How do you get up in the morning? Do you succumb to nostalgia? Do you write long and cut, or short and backfill? How do you feel about your Wikipedia entry? Lunch with any three people who ever lived; who do you invite? Best piece of advice you ever received? Disciplined or hot dog? Have you ever been defeated by a genre? Which classic author would you like to see kicked out of the pantheon? Are you okay with blood? Who is your imagined audience? Does it at all coincide with the real one? What country would you want to be exiled in? What’s your favorite negative emotion? Is your study neat, or, like John Muir’s, is your desk and floor covered in “lateral, medial, and terminal moraines”? What is your go-to shoe? What’s your poison? What’s your problem? Title of the book you’re probably never going to write, but would kind of like to get around to? What are you so afraid of? How long can you go without putting paw to keyboard? Do you require a high thread count? Who reads you first? Sexy and dangerous, or brilliant and kind? What character or story haunts you? Does plot matter? Does age matter? Do you prefer to write standing, or must you lie prone in a field of dandelions with a steno pad and a good pen? Or what? Who is the author you’d most like to impersonate online? Is there a literary community? What’s the question or questions we should have asked, had we known? What is the answer?
I wake up in time for the fixed price lunch at Le Gavroche with Simon Hopkinson and Jeremy Lee. Lunch ends when the waiting staff kick us out for the dinner crowd. We go to the Groucho Club where we drink martinis and surprise the bar with a rendition of the theme to Goldfinger. The pianist eggs us on. My editor hears about it and learns that I was not indeed tending to a sick relation. Age matters if it prohibits you from doing something that you want to do or you are offered a humiliating discount for seniors, or wish that you could still pull the improbably straight handsome man talking to Jeremy. I write for myself. My greatest professional contempt is reserved for editors who begin meetings with the line, “What the reader wants is …” They’re inflating the importance of their own suggestion by invoking an invisible market. A runner-up among professional dreads are literary agents whose idea of a book proposal is a promise to a publisher’s marketing department. The title of the book of collected journalism that I’m never going to publish is “Mostly True,” because after joking about it for 20 years, I noticed that Molly O’Neill had the energy to actually do a book with that title. The best piece of advice I’ve ever received was a humiliation and came from a New York cinema chain owner named Donald Rugoff. In 1977 or so, he sent me off to screen a then-new Truffaut film called “The Man Who Loved Women.” He wanted to know what I thought of it as he considered buying US distribution rights. He endured several minutes of a 21-year-old’s babble about how American audiences might embrace this mainstream French romantic comedy and then barked, “I didn’t ask you what America would think. I asked what you thought.” It was the defining lesson of my life. Which brings this back to why I write for myself. America can take it or leave it.