Age and occupation. How long have you lived here, where did you come from, and where do you live now?
Im 24, and I guess I should say something succinct like "novelist/journalist" but for the most part I dont feel as if I have an "occupation" so much as a "sometimes funny, sometimes malicious joke that sporadically produces checks." That said, those checks are more often than not marked with the logos of gigantic, vague corporations, so who the hell am I kidding? I just keep waiting for some grimly authoritative adult to come along and give me detention for the rest of my life, which is about where things felt before I came to New York.
And which leads to the second half of your question.
Ive lived in here for 7 years--was in college for the first three--by way of Rockville, Maryland, a suburb that looks like everywhere else. Home these days is Brooklyn: moved to Williamsburg two years ago, at the precise moment it became clear that it was officially lame.
Three for You
1. Your debut novel, IMPORTANT THINGS THAT DON'T MATTER, was heralded as a wonder written by a 21-year old. Thinking about the works of Zadie Smith and Jonathon Safran-Foer, as well as living in today's world where kids are forced to grow-up earlier, should we no longer be surprised that someone so young can write fiction which seems well beyond their years and experience?
Damn, is it possible to answer this one without sounding like an ass? Lets see...
To begin: Im not much of a literary historian, though it seems like people have been publishing works at young ages for a while now. Stephen Crane was young. Fitzgerald was young. So was Mailer. So was Amis. So was McCullers. So was Jonathan Ames and Jim Shepard. And Ellis and McInerney. And Chabon. And Richard Price, too. I could keep going, but I think the point is there: that its not so much of a "trend," no matter what the New York Times Sunday Styles section says every 2.8 years. Maybe its that culture today, and the media in particular, is somewhat hyperactive in its fetishization of youth, so we really zero in on it with a new kind of intensity. And, actually, maybe that has to do with the fact that people grow up faster--which I do believe is true, at least in many cases--and therefore feel old faster, and so with misplaced nostalgia they feast on the young with joy and anguish. Or something like that.
On that note: Its funny, because before Id even written my novel I thought a lot about this notion of kids being forced to grow up earlier, and how that affects fiction, and if theres anything there I think its this: Kids are savvier, sure. Primarily because they know at an earlier age that the adult world--whether its their parents relationship or a gigantic publishing conglomerate--is bogus and corrupt, propelled by the same random, undiplomatic forces as a recess playground, and therefore not so intimidating. Its silly. Its great. Its awful. Its senseless. Its incredible. So perhaps theyre more willing to send in manuscripts earlier, and take rejection more as a sign as some clueless older persons ineptitude than their own lack of talent. For better or worse.
So should we not be surprised? Whats the alternative? Being jaded? Pissed off? Bored? If so: I vote for surprised. I mean, when I listen to an early Dylan record, or watch Lebron James play basketball, I cant help but think: So, so young! So beautiful! Oh, how I hate that fucker and wish I knew him better!
2. How much of this book is autobiographical and how difficult was it to write?
Well, it took about nine months to write and revise, but Id spent ten years prior interviewing young boys from across America, feeding my findings into a self-designed computer program, the specifics of which I could tell you about only if you allowed me to kill you afterward. Anyway, the result was an Everyman protagonist that, uniquely, fed off of real lives while being completely disjointed from any specific reality.
I know, I know. I dont meant to be evasive, or hide behind jokes that really arent so clever, its just that Ive never figured out how to answer this question, and, strangely, it becomes harder to answer now that the book is a year old (three years for me). But here goes: I wanted to write a novel that felt raw, and personal, that was a kind of portrait of vulnerability as much a story about a life. In that sense, I really wanted it to feel autobiographical, because most of the books I love are like that. Still, to graph out the various vectors where my life and those of the books narrators intersect misses the point. I firmly believe that novels arent meant to be written as a means of sanctifying or demonizing real people (I wasnt trying to), but to nail (or at least graze) some kind emotional and social truthsin my case, truths about how growing up in a fragmented world shapes someones understanding of sex and (to use an awful pop-psychology word) intimacy.
So, if you happen to run into my family, please tell them this. I no longer speak to them, what with the restraining orders and all.
3. During college, you worked at The New Yorker and New York magazine. Can you compare and contrast the two experiences?
I see what youre doing: not only are you trying to get me fired, but you want to make sure I never work in this profession again. Thats what I get for not grasping the responsibilities inherent in having an occupation!
Okay, enough. For a while I worshipped The New Yorker. I mean, I had a serious condition: I used to stand outside of [founding editor] Harold Rosss townhouse on 47th Street and just stare, which I probably shouldnt admit. Then I got a half-internship, half-job thingy in the promotions department, where I did things like make "literary" fruit baskets for advertisers (e.g. the ingredients slyly referenced iconic articles). It was often fun. Always interesting. And I got to go to the magazines Christmas party, where I stood alone in the corner drinking too much and pretending to know who George Plimpton was until a bouncer told me it was time to go. Still, I wasnt exactly an integral component to the editorial process, namely because I never got to work in editorial, which had its limitations.
New York, on the other hand, has been frenzied and unpredictable and invigorating and frustrating and awesome from day one, which is kind of what I longed for with a media job. I applied for a remedial internship and ended up, because of series of flukes, as a reporter on the gossip column, which will forever be right up there with Lifes Most Peculiar Experiences, going from class to office to movie premiere to dorm room on a daily basis. It was like a crash course in a New York I never knew existed. Id never really heard of the magazine before I started working there--I was 19, a proud product of stripmall culture, so forgive me my current bosses!--which made it really exciting, because I was able to define the magazine in my own terms and not as some sort of intimidating historical entity. Also, in some form or another, Ive been writing for the magazine since day one, and really get to feel part of it, which is perfectly frightening and thrilling.
Time travel question: What era, day or event in New York's history would you like to re-live?
A 1970s morning in an East Village apartment in which I roll over in bed to see Debbie Harry lighting the first cigarette of the day.
9pm, Wednesday night - what are you doing?
Playing pool somewhere dark, telling myself its okay to order one, maybe two, more.
What's your New York motto?
"Are you gonna finish that? Because Im still a little hungry..."
Best celebrity sighting in New York, or personal experience with one if you're that type.
Once, I ended up going out to the Corner Bistro with Alicia Silverstone and her boyfriend. I was interviewing her at the premiere party for "Loves Labours Lost," and we all got along. She borrowed $40 from Harvey Weinstein, which killed me. The whole moment was especially surreal for me because I was only 19, and it seemed like just a few minutes before that my friends and I were rushing home from middle school to watch those Aerosmith videos she was in. Fortunately, I knew better than to share this with her.
Just after midnight on a Saturday - what are you doing?
Something Ill pay for later.
Where do you summer?
I have this great, charming little place in Williamsburg.
What happened the last time you went to L.A.?
My mother and I saw "A League of Their Own." I was eleven.
Medication: What and how much do you take?
None. (And thats not denial.)
Of all the movies made about (or highly associated with) New York, what role would you have liked to be cast in?
Mark Ruffalos character in "You Can Count on Me." The directors a New Yorker, so that counts, right?
The End of The World is finally happening. What are you going to do with your last 24 hours in NYC?
Asking for directions to the orgy, then getting lost.