Q: What is the one thing that people tend to believe about you which you really wish were true?
A: People invariably when I meet them say, "I thought you were taller." Actually I have a false self- image. I imagine myself myself to be tall but I am, in fact, not tall. I somehow manage to convey to people that I am.
Q: About how tall are you, inside?
A: In reality?
A: When you're alone by yourself attempting to write and you come up with a throwaway line, an inspired gem, how pleased are you with yourself?
Q: Do you mean do I make myself laugh? No.
Q: Once in a while. What makes you laugh usually is surprise and it doesn't usually come to me that instantaneously that it surprises me. Even if a sentence comes fast, what preceded it was so unpleasant and arduous that laughter is not exactly on my mind. A few times in my life I have laughed when I was writing.
Q: Has high tech invaded your life in how you write?
A: Not at all. The room I write in is probably the strictest room on the continent. There's nthing to lie down (on). There's nothing soft in the room. It's a kind of prison room. I write with a ballpoint pen. I don't need a word processor. I don't need anything that fast. I could write in my own blood without hurting myself, I write so slowly.
Q: Do you think of yourself as having developed sort of a persona?
A: I don't think of myself as having developed it. I mean, I have one. It wasn't a conscious effort. This is the way I've always been. It's just that before my first book came out, only 100 people knew it.
Q: You describe writing as fun but also a life sentence.
A: I never describe writing as fun. I'm sure it was meant ironically. The genesis of hating writing is that it's not fun. In fact, I would say the diametric opposite of fun is writing. The antonym of the word fun is writing. What's fun about it? It's very arduous. No sane person would think (writing's) fun. I can't imagine how dreadful your real life would have to be for writing to be fun in comparison. I suppose I can imagine circumstances where writing would be fun. It would be more fun than being in a state prison but it isn't more fun than my life.
Q: What is fun in your life? A: Reading other people's writing is fun. I read an almost psychotic amount. Reading for me is better than real life. It's an escape from everything, not just writing. To me, books are a legal form, although a much less popular form, of heroin. They're harder to find. They're on the whole safer.
Q: One of the writers that you admire a great deal is Mark Twain.
A: They should have given him a hundred million dollars and let him be a king.
Q: You also said that he's a humorous writer, and that humorous writers are really the most serious. How so?
A: To be a comic writer is the opposite of being a serious writer. The opposite of being a serious writer would be someone not serious about writing.
It's much harder. It's very easy to move people to tears. Any sane person is on the verge of tears all the time anyway. It's much more difficult to move them from that state to the state of laughter. It's the hardest kind of writing there is. Consequently, there are only very few people who do it well. There are, unfortunately, huge numbers of people who do it badly. There's no worse writing than comic writing that doesn't work. There's nothing worse than watching a comedian who isn't funny. It's much worse than watching a bad singer or a bad musician.
I have a tremendous fear of writing, I would say, engulfing fear. It prevents me from writing most of the time. It's very strong.
Q: Are you afraid that it won't be good enough? Funny enough?
A: The fear is a number of things -- that I'm going to have to do something that I don't want to do. Some of it is pure fear of work. I'm very slothful. Fear that you don't know how to do it anymore. You don't know where it comes from, so you don't know if you can do it again. It's not a reliable thing. There are certain tricks that you acquire, but they're so little and basically not that useful. They sometimes get you out of a jam but they're nothing to be counted on. So you're really out there with nothing. The sort of writing I do, there's nothing to support you. It's not like writers who do research, have facts to fall back on. There's no story in my writing. There are some facts but research would be overblown. There's nothing. There's just this kind of highwire act.
Q: Would you describe yourself as having been a precocious kid?
A: In talking I was. In walking I was a very retarded child. I didn't walk until I was about 3 years old, I think. My parents took me to a special doctor to have my legs checked because they kept thinking I was crippled. Doctors informed my parents that the reason I wasn't walking is that there was no reason for me to walk since I was just ordering them about. So they stopped giving me things and I learned to walk in about a half an hour.
Q: Do you ever get any pressure from your parents to have a child or perhaps lead a more "normal" life?
A: I think they are very proud of me. My mother would like to have some grandchildren. I have appointed my sister to this job, however, and she's been married for about a year, so I'm pressuring her.
Q: You do have godchildren?
A: I have several. I have a shifting number of godchildren because I have divorced some.
Q: You also go to school with them and tell stories to their classmates. Did they ask questions?
A: It was in nursery school. They were 3 or 4 years old. They were a pretty good audience. There was one incredibly pragmatic child who kept raising his hand to tell me things like dinosaurs couldn't roller skate and etc. I am very fond of children of that age, so I enjoyed doing it.
Q: I expect adolescence was not one of the most popular times in your life?
A: I hated it. In any given high school there are only two people enjoying their high school years -- the captain of the football team and his girlfriend. Everybody else hates it. (For) those two people usually that's the zenith. You go back to your hometown and they're checking at the supermarket. I hated going to school. School became more and more horrifying. It interferred with my reading, with my education. You had to get up very early to go to school. If school had started at 9 o'clock at night I might have liked it better. One of the main features of high school life was Algebra 1 which I took about six times. High school to me was just algebra and gym. I failed gym one year.
Q: Was it just the physical activity?
A: And these horrible gym suits. You had to do sports, which I always thought were dangerous activities that would prevent you from becoming a famous writer. It was my eyes I would always worry about. I would stand in the outfield on the baseball field with my hands over my eyes. This didn't make me a very good baseball player.
Q: Is there any sport that you enjoy?
A: I like to fish now. (It's) a really good excuse for just lying there. Anyone over the age of 6 who is lying on the ground not doing something is suspect unless you have in your hand a little fishing rod. Hey, well, they're fishing. They're doing something.
Q: Do you think that being a social critic is something that one is born to, or can you learn?
A: I think it's genetic. I've always been very sensitive to annoyance. I've always been alive to be irritated.
Q: What is genuinely uplifting to you?
A: Amusement parks. But there are not too many real ones left. Not these fake ones, not theme parks, but regular ones with ferris wheels. I like the food quite a lot in amusement parks and I like to be amused in a spot that has been designated as an amusement spot. I don't mind how people are acting because they are supposed to act that way. Also, now I can afford to go on more rides than I could as a child. When I was a kid I could go on three rides so it was a torture to try and pick the best ones. It definitely would not be a roller coaster. Some things are too much fun. Now I can ride on as many rides as I want, 10, 15.
Q: That's the mark of success.
A: Yeah. All the things that you think you want to do when you are a child that you actually turned out to want to do when I was growing up. I would say, "Well, when I'm grown up I'm going to eat as much ice cream and as much pizza or whatever the hell else as I want." It turned out I did it. I would say, "When I'm an adult, I'm going to go on 20 rides." And my mother would say, "You're not going to want to come here." But I did. In fact, (for) the people who lose those tastes, I think success or adulthood would be very disappointing. (There are) so many disadvantages to being an adult that if you can't enjoy the fact that you're going on 10 rides, I would think it's pretty much a bust.
Q: Another area which you intentionally avoid is sex and romance. This doesn't interest you?
A: It doesn't interest me to write about. It's been done quite a bit. To write about sex is extraordinarily difficult. Almost no one has ever been able to do it well. I used to write pornography to make money but I never thought of it really as writing.
Q: Was that fun?
A: No, it was really boring. I wrote for this company that gave you a list of rules of how often certain sexual acts had to appear and which ones weren't allowed to appear. It was so dull to do, you would invite people and do it together.
Q: You have achieved at least three of your goals -- new money, old furniture and a separate room to write in. Have you formulated any new goals?
A: I'd like to recapture the new money goal. I have none left. No sane person writes for money -- I'm not talking about people like Sidney Sheldon who makes this huge amount of money -- but even when you make money from writing, it's not the kind of money that, say, your average corporate lawyer makes. It seems like a lot because you haven't been paid for four years. You get it all at once, People in relatively low paying jobs, if they (received) all their money for four years all at once it would seem like quite a bit of money. People really think that I'm rich. I can tell that by the kind of mail I get and the things I get invited to. I get invited to previews of Old Master drawings and, you know, I can barely afford to look at these things.
Q: You have done a number of other things in your life. You were a taxi driver. Did you engage in witty conversation with your passengers?
A: No, I was a very well behaved cab driver. I didn't talk to my passengers and now that I'm a cab rider, I wish that they didn't talk to me. One of the points of being a cab driver is that you're not in a job where you have to talk to people all the time. The dividers are actually to protect the cab driver from the passengers, however, my experience has been that most cab drivers now are certifiably insane and I welcome that as protecting me from this lunatic up on the front seat.
Q: Were you also a bartender about the same time?
A: All at the same time. I never had a job for more than three months. I had about 400 careers in two years.
Q: Do you watch television?
A: Some daytime TV, game shows mostly. An episode of "Family Feud" was dedicated to me. That was the highlight of my literary career. And I like "People's Court." I think every case should be tried on "People's Court" and I think there should be something called "People's Supreme Court." He seems to me just as good as anyone else.
Q: Do you like baseball?
A: I don't like baseball really. Sometimes I go to games. I have some friends who have boxes in Yankee Stadium. It's a quiet place to read usually, the last few years especially. They have excellent hot dog stands at the stadium and it's a nice quiet sport, not noisy like football. Also you can understand it. I've never understood how people could understand football which is so complicated to me. Football to me is algebra in motion. I don't think that those people watching it understand it either. I think one person gets it and he nudges the guy next to him and then they all stand up and yell.