: Angry email!

A: Yeah, I got an angry email! And I said, you know, this is a woman who’s trying so hard to figure out why her tenant disappeared and why her world is evading her control. Her plans are being greatly disrupted and this is her way, she thinks, of making things safer even though it might be a risky decision.

R: I thought her tenants were—I just saw those as gestures of establishing a family.

A: Yes! Absolutely.

R: And I thought it was interesting because they were interesting sort of characters…

A: Yeah! And I think, why does a woman who says she wants to be alone fill her apartment with tenants, right? She doesn’t. And she fights her wanting to love them and know them better. She’s a shy woman in certain ways—a private woman. But you’re exactly right—in some ways she’s trying to take them into her. You’re a good reader! I love you.

R: Thank you.

A: I do, I love you.

R: [chuckles]

A: Where have you been all my life?

R: So there’s a chance that if I brought my dog you’d still pay attention to me?

A: Yeah, now I don’t care about your dog. Now it’s all you. And your cigar.

R: Anyway . . . So you started with the character…

A: The voice, yeah.

R: The voice. And—don’t take this the wrong way but is there a plot?

A: [laughs] Yeah, I think there is. I think the minute that Hope comes in and is living over her head and is going through a disruption in her own love life, Celia despite herself is extraordinarily fascinated by her and is trying not to be. And when Hope takes up with Les, and obviously some dangerous stuff’s going on up there, Celia’s in a quandary because she doesn’t know whether to intervene or not. She tells herself she’s not going to but of course she does intervene. She tries to get them to stop doing what they’re doing. And then of course when Hope comes, which is a test of Celia’s control of her own home, Mr. Coughlin disappears. So I think if there’s a plot it’s a story about Celia and her relationship to these people, to these tenants, and how all of these situations which were static for a while become wildly chaotic.

R: Well the reason I ask is because for both of those characters, what will happen—what remains in the future—is still very open. It’s not determined. I don’t conclude anything about Hope or Celia at the end of the story, except for what was the sort of climax.

A: Well I hate to say what the climax is because it’d be a spoiler but I think you know when it was, when Celia goes up there to kick her out and something else happens. That was something else I was driving toward because I wanted women who were not young to be sexy and interesting …Well, I wanted to know if… again, women who are older who are interesting for their complex desires and their complexity generally, and sexually interesting as well. I wanted—there’s a lot of dark sex in this book, as that Boston Globe review seemed to focus on overly—I wanted to get to a moment of tenderness between these women, where Celia can give Hope something that her husband gave to her, and it not necessarily be about body parts or about bending anybody over a coffee table.

R: That’s a little hard, isn’t it.

A: [laughs] You’re right. How about a kitchen table?

R: You’d have to be really in good shape, you know…

A: Well, you can do it on your knees!

R: Are there still coffee tables?

A: Sure!

R: Do you have a coffee table?

A: I have a coffee table!

R: I don’t have a coffee table.

A: You don’t? Do you want one?

R: No.

A: Okay.

R: I have little nesting tables but… Anyway… Here’s the thing: it’s sort of a cliché that older men seem to be attracted to young women and young girls.

A: They definitely are.

R: I won’t say that I don’t notice a pretty girl

A: Of course!

R: But I notice lots of people. So frankly, I can’t see going out with a… when I was 50 years old I went out with a woman who was in her late 20s.

A: Wow! What was that like?

R: [laughs] Yeah, wow.

A: She must have had nice skin.

R: She had a nice ass.

A: Oh, yeah.

R: It was clear to me then. But the thing is, when I mentioned Che Guevara and she didn’t know who Che Guevara was, that’s when it first occurred to me that there’s this whole…

A: The life experience.

R: There’s a cultural… the window of cultural knowledge gets smaller and smaller the younger you get. Forget about knowledge, just even experience and… I don’t see the attraction, really.

A: There’s some really fundamental things you can’t share and you’re explaining your life much more than just sort of being in sync with these things. And these are ways you get to know someone, because if it was someone in your generation and you mentioned Che Guevara, you’ll get her response and that’s a way in. And instead for your twentysomething friend you’re educating her to certain things and she’s probably not going to have as pure a response to it because in fact you’re leading her there.

R: Yeah, exactly.

A: But it must have been fun.

R: At the end of writing this book, did you feel like you wrote what you had set out to write?

A: I do. I think I did because I feel like I got—Celia is defiant also, in certain ways, and at the end, she’s changed but she’s not a whole different person, right? She’s got Hope’s hand in her hand and she’s got Leo’s hand on her knee—she’s part of the party, she’s part of what’s going on, whereas she had been outside of it. But she’s still going to keep her vigil to her husband in many ways; she’s still going to be a person who has a secret that she really hasn’t told anybody but the reader. So, yeah, I wanted a woman who was private, who was defiant; I wanted a woman whose hunger gets the best of her, I think in really good ways, despite the fact that she’s trying to control her hunger a little bit. I got to some stuff about sex and sensuality that I was really interested in. I got to some stuff about how we live with other people when we can hear them on the other side of our walls—how we live in private and how sometimes when we’re trying to live in private we’re still living publicly in a funny way. I know when my neighbors shower, I know when they make love…

R: So when you go to Yaddo or MacDowell what’s that like for you, given that you’re an urban…?

A: Oh I love it! You know, all I’m longing for is to just shake my boots of the city but because my work and my writers mean so much to me…

R: So muchis conducted via mobile/wireless devices now
.
A: Thank you for telling me that! Between you and me, it would be great to live points north, it would be great to live in a place where when I write my rent check I don’t feel like I want to cry a little—just a little.

R: [laughs]

A: Money that I’m never going to see again.

R: Are you in Brooklyn?

A: Brooklyn Heights, which is wooof—that’s even more expensive.

R: So you haven’t amassed a large enough fortune to be able to buy something in Brooklyn?

A: I’ve saved some dough but on a publishing salary all these years—I think my first job in publishing was at Pocket Books at Simon & Schuster, I think they paid me eighteen-two… thankfully it’s gotten better since then.

R: It has.

A: But it’s still a salary, my father says, “It’s criminal to live on that.” [laughs]

R: It’s criminal to live in an expensive area where you’re giving much of your income to rent…

A: I know. Well what happens in New York I think is, when I first got to Brooklyn Heights it wasn’t very expensive. I moved there in ’91 the first time. Then I had a rent controlled apartment there for ages, over a Greek restaurant so it was constantly filled with the smoke of grilled meat, but then when I met this guy and we liked each other we thought, “Maybe we should try to live together”, and that’s when the really exorbitant rent came into it, because as Johnny Cash said, if you want to make a relationship work you both should have your own bathrooms. So I found us a place…

R: He said that?

A: He did.He did, somebody asked him, What made your marriage last so long, what makes a marriage work? And he said separate bathrooms. And I really think it saved Cody and me, to be honest ‘cause that man doesn’t know from cleaning. At all.

R: [laughs]

A: But it’s enough. I think we’ve realized we can live together and now we can spread our wings into cheaper places. You also fall in love with your neighborhood in Brooklyn, it becomes your sanctuary against all the chaos and noise and nonsense. And it is a cool neighborhood—okay, let me go over it. Norman Mailer lived there until he passed, not so long ago; Walt Whitman, of course; Truman Capote, Arthur Miller…

R: They’re all dead!

A: But I like ghosts!

R: [laughs]

A: Jennifer Egan lives there right now, although I leave her alone, of course, and other writers are nearby.

R: Where is Jonathan, oh, he’s out on the West Coast, at Pomona College, right?

A: Yeah, he lived in Boerum Hill for ages so he was close by. Jonathan Ames is still there in Boerum Hill, Martin Amis I guess just moved to the area, I don’t know where, but somewhere in the area. A good writer named Samantha Gillison doesn’t live so far away—she’s quite talented. There’s a bunch of writers—what did Jonathan say? Brooklyn in cancerous with novelists? Jonathan Lethem.

R: I thought everyone had said something like that.

A: Yeah. But this is one who’d surely like to go if she could and still do her job to the best of her ability.

R: I was talking to a photographer who lives here but his son now lives in Brooklyn and he was sort of laughing about it, you know, because it’s the center of hip-dom.

A: It wasn’t when I moved there, you want to know? In fact, men would say, I can’t date you, you live in Brooklyn! You’re a bridge and tunnel girl and I’d be like,” Hey buddy, fuck you!” But I liked it.

R: Did people actually say that to you?

A: Yeah, they said, “Dating you is going to be…” —often things in New York are about logistics—where do you live? How do I get to you? What subway? What taxi?

R: Well, I understand that.

A: Yeah, but if you like a girl enough just get on the goddamn subway! I’ll get on the subway.

R: If you like a guy enough you just get on the subway.

A: Get on the subway!

R: So you published this book—it was an effort of two years, three years, more?

A: Well, it was since 2009 and I stopped writing it—I probably finished it in 2011 but then I tweaked it. So two years and then tweakies, some tweaky time here and there.

R: So Picador, which normally doesn’t publish hardcovers… who’s the editor?

A: Yeah! They’re starting… it’s Anna deVries, she used to be at Scribner and she did more crime then, although she did a few literary titles. Now she’s going to do it all… and the publisher Stephen Morrison came over from Penguin and they want to start this hardcover line…

(Editor’s note:Since this interview Picador has published 30 hardcovers)

R: They were hardcover for a while, in the States.

A: In the States and then they did mostly paperbacks, and now they’re going back to it with gusto. They call me the driver, which is nice, of their hardcover line.

R: So has your life always been about reading and writing and writers?

A: It certainly has since my professional life; it really has. Since I was about 21, 22.

R: In this kind of professional life seems to be all-encompassing—you don’t skydive do you?

A: No…

R: You’re not heavily into golf.

A: No, but my father is so I watch a lot of golf.

R: You watch a lot of golf?

A: Yeah, I watch a lot of golf with him! He’s like, you’re watching? Because I was the youngest of three girls, he needed a boy so I watch a lot of sports with him. I also used to watch a lot of Star Trek with him.

R: Really? Did you like Star Trek?

A: I really liked it. The original one.

R: I’ve never like it.

A: Oh, how can you not like it?

R: So many of these programs, I just…

A: How about the ones from the 70s though? 60s and 70s. You didn’t like it?

R: No. I don’t remember one good television program from the 70s.

A: Really?

R: Name one.

A: Well, Star Trek.

R: So we know you like Star Trek.

A: Yeah. Name another?

R: Yeah.

A: Wasn’t the Archie Bunker…

R: That was, okay, All in the Family

A: That’s pretty fucking good, right? Good writing; he was a crazy character. We couldn’t watch him in our house because my mother had a mean alcoholic father and he reminded her of him too much. But I do know people who feel almost a religious sensibility about All in…

R: What was the Fonz?

A: Happy Days. I liked Happy Days alright. Well, see I was a kid then…

R: Mod Squad very early in the 70s. The Brady Bunch.

A: The Brady Bunch. Gilligan’s Island, was that the 70s too?

R: People loved Gilligan’s Island. See, I never…

A: What about the Monkees?

R: I didn’t even like them as a group.

A: I understand. But if you’re a little girl as I was, because I was only seeing them in reruns at that point, I think—I was born in ’69… so I just thought they were damn cute and energetic.

R: Che Guevara.

A: Yeah, well I know who that is. I’m old enough for that, I’m 43 now, going to be 44 shortly. So don’t you worry, I know my revolutionaries.

R: Do you consider yourself old?

A: I consider myself a mature middle-aged woman but what’s interesting—I think because I’m petite, and bouncy and perky to some, that I am perceived as quite young.

R: But do you feel any sort of… not subliminal but… maybe subliminal signals that you should be thinking of yourself as an old woman?

A: Oh sure, I mean I think that’s one of the reasons I was so interested in Celia and Hope because here are women who are older, who are going through great upsets in their life and what does that mean for your identity? Your husband dies, the other woman’s husband falls in love with a younger woman. I’m beginning to do that: I’m beginning to think, yeah, I’m not so young anymore and I’m curious about it.

R: Not because of yourself?

A: You mean I don’t feel like I’m old? I definitely feel like I’m beginning to…

R: Are there signals, things that sort of, everyday life… if people stopped asking you for your ID…

A: Well in New York it’s mandatory now, everybody asks so they still do and I always laugh about it but there are signals. And also, some men don’t look at me anymore. And, you know, I used to get looked at a fair amount.

R: That’s because you were in a Norma Kamali fringe dress… [laughs]

A: [laughs]

R: So, being the young kid that you are, you’ve got a lot of life to live—what do you think about for your future?

A: Well I’m going to write a couple more books. I’m going to try to get out of New York. I’m going to do some traveling, I hope—my book sold in a few countries so that’s exciting. I used to live in Paris. Oh! That’s what you asked me—you asked me, What did you do besides this, it’s all encompassing; it is, but I speak French, I go there as often as I can. Not in the past few years, it’s true, I’ve been taken up with work. I do the yoga. I walk a lot—I’m a big walker, I like to walk and look. And I think recreationally dated for a long time.

R: Was it fun?

A: It was! In New York it can be a little treacherous, but it was fun.

R: You have a good sense of… you’re alert about who’s dangerous and…?

A: Yeah, sure. I think I also have a good sense—and I hope it comes out through the writing, but who knows—of the traffic between men and women and the sexual traffic between men and women. All that good stuff. I’ve had some great relationships—I had some really lousy ones too but they taught me a lot too.

R: So what is it about France—why didn’t you ever end up at one of those high-paying Conde Nast fashion magazines where they accept fiction, don’t they?

A: Nobody there publishes fiction anymore except for the New Yorker. Vogue doesn’t; the Atlantic still does but they’re not owned by Conde Nast…

R: Did Mirabella publish fiction?

A: No, not to my knowledge although Good Housekeeping did for a long time… maybe Marie Claire did for a brief time. It might be interesting to look that up.

R: I think Marie Claire might have because for some reason I thought that William Boyd’s wife worked there…

A: Cosmopolitan did, remember?

R: Oh yeah. Not that I read them…

A: They were kind of racy.

R: So you didn’t end up at one of those places where you could have made lots of money…

A: Well this goes to show you how dumb I am—I was offered three jobs out of college: the paying job at Simon & Schuster in pocket books, a job at Christian Dior to basically man the receptionist’s desk but that’s how they start all the ladies, and I would wear fabulous clothes and get paid much more than I was getting paid at Simon & Schuster…

R: And get invited to a lot of…

A: Yeah! Meet some rich fellas… and then the third job—and this is the one I feel I should have taken—was the Macneil Lehrer News Hour at the time but it was only 100 dollars a week or something and I thought I should get a real salary. So I took the job at Simon & Schuster. And got screamed at by Judith Regan, she was working there then. She wasn’t my boss though…

R: You know, I don’t know her, of course, but for me the public perception of her—in interviews—she doesn’t strike me as an attractive person but I think she published Jess Walter, didn’t she?

A: She did! She discovered and published him.

R: And he speaks really highly of her—he loves her.

A: He loves her. And he should! The thing about Judith is she’s really fiercely loyal to her writers. She’ll do anything for them, and I think as a writer that feels awful good.
And I do that with my writers. I’ll take care of them.

R: Like the way your call them “your” writers.

A: I feel like they’re mine. We work really closely together—Jess and I have over the years and we’re also very good friends, we talk a lot—in fact I’ll probably call him about this after we’re done. Margaret Atwood and I have worked a lot together over the years; Joyce Carol Oates; James Elroy and I have worked a lot, a lot together.

R: [laughs] James!

A: Have you met him?

R: Yeah! I’ve interviewed him three or four times in person.

A: Around here?

R: Yeah.

A: He’s funny.

R: Very funny. Although a little droll.

R: So I’ve got to get going. How could we end this conversation with a bang?

A: I don’t know…

R: What would be the penultimate… well we can’t. So you have to promise to talk to me for the next novel.

A: Oh, yeah.

R: Wouldn’t you say this is part one?

A: Let’s say it! This is part one. Let’s never end this conversation.

R: Never-ending.

Amy Grace Loyd [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Amy Grace Loyd [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Currently reading A Corner of the World by Mylene Fernandez Pintado (City Lights)

Doing Things With Words

16 Dec

Even in this untextual, unverbal epoch, there are still people with a fascination for the intricacies of linguistic mechanics and those building blocks of language, words. In the popular culture publicist turned journalist William Safire expended much attention on word usage. In slightly more rarefied venues, language shaman and sages, take for example, Barbara Walraff in the Atlantic , represent the keepers of Correct Grammar and Style. This is , of course, can be interesting stuff but honestly the most attention I am able to muster for such matters is the fairly recent cutesy iteration of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style as rendered by Mara Kalman.

What does spark my enthusiastic attention are commonplace books and quotation/aphorism anthologies —of which a number of such have recently made their way into published reality. Here’s an annotated list

Lend Me Your Ears: The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations ed by Anthony Jay(Oxford University Press) This volume represents the 4th edition, including 5000 citations with 300 new ones—from Napoleon to Barack Obama,featuring such eminences as Dorothy Parker, Mahatma Gandhi, Jean-Paul Sartre, George Washington, Charles de Gaulle, and Juan Peron[but apparently not the wife]. You’ll find gems such as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s, ‘If I misspoke that was just a misstatement.’ and ‘Rahm Emanuel’s ‘You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.’ And much more.

The Oxford Book of Parodies edited by John Gross (Oxford University Press) Not quite in the mold of quotation collections (close enough in my mind) well regarded John Gross, formerly of the [London]Times Literary Supplement and the New York Timescollects gems from masters of parody and some unexpected voices—Max Beerbohm, Robert Benchley, Bret Harte, H. L. Mencken, George Orwell, James Thurber, Peter Ustinov, and Evelyn Waugh. Their sharpened blades vivisect such literary notables as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Poe, Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, Conan Doyle, A. A. Milne, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Allen Ginsberg, and Martin Amis. Need I point out this volume is a treasure of great, good fun?

The Bed of Procrustes Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Random House). Taleb, a former [financial] trader and currently Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University is well known for his “groundbreaking and prophetic” opus, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. His author biography includes the claim that he ” spends most of his time as a flâneur [idler or lounger], meditating in cafés across the planet.’ Which is, of course, nice work especially if the greatest exertion involved is coining astringent and apparently clever aphorisms.

The Novelist’s Lexicon Writers on the Words That Define Their Work – edited Villa Gillet/LeMonde (Columbia U Press) Phillip Leventhal,who is an editor at the Columbia University Press, apprised me of this sweet little tome (I feel compelled to credit Phillip to avoid any false impression(s) of literary omnipotence). It is also a hybrid of the straight forward anthology collecting essays by seventy “prominent” authors—Jonathan Lethem ,A. S. Byatt , Colum McCann , Daniel Mendelsohn, Etgar Keret, Annie Proulx, Rick Moody, Upamanyu Chatterjee, Enrique Vila-Matas, Adam Thirwell , Andre Brink and Péter Esterhazy— on a word that opens a door to their work

Here’s Jonathan Lethem’s contribution, Furniture

However appalling to consider, however tedious to enact, every novel requires furniture, whether it is to be named or unnamed, for the characters will be unable to remain in standing positions for the duration of the story. For that matter, when night falls—whether it is depicted or occurs between chapters—characters must be permitted to sleep in beds, to rinse their faces in sinks, to glance into mirrors, and so on. (It is widely believed that after Borges, mirrors are forbidden as symbols in novels. However, it is cruel to deny the characters in a novel sight of their own faces; hence mirrors must be provided.) These rules apply no matter how tangential the novel’s commitment to so-called realism, no matter how avant-garde or capricious, no matter how revolutionary or bourgeois. Furniture may be explicit or implicit, visible or invisible; may bear the duty of conveying social and economic detail or be merely cursorily functional; may be stolen or purchased, borrowed, destroyed, replaced; may be sprinkled with crumbs of food or splashed with drink; may remain immaculate; may be transformed into artworks by aspiring bohemians; may be inherited by characters from uncles who die before the action of the novel begins; may reward careful inspection of the cushions and seams for loose change that has fallen from pockets; may be collapsible, portable; may even be dragged into the house from the beach where it properly belongs—but, in any event, it must absolutely exist. Anything less is cruelty.

This is an eminently charming and engrossing and charming book. Indeed. In fact, all four titles are.