Plus find out why he loves David Sedaris and what inspired him to become a writer.
What was your writing process like for I Look Forward to Hearing from You? Did you have a writing routine or any regular rituals?
For most of the 5 ½ years I’ve spent writing this book, I’ve been working full-time. So I needed to be regimented. As often as I could, I woke up extra early, usually 5 am, to do a couple of hours of writing before the kids got up and I had to help get them ready for school and get myself ready for work.
Many weekends were spent organising blocks of time with my wife, who had her own work.
I am a big believer in blasting out a messy first draft and worrying about getting things right during the editing rounds.
This method, though consistent, was extremely slow.
So when the website I was working on shut down, I took the opportunity to work on my book full-time before finding another job. The pandemic was raging and society was crumbling so it felt like the right thing to do.
Then, just as I was about to run out of savings, I won a lot of money on the US game show Name That Tune.
Writing full-time was very challenging – it is not easy to sit at a desk working on a novel for 8 hours a day. So I didn’t do that. I worked in the morning and the afternoon, for a few hours each. And that seemed to be enough to get the job done.
How did you first come up with the idea for the book?
For a very long time, I’ve been wanting to write a story about the time in my life after my mother died very suddenly in 2002. I didn’t think anyone would be interested, so I never wrote it, but I took a lot of notes. I wrote part of it as a memoir and part of it as a TV show, but neither was working out enough to finish.
I approached my now-agent with an idea for a book about male body image issues. She said no thanks and suggested I write a novel version of that memoir/TV show.
So here we are.
What was your big break into publishing?
If you mean any kind of publishing, I’ve been a writer and editor and journalist for many years.
If you mean book publishing, I had gotten in touch with Radhiah Chowdhury (through a PRH publicist) about another book idea I had and she expressed interest. During the process of working with her on that idea, she asked to see this book.
How long have you been working on this book?
I had been collecting notes on life since my mother’s death in 2002. So the journey technically starts there.
But I started working on this book properly in late 2017.
What was the publishing process like (finding an agent, submitting manuscripts, etc.)?
A friend and former magazine colleague in New York was married to an agent and he told me to send her book ideas if I ever had any.
I finally came up with an idea . . . which she did not like. But she liked this idea and agreed to take a look at chapters. I wrote the chapters and then she signed me.
After the website I was working on shut down, I asked a publicist for PRH if I could send some book ideas to an editor and she put me in touch with Radhi. Radhi liked my idea and agreed to work on it with me. Then she found out I already had a different manuscript. I didn’t think she’d be interested because it was set in the US. But she was.
What most excites you about your book being published in 2023?
This book touches on a lot of serious and important themes and I hope that one or all of them resonate with people in some helpful or cathartic way. The whole point of the book was to explore the idea of how someone comes out of a deep emotional crisis. So if people find some solace or inspiration in the story, that would be exciting.
But I’m probably most excited about the prospect of people laughing. I think it’s really hard to make people laugh, so if readers find the story funny – especially given the sometimes serious subject matter and themes – that would be extremely exciting and satisfying.
Do you have a favourite book or author?
I don’t know what it says about me, but my favourite book for a very long time has been A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
I have yet to read a novel that is as funny and so matches my sensibility as that book.
As for my favourite author, it has to be David Sedaris. He is so popular at this point that that might not be that interesting a choice, but it’s just unavoidable. He has been so consistently good and funny for so long that it’s impossible to choose anyone else at this point.
My favourite book of his is Naked because it is the only time in my life I’ve ever cried from laughing.
What inspired you to become a writer?
At some point, in high school, I discovered that writing could be funny and that there was absolutely nothing better than writing something that makes people laugh.
I didn’t realise it could be done professionally until I read a Dave Barry book. It cracked me up and I knew I wanted to do that, in some form, with my life.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
At first, I wanted to be a lawyer. Until I joined a comedy group in college and wrote for the college paper. Then I wanted to be a writer.
If you could go back in time and give your past self one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Whatever happens, you will be okay.
I used to be very narrowly and singularly focused on a certain kind of success achieved in a certain kind of way.
But I have been successful and unsuccessful (based on my own standard) in a variety of ways. It didn’t happen the way I thought I wanted it to or the way I expected.
And I’m okay.
What is the best writing lesson/ tip you ever received?
'Nobody knows anything.' – William Goldman
It’s probably pretty overused at this point, but I’ve found that to be the most true.
It’s not necessarily comforting, but it leaves you as a writer with only one option: to try. It can be really hard to just try, especially when you think about the actual odds of selling or producing something.
I also always think about an interview with some of the Monty Python guys, who said they just wrote what made them laugh. You have to be funny for yourself before you can be funny for other people (though I suppose anything is possible). Some of the most satisfying lines in the book are the ones that can still make me laugh even though I’ve read them a million times.
Want more? Start reading I Look Forward to Hearing From You here.
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