Jersey City writer Bill Gordon has a lot to be happy about. His book, Mary After All, which received positive reviews, is now out in paperback. (Check out Caren Lissner’s article on the book, on 1/30/2005 at www.hudsoncurrent.com.) The novel, told in first person, follows a woman growing up in Jersey City.
To kick off the paperback edition he has several readings lined up and is working on his second novel. Gordon took time out of his busy schedule for a phone interview, which includes tips for aspiring writers.
Q & A
HC: What’s it like to see your name in print?
BG: It’s just fun to see your work in the stores. The first time I saw my book, my knees buckled.
HC: What are you working on now?
BG: I’m working on a new novel. I’m deeply engrossed in it. If you are really focusing on 1981, you have to tune out. You sit down and let your fingers do the talking.
HC: Is this book also set in Jersey City?
BG: Part of it is set in Jersey City. Hopefully, it will be even better and stronger [than Mary After All.]
HC: When you write, do you write long hand or on the computer?
BG: The truth is, I start a story in long hand – even if it is only one or two pages.
HC: Do you write every day?
BG: I do pretty much, yes, but I try to sometimes take a necessary break. Over the years I think I’ve learned how to judge.
HC: Do you listen to music when you write?
BG: Rarely. And if I do it’s classical. I try to keep things as quiet as possible. There are some people who need background noise to focus. Sometimes I’ll go to the library to have the buzz of people around me. HC: What is the last book you read?
BG: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.
HC: Who is your favorite author?
BG: Daniel Defoe for fiction and George Orwell, for non-fiction and for a living author, Edward Albee. I was probably more inspired to write fiction by the monologues of Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee.
HC: In your opinion, who is the least understood author?
BG: Kathryn Harrison for The Kiss. The Kiss had a brilliant narrative and a great story. I couldn’t believe all the outrageous comments about her book.
HC: What is the easiest thing for you to write about?
BG: I guess the easiest thing for me to write about is something with a strong sense of place and dialogue tends to just fly out of me. You could be writing about the vantage point of Auschwitz, Jersey City, or Mexico. When you can see it you can keep your feet on the ground.
HC: Do you have any advice for writers?
BG: When I talk to people and they tell me something they want to write about, but they are afraid because it will cause trouble – that is what they need to write about. Something that is delicious and disturbing. I wrote a piece for The New York Times Magazine about my shrink dying. Yet when people came up to me to congratulate me, it was painful because it was so close to me.
HC: What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
BG: To stick with it. To write what you are thinking. Don’t worry if it is good enough. I had a teacher at Columbia who told me to break things down into manageable tasks, like two characters in a room for an hour. I’ve followed that in everything. It’s not really glamorous but the result can be.
HC: What are your future goals?
BG: I would like to keep writing and publishing. Would I like to win awards? Sure, but there is only a certain amount of time. I’ve had so many women come up to me [after Mary After All was published] and say that they are Mary or they know Mary. That’s why you write, really.
HC: What inspires you?
BG: Good story telling does. Growing up, I wanted to be in the movies. I wanted to inhabit them for awhile. I hope I can do that for my readers. I’m inspired by the stories that don’t get told. To get under the skin like Carson McCullers. I always thought [McCullers] was whispering one long secret into my ear. A Confederacy of Dunces made me want to write. It somehow brought writing to a level I thought I could attain. What else inspires me? Plainly, I like stories and the telling of them, the opportunity to be part of a line of storytellers. To get my own story down, on paper, out there. I suppose those are among the things that inspire me to write and to keep on writing. Despite all the hard work, the isolation, the time… the too-frequent financial disaster it can cause. Despite anything.
HC: What do you like best about book readings?
BG: I think when the discussion part goes well, there is an exchange. So much of writing is isolating. There are times when you can tell that people are really interested to hear you. It has always been a thrill for me to hear things the way the author intended it.
HC: How do you unwind?
BG: I like to eat pasta and drink wine. I ride my bike in Central Park. I’ve found that most things can wait an hour. I like to swim in the ocean. I like to eat a lot of pasta and drink wine, which is why I need to bike and swim!
Bill Gordon has two readings coming up. The first is at Barnes & Noble in Edgewater on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. The second is at Bluestockings, 172 Allen St., in Manhattan on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. For more information, please visit: www.dialpress.com.