The Questionnaire: Matthew Specktor

By The QuestionnaireMay 14, 2012

The Questionnaire: Matthew Specktor

Who is your imagined audience? Does it at all coincide with the real one?

Not until the real one carries me through the streets of a conquered city in a palanquin, or the imagined one stops pelting me with rocks.


How do you know when you're finished?

When they pry the laptop from my cold, dead hands.


Do you feel you have any glaring or secret flaw as a writer?

Too many to mention.


Do you feel you learn anything from criticism of your own work? From criticism in general?

From criticism in general, all sorts of things.  From criticism of my own work, rarely much that I can do anything about.


Do you find rituals or routines of any use?

No, but I perform them constantly.


Is there such a thing as a literary community?

Yes.  Unfortunately, it's just as problematic and fraught as all the other communities.


Has the conceit of The American Novelist has changed in your lifetime?

No.  The American Novelist, whoever s/he is, still won't return my calls.  Snob.


Drug of choice to write with?

A carefully administered mixture of espresso and whiskey, taken eight hours apart.


Drug of choice to stop writing?



Disciplined or hot dog?

Hot, disciplined dog.  With relish.


Your ideal reader?

Like me, only better looking and more awake.


Best piece of writing advice you ever received?



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

All of them.  But only so we can move them to the Parthenon.


What's your favorite negative emotion?

Lust for revenge.


Los Angeles: idea or city?

Ideal city.


Can you listen to music while writing? (If so, what?)

Drones, tones.  "Three chords good, two chords better, one chord best."


Most hated word?



What is your go-to shoe?

Prada boots with Cuban-heels.


Have you ever been defeated by a genre?

Noir and I are in extra innings of a scoreless tie.  We've been playing since 1986, but I'm unwilling to say 'defeated' just yet.


At what age, if ever, did you begin to think of yourself as a writer?

At precisely the same age I began to think of my "self" at all.


What's your problem?

Whaddya got?


Are you okay with blood?

I'd say more than okay...


What is voice?

A reckless disregard for etiquette.


How long can you go without putting paw to keyboard?

Almost exactly as long as I can go without masturbation


Who reads you first?

A blind panel employed by Pricewaterhouse Cooper.  Otherwise, whichever of about three people calls me back the fastest. 


Who is the author you'd most like to impersonate online?

Colette.  Or maybe that guy who wrote the essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books about Michiko Kakutani's Twitter impersonator.


Any librarian fantasies?

Fantasies?  I dated a librarian once, and I'm not talking.


How old do you have to be to write a great novel?

I'd say 85.  Bearing in mind that in Los Angeles, 75 is the new 20.


What character or story haunts you?

Daniel Deronda, Thomas Fowler (The Quiet American), Nedra and Viri Berland, Tod Hackett, Moses Herzog, Achilles, Mickey Sabbath, Emma Bovary, Lambert Strether...all of them, really.


Title of the unpublished novel that sits in your drawer?

True Soldier of Love


What makes great literature great?

What makes smoke smoky?  (I suppose the answer is the same in both cases: fire, combustibility, and a certain carcinogenic quality.)


Does plot matter?

Does it 'matter?'  No, but I can't imagine any literature without shapeliness.


Foursome from the past for lunch:  who would it be?

'68 Warren Beatty and two women chosen at random from his address book.  Or else Isaac Newton, Henry James and A.C. Green.


You get to start over:  what do you do?



LARB Contributor

The Questionnaire is, as her name suggests, a multifarious and mysterious interlocutor. Chameleon-like, her questions change their color as they approach each new interviewee.


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