IMAGE: Mara Faye Lethem
The New Yorker behind Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude; MacArthur genius grant recipient. He appears 3 pm Saturday on the Powell’s stage and 8 pm Saturday at the Workstock edition of Live Wire! at the Aladdin Theater.
What are your favorite themes to write about?
Cities, drugs, animals, memory, sandwiches—basically, buildings and food.
Name three books on your nightstand or shelf right now.
Patrick Hamilton’s The West Pier, Roland Barthes A Lover’s Discourse, Geoffrey Wolff’s Inklings.
What’s your personal writing ritual?
I have a certain spoon and a certain bowl and a certain breakfast cereal. That gets ritual out of the way first thing; the rest is habit.
The most beautiful word in the English language is: Clamato
What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place and why?
Lewis Carroll, Philip K. Dick, Graham Greene, Shirley Jackson, Franz Kafka.
Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.
Raymond Carver’s stories.
The dumbest thing I ever did is… slag Raymond Carver in public.
The best piece of advice I ever got was… from my fourth-grade teacher. “Take time to stop and smell the flowers.” I needed it at the time.
What’s your literary guilty pleasure?
I don’t find pleasure guilty. But: Trevanian’s Shibumi.
The closest I’ve ever come to quitting is… There was a one-year gap between publishing my first short story and getting anything but form rejections. I’d been braced for rejection before I “broke through,” but not after.
Most recent nightmare:
Shopping with a friend for ice cream, we encountered a Häagen-Dazs flavor called “Deep Human Essence.” It was brown. I was forced to explain that Deep Human Essence was shit.
Your cure for writer’s block:
Waiting. Abiding. Thinking. I don’t call it a block. That kind of interval isn’t an exception to the work, it is the work.
A dead person you’d like to meet. (They’d be alive during the meeting.)
What was your favorite book as a kid?
His Dog by Albert Payson Terhune.
A short paragraph from a story you’re currently working on:
Cicero’s dreadlocks were for fucking with minds, his remote-control mental emanations made into fuzzy tentacles. Think of them as chiaroscuro contrails, making permanently visible his head’s explosion from all the crap it had absorbed up to a certain point. More literally, the dreadlocks announced the following: Cicero had spent more time than you can bear to imagine not cleaning something, not obeying rules every mother teaches every child, to drag! a! comb! through! that! mess! Look upon my works and despair. Think of the time it took, how many years Cicero had tolerated being a transparent work-in-progress. For he’d amassed his head in plain view, just walking down the street weeping hair.