My wife has been incredibly
supportive of me as a writer. Trying really hard to make sure I get
the space and time I need to work as a writer and being willing to make
some of the sacrifices that you have to make to live the life of an
artist. Like, for instance, she has a real job. If I think of a reader
while I am writing, the only reader who really matters for me is my
wife. It’s most important to me that she likes what I write.
What is the first thing
you wrote that made you realize you could be a writer?
I think that I always kind
of thought, Oh, I am a pretty good writer. But it hasn’t been that
long that I actually realized there is a difference between writing
and working at writing. And that it makes a difference. I think in the
last couple of years I have become a better writer. The moment where
I thought, Oh I could do this, was when I brought in an early draft
of the story “Touch” to my wife. “Touch” was printed originally
in Tin House and then reprinted in the O. Henry Prize Stories
2008. We had just hired a babysitter to come in twice a week, so
I had been going out to a coffee shop and trying to crank out as much
as I could. And it really made a difference, this feeling that I was
actually paying somebody so that I could write. So I brought in this
draft to my wife, and I went off to do something else in the house,
to do some chore, and I came back 15 or 20 minutes later. And I walked
into our living room, and she is sobbing on the couch. And my immediate
response was, “Oh my God, what’s wrong, did somebody die?” And
it was from the story. She read the story and started crying. And that
was the moment when I thought, OK, I think that is a good sign. Actually,
I think I asked, “Is that a good thing that you’re crying?” And
I think there was probably a little piece of me that was thinking, Did
I just waste all that babysitting money?
Do you have any rituals
related to your writing?
Well, I worked for a while
as a journalist doing freelance and at community newspapers, and I realized
that as a journalist, if you haven’t finished your work by the time
the deadline comes, you get fired. I learned that when I have to write,
I have to write. And with the young kids, I was a stay-at-home father,
and I was paying somebody to come in to give me time to write. And the
first day I went out and I didn’t get anything done, and I had to
go home and hand over cash to a babysitter to pay for essentially the
privilege of sitting in front of a screen for two hours and doing nothing,
which made me realize that I couldn’t afford to waste that time. So
I try to be pretty good about getting my butt in the chair and working.
Some days are better than others.
If you were not a writer,
what would you do?
I would be tempted to teach
kindergarten or first grade, but the primary thing that I would love
to do, and I would love to do now as a writer, is to teach creative
writing. I taught creative writing at Cornell, and I think I am good
at teaching it, but also it is tremendously fun. One of the most satisfying
things you can do is help somebody who doesn’t get a concept, help
figure out a way to explain that concept to them in such a way that
they can hear what you are saying. You always get students who understand
everything right away, but it’s really satisfying when you have students
who don’t necessarily get everything the first time and you need to
figure out how to change what you’re saying so they can hear it. I
have found it to be one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.