No. Printed out and hidden at the bottom of a box in the storage room off the garage?
Hell, yes. One comes to mind in particular. I wrote a book about a trip I took to Oaxaca. My mother had died of cancer the year before (I was 24, she was 48). A year before she died – when she suspected the cancer had metastasized, but none of us knew -- she traveled to Mexico for six months and found her peace with things. Days before she died, she made me promise I’d go to Oaxaca. She told me I had to go and experience what she had seen. Afterwards I found a box under the bed she had died in. Inside the box were all these maps and diaries and receipts from her trip. She had left me maps of the city with x’s literally marking the spots she had visited!
It took me a year, and then I went to Oaxaca and retraced her steps. I wrote a book about it. But it didn’t work. I still don’t really know why. I should dig it up and look at it. I let it sit for a year or two, and then I re-imagined the entire story as fiction. I added a murder. Now the mother hadn’t died of cancer, she had vanished while on vacation in Oaxaca with her ten-year-old daughter. Twenty years later, the daughter returns to find out what had happened to her mother. The fucking thing still didn’t work! I rewrote it a few times. My agent didn’t like it and really couldn’t tell me why. Probably it had something to do with my total lack of fiction writing skills, lousy understanding of point of view and seeming inability to flesh out a scene properly. I’m just guessing. Anyway, I’ve learned a lot since then. And now you’ve got me thinking about that book again. You know what it probably needs? More sex and gore.
-->Is it still exciting to publish a new book even after all this time?
Ha! That makes me sound so old and grizzled. Yes. It’s still a total thrill. Let me be clear. It’s exciting to get the book in the mail – over-nighted from New York, hot off the presses. An object in the world! With my name on it! Straight from my imagination! How incredibly awesome is that? It is less exciting that first week when everyone else gets to read it. Then it is just very, very stressful. I worry so much about my publisher being happy with sales numbers and getting the right reviews and people showing up to my events, that it tends to overshadow the abject thrill of the moment.
-->Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind when you need one?
I keep a stew of ideas bubbling on the stove. When I need one, I can go over and dip a spoon in. I don’t often write down ideas – I figure that if they’re any good I’ll remember them. But I will write down something if it comes to me and it’s the piece that I’ve been flailing for, that perfect fix for the third act. And sometimes when I’m writing a scene I’ll get a flash of a concept for a future scene, and I don’t want to leave the scene I’ve got playing in my head, so I’ll write down the idea just to get it out of there, so I can concentrate on the moment in front of me.
-->Do you have entire story arcs mapped out when you begin a trilogy or a series of related books?
The entire story? No. But I think I have more mapped out than people think I do. I know the arc of the relationships between characters. And more importantly, I know what’s happened before now – the stuff that made them who they are, the stuff that went down before the books even started – that’s what I’m interested in. So each book reveals something about the past. It’s the past that moves the story forward.
-->Do you know how a book/series is going to end when you begin it?
Yes and no. I will know what has to happen ultimately. But I will not have worked out every way to get there. There has to be some discovery process, or it’s just filling in an outline. I like throwing characters into a situation and then having to figure out how to get them all out of it. It’s exciting.
-->Is there any kind of book you would like to write but haven't?
Let’s see. I’ve done a memoir, an anthology, illustrated humor books, a How-To book, a parody, and now a series of thrillers. I think I’m set, thank you.
-->If you could change anything about your writing career, what would it be?
You know, things have worked out pretty nicely. I wouldn’t want to change anything for fear of jinxing it.
-->If you could have written any single work – novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography – that you most admire and adore, what would it be?
“Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life” by Maurice Sendak. What does it say about me that the answer to this question is a children’s book? I loved this book when I was a kid. I have reread it often. Now I read it to my daughter. And it holds up! Unlike, say, Amelia Bedelia, or some of the other books I cherished as a kid.
“Higglety Pigglety Pop!” tells the story of Jenny, a small dog who gives up the comforts of her home to fulfill her dreams of becoming an actress. It’s not easy. She suffers much. And in the end, she has lost all of the objects she thought important, but she is happy because she is doing what she loves (as an ensemble player for The World Mother Goose Theatre). It’s such a great lesson for kids, for any of us--following a creative path is hard, it means sacrificing safety and succor, but if it’s where your heart is, it will be worth it. I would also gladly give up all my books to have written a single poem by Mary Oliver.
-->Anything you’ve always wanted to be asked about your writing but no one ever has?
I’m a little disappointed that I don’t get more flack for contributing so enthusiastically to the culture of violence. There is so much fear in our society, fanned by the 24-hour news cycle, violence in pop culture, and an economic system that uses fear to sell us shit to make us feel safer. I can defend myself from this flack. I have answers all worked out. But while the graphic nature of my books is always part of the discussion, no one ever calls me out from that perspective.