The Questionnaire: Mark Sarvas

March 15, 2013   •   By The Questionnaire

How do you get up in the morning?

Creakingly, and with a healthy dose of dread.


Do you succumb to nostalgia?

Every now and then… and then I shudder, kick myself and get back to whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing with my life these days.


Do you write long and cut, or short and backfill?

The former. I tend to blather on, so most of my work has to do with stripping out all the throat clearing, warming up and repetition.


How do you feel about your Wikipedia entry?

It’s mostly a dismal reminder of how much there still is to do, and how easy it is to establish a fairly meaningless digital footprint. 


Lunch with any three people who ever lived; who do you invite?

Pablo Picasso, Miles Davis, John Lennon, for destructive, protean types. Or Tom Stoppard, Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill for entertainment.


Best piece of advice you ever received?

John Patrick Shanley once wrote me an autograph that said “Don’t fret.”


Disciplined or hot dog?

Far too disciplined, I’m afraid.  But I fight it, really I do.


Have you ever been defeated by a genre?

We’ll see. I’m trying my hand at YA.


Which classic author would you like to see kicked out of the pantheon?

Kerouac. (Though maybe Pynchon if my friends wouldn’t disown me.)


Are you okay with blood?

It depends. I’m gonna be long winded and perhaps a mite earnest for a second here, but I’ve actually been thinking recently about my distaste for Quentin Tarantino, and it’s to do with precisely this, with his fetishizing of blood and violence with a sort of panting, aroused emptiness that’s really troubling for me. Blood is real: when it flows, someone is injured or dying.  That’s powerful and can be used by a responsible artist in an impactful way. Whereas Tarantino’s films — take the much lauded Inglorious Basterds, which I finally caught up with — are, in essence, a series of masturbatory set pieces. Painfully long build up via all sorts of rococo dialogue (for which, I concede, he has an ear) — the vigorous stroking, if you will — to the, ahem, climactic bloodletting.  You can almost hear the orgiastic sigh when he’s done, the lighting of his post-coital cigarette once the blood has been spilled. That kind of blood, I’m not okay with.


What country would you want to be exiled in?

Sometimes I feel like I am already exiled here in America.


Is your study neat, or, like John Muir’s, is your desk and floor covered in “lateral, medial, and terminal moraines”?

I’m a bit of a neat freak. (See disciplined, above.) But occasionally the piles do heave up and make a tactical advance, at which time I have stop what I’m working on and do a bit of pruning.


What is your go-to shoe?

A pair of taupe Alexander McQueen wingtips that I bust out for special occasions.


What's your poison?

Was cigarettes, which I stopped when my daughter was born, though I continue to long for them, pretty much every day. Now it’s scotch, surely, Highland Park being a current favorite. 


What's your problem?

I’m still seeking my parents’ approval.


Title of the book you’re probably never going to write, but would kind of like to get around to?

My Parents’ Approval.


What are you so afraid of?



Do you require a high thread count?

Require? No. Prefer, enjoy, appreciate. 


Who reads you first?

A small, secret cohort of trusted friends. Then I kill them.


Sexy and dangerous, or brilliant and kind?

Old and tired.


What character or story haunts you?

The character of Judith in Martha Cooley's wonderful novel The Archivist broke my heart and has taken up permanent residence there.  


Does plot matter?

Absolutely. I think it’s absurd to think otherwise. I’m not talking Stephen King here, but the engine of narrative, the need for story, the desire to know “and then what happened?” — these are why people read and why I write.


Does age matter?

I certainly hope not.