Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Auto-Interview (which has nothing to do with cars)

I've thought it might be interesting to post a blog from time to time where some of our writers were interviewed. But rather than fall into the James Lipton trap where he would always ask his actor interviewees the same questions, I thought it might be more rewarding if the authors could interview themselves. Since Daniel Klein's The History of Now has just been published, without further ado, here is his Auto-Interview:

Walter Ygo: So tell me, Danny, what’s an old guy like you--and I don’t mean just chronologically old, I’m talking dentures, hearing aids, Viagra in the medicine chest old--so what’s an old guy like you doing writing his first literary novel?

Danny Klein: Well, Walter, truth is I wasn’t ready to write something like The History of Now until now because I’m a slow learner. It took me all these years of writing humor, philosophy, detective novels, and thrillers to learn the craft of long fiction. How to organize it, how to write it fluently, and perhaps most importantly for me, how to rewrite it patiently.

Walter: So what’s the deal with Permanent Press? It ain’t exactly Penguin Books, you know. And I can’t imagine they gave you much of an advance.

Danny: How true. The advance just covers a round-trip to Boston (taxes not included.) But these Permanent Press people liked the book for all the right reasons, they got it out before I bit the dust, and the principals there, Marty & Judy Shepard, are cute…Oh, and anyway, Penguin isn’t in the market for new fiction these days. But the good news is that Penguin bought the paperback rights to Tom Cathcart’s and my bestseller, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar for big bucks and then gave us a huge advance for another, Heidegger and a Hippo Walk through those Pearly Gates, so I could afford to go with Permanent.

Walter: I see that you call The History of Now a philosophically inclined novel. That sounds like hype to me. And a little pretentious on top of that.

Danny: Yeah, well, maybe I overdid that philosophy angle in the publicity. But philosophical ideas of historical cause and effect did play an organizing role in my mind when I began thinking about the book. Not heavy philosophy, just a guiding principle. Mostly it’s a story of life in a small town.

Walter: I see you live in a small town--Great Barrington, Massachusetts. So is this a roman a clef?

Danny: Jeez, Walter, are you talking French? Sounds a little pretentious to me. Anyway, no, it’s not a roman a clef--the characters are one hundred percent fictional. The geography and demographics of the town--plus a bit of the history--is patterned after Great Barrington, but not the characters. They could be from any town.

Walter: Okay, they always make me ask this one: Why did you become a writer?

Danny: My mother used to say it was the only work I could get where I could make a living telling lies. That was as close as she ever got to approving of my vocation…What can I say? I like making up stuff, love the English language, and in particular, I like working for myself…Anyway, at my age, it’s the only thing I do better than I did when I was younger. For everything else, it’s the other way around.

Walter: Fair enough. Okay, finally, how would you rate The History of Now in terms of contemporary American fiction?

Danny: It’s probably closer to old fashioned story-telling of the Richard Russo variety than, say, what younger writers are doing, say the late David Foster Wallace. I think it’s well written, for what that is worth, and the characters believable. But do I think people will be reading it years from now? No way, Walter.

Walter: Okay, I’ve had enough.

Danny: Me too.

That's it for Danny's interview, which I hope you've enjoyed. I'd be glad to receive other Q&A interviews from authors we'll soon be publishing (send to Also welcome are any proposals for other formats...or topics you'd like to talk about or have me address.