Friday, November 4, 2011

Welcome to Jon Reiner, author of The Man Who Couldn't Eat.  I reviewed his book yesterday and I was given the opportunity to send him some questions and here are the answers . . .



1. What do you find yourself rambling about?

I've been accused of treating our living room like the set of a talk show and my family as guests just dying to be enlightened by my unsolicited ramblings.  Hey, now!  If you angle the coffee table just so and fluff the throw pillows on the couch, the room does conjure the look of the old Dick Cavett show, so maybe they've got a point.  You name the subject, and I'm off to the races.  Politics, history, culture, books, music, movies, sports, gossip, more politics, the eccentric genius of Paul McCartney's "Honey Pie" - will it never end?  Fortunately, even in my own home, I get paid by the word.

2. This book The Man Who Couldn't Eat is a memoir and your next book Chutes and Ladders looks to be non-fiction as well, have you ever dabbled in fiction?  What genre would you ever consider publishing in?

The opportunity to publish my memoir happened in the most unlikely way.  The offer was an absolutely mind-bending fluke, and, of course, I said yes and jumped at the chance to make a debut with a major publisher (Simon & Schuster/Gallery).  However, I've studied and been writing fiction for 25 years, so, yes, you could say I've dabbled.  Before I wrote The Man Who Couldn't Eat, I wrote the manuscript of a novel titled Ice-Out.  It received some extremely enthusiastic critical comments such as, "This is a powerhouse of a novel, which is all the more reason that I'm sorry we are declining to publish your book."  On the other hand, Doris Lessing read the manuscript at Philip Glass's invitation - how's that for gratuitous name dropping - and hated it.  I've kept her typewritten letter.  It's so cutting, you can't help but laugh.  Literary fiction is my genre.

3. When becoming an author, did you have any speed bumps along the way?  If so, how did you overcome then?

Speed bumps?  How about the Himalayas?  Rejection, illness, unemployment, poverty, and I was in a real funk for after Larry Sanders went off the air.  Oh, the hardships I have endured.  However, I didn't give up.  It took me all these years to get published, or as my Esquire editor Mark Warren put it, "You almost had to die to get published."  We all suffer for our art, but did mine have to be so literal?  Eventually, when I was presented with a life-changing opportunity to write my story, I was prepared and excited to say yes and believe in my ability to produce a quality manuscript.  Even though I failed for years to break through, and was often discouraged about my situation, psychologically I never quit on myself.  I never stopped believing that I would become a published author, or that I had the talent to do so.  You must have confidence, even arrogance, regarding your ability.  It's a bold action to write a story and send it out for the public to accept or reject.  Writing is not a sport for weaklings.  I prefer to look at all this another way, though.  As John Berryman famously said, "The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him.  At that point, he's in business."

4. What is your favorite part of the writing process?  And why?  (i.e. beginning, middle or end)

Finishing is it's own reward, of course, but it's also illusory.  I never feel that I'm truly finished trying to write perfect sentences.  Even now, I've been on a book tour reading passages of The Man Who Couldn't Eat, and I can't resist the impulse to improve a phrase, or add an idea, which I have done extemporaneously on occasion.  Henry James was motivated to do the same thing, rewriting his published work before he died (and he was a million laughs).  I don't mean to put myself in James's league, but I can understand why he felt inspired to continue reworking his prose.  If you're a writer, you love to write, and I do.  Beginning, middle or end - it doesn't matter.  There's nothing as creatively exciting as having the ideas in your head flow through your fingertips onto the screen.

5. If you could convince anyone to write a memoir, which person's would you want to read?

This will have zero meaning to anyone else, but I'd want to read a memoir written by my paternal grandfather, Jacob Reiner.  It's impossible for many reasons, starting with the fact that he died 20 years before I was born.  He immigrated from a speck-on-the-map in Galicia with no family in the U.S., no money, no education, no language skills, and by first walking across Europe to a steamer in Hamburg.  He was a teenager and had the nerve to get himself halfway around the world.  People like Jake had a courage that was astounding.  I'd like to understand that and have him tell the story.

6. Beyond Chutes and Ladders is there anything else on your plate that you are working on? 

I've written some short fiction in the past year that has wound its way into several stories that interconnect through generations of characters, set in Maine.  The opening story is called Private Way and the second is Straightback '66.  I plan to continue the collection.  I've also been working on a novel for a while that has a title I like: Uncle Moses in the Promised Land.  It's a big story about identity.  I wonder what Doris Lessing would think of it?  Aside from that, I'm also working out in the batting cage, improving the timing of my opposite field swing.  I swear to God, give me a few months, and I can crack the Yankees' lineup when they break camp for the 2012 season.


Thank you so much to Jon Reiner for answering my questions, your smart humor and honest answers were a joy to read and share.


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