Editors at Believer magazine present an eclectic series of interviews.
Some of the writers are household names—at least in the households of serious readers: Don DeLillo, Paula Fox, Maureen Howard, Will Self and Joan Didion among them. Others in the collection are known more to the literati or to small legions of zealous fans. But all have provocative things to say about writing, reading and readers, and most of the conversations are amiable, although Julie Hecht comes off as curmudgeonly and caustic at times. Several of the writers talk about their writing spaces and processes, and several say they write either longhand (Mary Gaitskill) or on a typewriter (Barry Hannah, Joy Williams). Virtually all of them reveal their biases and/or idiosyncrasies. Gary Lutz talks passionately about commas (he likes their precision); Chimomanda Ngoza Adichie points out the power of storytelling; Michael Ondaatje says he never thinks about an audience. Although most of the writers have nothing ill to say of their colleagues, Sarah Schulman zings Rick Moody and Jeffrey Eugenides (among others) but expresses gratitude to Grace Paley, Tillie Olsen and Edmund White for career help. In the whatever-happened-to category, Bruce Jay Friedman, now in his 80s, appears to wax wise and express gentle humility: “I’m really surprised by how little I know,” he says. A number of the authors complain about the demands of teaching and about the reluctance of writing students to read, and very few issue canned comments—though Mark Leyner’s “Fate is the primordial plot device” could qualify.
A motley assortment of writers eloquently demonstrate that there is no single “writing process”; there are myriad.