Some of the interviews I’m most proud of are the author interviews I conducted for Book of the Month Club and the Quality Paperback club (QPB). I initially worked for BookSpan as a freelance writer while working full-time as a copy editor for Sonoma County’s (Pulitzer Prize-winning) Press Democrat which was then a New York Times regional newspaper. Eventually I would move back to New York to work in content management for BookSpan, directing content across clubs as print and online resources.
I’ve probably been a “book person” since Pat the Bunny. It goes way back. I’m probably happiest in the company of readers and writers. I’ve has the great good fortune to work with and spend time with great writers and journalists, but also visual artists, dancers, choreographers. actors and theater people from every niche of the theater world. I feel I was able to find a meeting point with all of the writers I interviewed.
With James Patterson it was a Manhattan College Parkway connection. He had attended Manhattan College in the Bronx and I went to school at Fieldston, just up the road from Manhattan College. When interviewing Lauren Belfer for City of Light, in the earliest moments somehow she mentioned that she had worked for CBS news at one time. I said, “On the off-chance, did you know my cousin Patsy or Patricia Layne?” She replied, “I was her assistant” and then went on to tell me how much she had liked her and a very funny story of driving with my cousin. Then I had the sad duty of letting her know that my cousin had passed away much too young from health complications. Those connections open more pathways for depth in an interview.
John Cheever has been one of my favorite writers since my teen years. I would have seen the short stories in the family New Yorker subscription, but I think it was the novel Falconer that really grabbed me. I remember pulling it out of a revolving rack at the magazine shop near the New Rochelle Metro North station. I was very happy when I got the assignment to interview his daughter Susan Cheever. This is how that interview started. I’d wanted to have her father’s picture on my desk and I told her that I’d been looking for a picture I’d had of her father from a magazine cover where he’s wearing an oversized hand-knit pink tie. I’d had it for years.
Susan Cheever: I have it actually. The thing about that photograph that’s so interesting to me is that my father was dying at the time. It’s clear to me looking at the photograph Richard Avedon knew that, in his bones not in his head and we didn’t know it. Maybe my father knew it, in his bones not in his head. But it was taken in August or early September. On December sixth they told him that he had terminal cancer and that it had gone to his bones. It’s the last picture. If you look at it there’s a kind of intensity to his eyes. If you know what happened three months later, it makes a dreadful kind of sense.
I’d had no idea that the photograph that I had treasured was a touchstone for her and had special significance. The author of Note Found in a Bottle: My Life as a Drinker and I went on to have a free-wheeling conversation about sobriety, the writer’s life, life as a Cheever, and her finding the balance as a writer and a single mother of two in New York.
I saw my father write for money very directly, as I do. And I saw that when he felt that he had to turn a story in too soon, or write a story on demand, and he felt terrible about it, often those were good stories. So I learned how to make a living as a writer from watching him do it. I learned that it’s okay to write a story for money; that sometimes that’s going to be your best work even though it doesn’t feel so good. — Susan Cheever
I had the opportunity to talk with Michael Cunningham about The Hours just days before his novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. I asked him about Kathy Acker and he surprised me with his reply. Writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel does not come easy.
Michael Cunningham on The Hours: It required more blind faith on my part than anything else I’ve ever written. It seemed until very close to the end like it might in fact be nothing at all. Like it was just these three strands that had very little to do with one another, really, and ultimately added up to very little. Writing it was in certain ways a terrible experience. It wasn’t until I got right to the end and things began to come together that it did seem like a book. It did seem like something with a shape and an arc that went somewhere. And as I wrote I constantly battled a conviction that it just wasn’t adding up, that it just wasn’t anything.
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