In second grade, we made our own blank-paged, cloth bound books. I remember being deeply thrilled about the whole idea of filling those pages.
2. What sort of apprenticeship in writing did you follow?
If by “apprenticeship” you mean “path,” mine was moving to New York City, taking every writing job I could find, and working on my own novel for 10 years between the hours of 11 pm and 1 am.
If by apprenticeship you mean “tutelage from wise sage who has taught you the ways of the literary world,” then HAHAHAHAHA, sigh.
3. What’s the most inspiring piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Do what you love. –My father
Especially helpful when what you love is writing and not, say, getting facial tattoos.
Don’t bother with comparing yourself to everyone else–there will always be someone who is richer, more successful, smarter, prettier, or more talented than you are. You’ve got to be able to feel good about yourself on your own terms. –My mother, who has never given me any other words of advice. But these are pretty perfect.
4. I’d love to hear more about Pete’s Reading Series, which you founded?
I co-founded Pete’s Reading Series in 2000 with writer Alison Hart. At the time we were just looking to give Brooklyn’s burgeoning writing scene a space and place, but Pete’s quickly evolved into an institution, a place where established writers, rising stars, and people-who-didn’t-get-enough-press-but-were-amazing could read to a smart, attentive audience. Writers really love reading at Pete’s, and I think that has to do in large part with the feeling in the room, the anticipation and appreciation and, well, the drinks.
It was a long process—10 years. I say that frequently and often because I have this feeling that there is an army of people out there working on their novels and wondering if they should give up because it’s taking so damn long, and I would say to them: HELL NO. Keep going. Just keep going.
6. I read elsewhere that you lost your father while writing the book, and that the character of Thomas began to take on his traits. This must have been a strange experience, and more complex than it sounds. How did fiction and reality entwine while you were writing?
I had been writing the book for three years when my father was diagnosed with renal sarcoma. It was particularly haunting because I knew I was writing about a father who was receding from the world in some way. My reality felt perversely fictional, and vice-versa. Over the next three year, as my own died, I put the book away. All of those hospital corridors and tests and hopes and dashed hopes just left no room for anything else. But a funny thing happened when I went back to the book: I would write a scene with the father and MY father would start showing up. His mannerisms. His way of moving through the world. So writing the book became a way of saying goodbye to him on my own terms.
7. What did you learn about yourself through writing the novel?
That I have endurance and faith. It was a shocking realization.
8. I heard you were brave enough to read the audio version of the novel yourself; what was that experience like?
Well, I loved it, actually. I like reading, I like channelling voices, but the best part is that I became semi-delusional in the recording, and started believing my dad could hear me. I would read and not look up for hours because I was convinced that if I didn’t, he would be on the other side of the recording glass, listening. And in that way, I got to give him the book he was never alive to see.
9. And in a sentence, what are the great, abiding, fascinating concerns that motivate you to write?
The politics of residing outside of yourself. The love and madness inherent to families.
Questions by Victoria Best.
Read Victoria’s review of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing here