Books Sedari-tastic: the Unedited Version
posted by July 24 at 11:35 AMon
Last week’s books lead, Steven Blum’s interview with David Sedaris, was a lot of fun to read. But people have asked: If Blum talked with Sedaris for an hour and a half, where the hell is the rest of the interview?
The answer: The whole goddamned thing is after the jump. It’s a long interview, but it’s totally worth your lunchtime attention. Topics discussed include why Matt Damon is like an iPod, whether Stephanie is a good name for a donkey, and the fact that not everyone thinks that Abraham Lincoln calling friendship a cancer is funny.
What do you learn about your stories when you read them to strangers?
I can tell if people are listening are not. Itís funny how that works, you know, and maybe itís a creaking of chairs. Itís not just the sounds people make when theyíre bored or tired, you can actually tell when people are listening and not listening. I read a story the other day and I knew it wasnít terribly funny so I wasnít expecting big laughs but I was happy that people were listening either way. And then sometimes you can hear. When you read something on a stage you can tell, oh Iíve already said that or thatís unnecessary or oh thatís true but it doesnít sound true or oh thatís not true but it still doesnít sound true. Just certain things, when I hear myself read it out loud I can understand it much more clearly.
Whatís the question youíve been waiting for an interviewer to ask?
How much money I have. I always want to be asked that. And especially when I go to colleges, and especially in America you know youíre allowed to ask how much money I make and Iím surprised that no oneís asked me. That said, I wouldnít answer if you did.
So, how much money do you have, Mr. Sedaris?
Oh, more than I used to, thatís what Iíd say. Or, ďoh around what some people make.Ē But Iím curious about things like that. Like how much money does an astronaut make? Do you have any idea how much money someone makes for going into space? I donít have a clue. Iíd love to know though.
What was your favorite book tour audience?
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, because it was just one surprise after another. You know, a woman comes up and you say ĎWhat did you get for motherís day?í ĎOh, two donkeys.í Two donkeys! And then she says, ďIím wondering if youíd name them for me.Ē And I donít remember what I named the first one but I named the second one Stephanie. Not to blow my own horn but thatís such a good name for a donkey. Stephanie! (Bawdy laughter, then giggling). Or maybe she said mule. Is there a difference between a donkey and a mule? I think she said mule. But I love that you would then talk about it like, ďStephanie, sheís just so stubborn, I mean sheís nice but sheís just so stubborn. Itís one thing to be head-strong but that Stephanie is just stubborn.Ē And there was just a lot of that in Baton Rouge. I was just surprised a lot. So in Baton Rouge I did a reading and then I was sitting on my ass for nine hours. Iíve never, in my life signed books for that long. But the peopleóthey would wait for me. They would work for eight hours and then for this book night, theyíd put in ten. So I read for an hour and then I signed for nine hours. You know itís my own fault because I run my mouth but they were just really interesting people I thought. Itís a good kind of a place to do a reading. Like Tulsa. Because, you know, they would love to attend a book tour but no one ever comes. It makes more sense to go there than, you know, to go to a lot of other cities where people have a reading every day of the week. I had a wonderful time there.
What books do you read?
Right now Iím reading a gudebook on Rio because Iím going to Brasil for my South American book tour and I have two days off in Rio. Before that I read Our Story Ends by Tobias Wolff. And before that I read Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates and before that I read No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and before that I read a book called The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton. I donít know how I didnít read How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen but thatís what Iím reading next. I love that guy. Kinda hard to read sometimes when Iím working on things. When I have a lot of deadlines because, you know, Iím so influenced by what I read. But now I love books on tape. Do you ever listen to books on tape? I love iPods. You know, Iím a technophobe so I donít know how to download music but I love to take a CD and put it in my computer and then put it in my iPod. Absolutely. I donít think anyone but me understands how handsome Matt Damon is. Right? I mean some other people might think heís cute but they donít understand the way Matt Damon looks the way that I do. Just like no one can appreciate an iPod as much as I do. Iím convinced of that. Isnít it interesting how that works? That without meaning to a person or a product can speak to you in that way. Like, why do I think no one understands how good looking Matt Damon is than me? Why do I think that? Iíve never met Matt Damon. But Iím convinced of that.
I went on Matt Damonís website, I Met Matt, and it was people saying ďOh my God I met Matt Damon and he shook my handĒ and ď Oh my God I met Matt Damon and he is so cuteĒ and I look at that and I think ďYou donít know what cute is. You donít know. If thatís the only word you can come up with for Matt Damon, thatís pathetic. Like, you donít understand the essence of Matt Damon. That word doesnít even begin to describe him. I mean if I have a vice itís certainly not Matt Damon so why does he speak to me so clearly? Like Hughís father. He was talking about Matt Damon in a movie and he said, ďoh heís just you know a pretty boy and they needed a body for that roleĒ and I said, ďMatt Damon is what? Heís just a what?Ē And I think heís a good actor. And I donít want to hear anything bad about Matt Damonís friends either. I thought Gone Baby Gone was a good movie.
Today I went to the Apple store and I saw those touch iPods but I think thatís too complicated for me.
Do you have any stalkers?
No. There was a woman last week and you know if someone calls themselves a stalker theyíre not a real stalker. But there was this woman who drove, she came to two or three cities, and I guess sheíd leave right after the reading and get in her car and drive to the next one. She was at my hotel in Denver and I had no idea how she got the address for it But again: if someone calls themselves a stalker then theyíre probably not a stalker. Theyíre probably just a nice person.
When are you going to write fiction?
Well, in Barrel Fever thereís a lot of fiction. And Iím writing a book on animals and there are a lot of fables. But I was wondering if I could get that date moved. With animals, it can be harder to write about them, especially when theyíre talking. With humans you can refer to them by their name, or their occupation, or you can just say ďshe.Ē But with animals, you have to write, like, ďthe seal and the chipmunk went to lunchĒ and every time you have to call them ďthe seal and the chipmunk. ĒIt gets very repetitive. If I was talking about you I could say, Steve the college student, the journalist, the Washington state resident. Your name is Steve right?
Steven. None of this Steve nonsense. Would you ever like someone to call you Dave?
Daves are different from Davids. David Letterman doesnít care if people call him Dave or David but heís the only one that I know of like that. I donít like to write either when I sign books, though. Recently, instead of signing my name, Iíve been drawing little things in peopleís books. You know, just little mementos. Like, Iíve been drawing these old-timey signs and on them I write ďAbortions: three dollars.Ē And I just think Iím hilarious. Sometimes Iíll draw a little knot in the sign to make it look even more quaint. I donít know why that makes me so happy. This woman, she introduced herself by saying she was very liberal, but she just didnít want the abortion sign in the front jacket of her new book. So, I asked her, Ďwhat if I changed it to thirteen dollars [for an abortion]?í Again, I have no idea why that makes me so happy. I used to draw Abe Lincoln with a bubble coming out of his mouth that says ďfriendship is a cancerĒ or an owl saying ďI like black people.Ē This is what happens when youíve been signing books for nine hours.
How do you feel about blogs?
The whole concept is very new to me. I was in St. Louis and my publicist said there were a lot of bloggers at my reading and that they were blogging about meeting me, and I guess Iím just not used to it. So itís like a diary? But I thought the whole point of a diary was that it was private. Like, Iím going to write about this interview in my diary, but no one is going to see it except for me. Wouldnít you want to revise something before putting it on a blog? I donít show my first draft to my editor at the New Yorker. Heíd likely decline the story. I usually give him my seventh draft. Then we work through three more drafts before Iím happy with it. But then again, what do I know? Iím old.
Do you have an audience in mind when you write?
No. I meet people on my tour but I have no idea how to pander to them. Like, I think writing ďAbortions: three dollarsĒ in peopleís books is funny, but not everybody likes that. I heard this story recently about a grandmother who fell off her lawnmower and it chopped off pieces of her butt, and her arms and legs, and I just thought that the visual was hilarious. But, not every crowd would go for that. So, itís hard to have an audience in mind when you have no idea what will go well and what wonít go well.
What does your first draft look like?
Well itís like fifteen pages and it has all these tumors attached to it. There are things you write that make more sense aloud than on page. There are times you wake up and you think, ďI had a bad review in the New York Times book section todayĒ but then you remind yourself that you were recently published in the New Yorker and if thereís something you donít like in the New Yorker thatís a problem with you, not the New Yorker. They donít do favors for writers.
Do you ever write when youíre stoned?
I quit smoking pot nine years ago. I havenít waked and baked since college. It used to be that if I was sick, Iíd get high, if someone needed to take my picture, Iíd get high. But I think I was hypercritical of my writing when I was high. I mean, Iíd love to get high and just stare at the cover of my book and feel it against my fingers, I think thatíd be really great since I really like the cover drawing, and Iíd probably just sit there stroking it saying ďoh my God, oh my God.Ē Or it would be fun to get high and walk by a bookstore and see it sitting on a shelf and think, ďThatís my book!Ē But if I say Iíll get high just this once, well, itís better to just quit and stay quit.
Do you want children?
I want grandchildren. I donít want children. I have a friend who just adopted a three-year-old and I get tired just watching the child. And Iím 51, so Iíd be dead by the time my child was ten. Iím going to die at age 62. Iím going to die in 10 years. I used to think if I had a child heíd be in third grade but if I had a child heíd be like 28.
Anything interesting happen on the plane ride here?
The woman behind me turned and said she tried to come to my reading and asked if I could sign her book. But, the other day, when I was in Tulsa, they made an announcement that soldiers were on the plane who had been in Iraq fighting the war against terror, and that we should pray for their safe journey home. You donít ever want to hear the word pray from a flight attendant. Iím dying to think of some other plane story to tell you. Oh, hereís a good one: I met a flight attendant and she taught me a new word. She said, ďUs flight attendants- we get so gassy on the airplane we end up farting as weíre going up and down the aisles of the plane. We call that Ďcrop dusting.íĒ She also said a flight attendant way of saying go fuck yourself is ďIíll be right back.Ē And then this male flight attendant told me, when he was angry with the way people on the plane were treating him, heíd go up and down the aisles saying, ďYouíre trash, youíre trash, youíre trash.Ē You can learn a lot from flight attendants.
How do you feel about people calling you a comedian?
When you have a piece of paper in your hand, itís a completely different thing. I write comic essays but Iím not a comedian. I actually look forward to the Q and A because I donít have to be reading. It feels good to read but I wouldnít last two minutes in a comedy club. Iíd be booed off stage. So, Iím not a comedian. But sometimes itís hard to explain that you care about the writing part; thereís a rhythm to the sentences. You donít get the respect that a regular writer would.
What have you done in Seattle?
I went right from the airport to a radio interview then to another radio interview then to Amazon.com, so I havenít gotten to do much in the city yet. But I have a friend I met here. I met her when I came here on my book tour and she laughed during my reading, and she just had this incredibly distinctive laugh. At the end of the reading, I asked for ďthe woman with the laughĒ to stay afterwards, and we met and talked. And usually Iíll see her when I visit Seattle and weíll go out for dinner. Sheís very nice. You have a little more time on a lecture tour and I donít seem to have two minutes on this tour. I donít know that Iíve ever had a day off in Seattle. I went to the Flying Fish restaurant and I liked that. Normally you donít get to eat. Iíve been eating things in front of people, like while Iím signing theyíre book, and sometimes, if Iím eating a burger, Iíll get stains all over someoneís book jacket. I had a wrap the other day while signing books, which is smarter because itís less messy.
How does Hugh feel about the way heís represented in your book?
Iíll say to Hugh, ďyouíre in this storyĒ and he wonít want to read it until itís in the New Yorker. Heís a very practical person and when he does something out of character I donít want to write about it and he knows I wouldnít take something out of context. Heís a straight man, very logical and practical, because you donít want two people like me in a relationship. He actually wants to figure out subway maps and look up street addresses. If I said I was going to go out now and plant a vegetable garden, he would fight me over it.
Does it ever take time for the humor of a situation to reveal itself?
Yeah, yeah but thatís the good thing about writing, you think, ďOk I can turn this around someday. Maybe not today.Ē Thereís a story in the book in which I wound up in a waiting room, in France, in my underpants. And everybody else had their clothes on. It was like a bad dream. Iím not comfortable that way. Like, I donít walk around the house barefoot, I mean I take my clothes off to go into the bathtub and then I put them back on. So it was not ok for me to be in my underpants, but I thought, ďone day, I bet I can write about this.Ē
How long did you take to write about it?
UhÖ.six years. I tried to write about it before. But sometimes you need a certain distance from a story before you can write about it. I wrote about it in a different context, I wrote a piece about health care in france and I included it, but because it was more like an essay, but with the underpants thing, like this long story, attached to it, it didnít really make sense.
What would have to happen to you in Seattle for you to write a short story about your time here?
Oh, any number of things. I mean, I had some laundry sent out and theyíre going to return it so I could be up in my room and I could be getting out of the bathtub and someone could be coming in with my laundry and that would be pretty bad so I could write about that. Letís seeÖthere could be a fire at the hotel. Somebody could punch me at the reading tonight, or throw something at me, or vomit on me. Iím still holding out hope. But, you know, it doesnít have to be a big thing. You know, every day I get up and I write in my diary and I think, what was the biggest thing that happened to me yesterday. Ok, what was yesterdayís lead story? What was yesterday all about? I remember a day last week when I signed books for like nine hours and then something good happened that day like I found out my book was selling well, but what that day was to me was there was a guy with Downs Syndrome on the plane and he was either with his dad or grand dad who was seated across the aisle from me and he was so profoundly retarded that it didnít matter to him that the shade was up or down. You know what I mean? He wasnít like ĎOh I canít believe weíre on a plane!Ē He was like this: (Hangs his jaw and slumps his shoulders). And he had his hands like covering, he had like really big hands and he had a mustache and it broke my heart, it just broke my heart and the man he was with who was either his dad or his grand dad, they didnít say a word to each other, and they were across the aisle from me on the plane. And I saw him at the baggage claim holding another manís hand and I thought well maybe thatís his dad, and the other manís his grand dad, but he didnít look like he wasnít thinking ďOh, baggage claim.Ē Like it was like a cow was at the baggage claim. Like he didnít think like oh that suitcase has gone around three times because he wouldnít even know what the baggage claim is, and I could notÖthat was what that day was to me. And you know nothing happened, so it doesnít have to be anything big.
What kind of advice would you give to all the literary kids?
Iíd just say, you know, to write every day and to leave the other part to somebody else. Iíve been surprised by the number of people who have given me their writing on this trip. You know, and they want me to respond to them and I would never do that. I wouldnít do it when I was twenty, I wouldnít do it when I was thirty, and I wouldnít do it now. I was always told that you just work as hard as you can every day and when the timing is right someone will ask you, ĎCan I read what youíve written?í and thatís what happened to me and if it can happen to me it can happen to anybody.