You heard it here: Dave Eggers” book reading tonight at the Michigan League is the hottest ticket in town.
True, it”s not every day that the phrases “book reading” and “hottest ticket in town” are used together in the same statement, but then, it”s not every day that the visiting author in question is responsible for arguably the literary sensation of the last year.
Eggers” debut effort, the inspiringly clever “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” won rave reviews and book-of-the-year awards from seemingly every publication this side of Popular Mechanic, casting the 30-year-old writer and his current project, the neo-lit journal McSweeney”s into the spotlight of national recognition.
With the Vintage Books release of the paperback version of “A.H.W.O.S.G.” (which includes a special new appendix slyly titled “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making”), Eggers recently took to the high road for a cross-country book tour. Somewhere between St. Louis and Kansas City, he took a moment to answer some questions about his approach to writing, the effects of fame and L.A. Lakers superfan Dyan Cannon.
The Michigan Daily: Since VH1 has yet to produce a “Visiting Authors: Behind the Readings” series, what is the average day like during one of these book tours? Is it just total The-Who-banished-from-Holiday Inn debauchery?
Dave Eggers: Absolutely. It totally lives up to what we all imagine author tours are like.
TMD: Giving a reading must be a lot like doing stand-up: Do you enjoy the performance aspect?
DE: I do, most of the time. And you”re right, it”s a lot like standup, especially when you”re trying to keep these events kind of fun. Of course, there are writers who are more confident of their work they can just get up and read from their books. But I”m forced to try to distract everyone.
TMD: In terms of the actual reading, do you feel more akin to, say, a Phish or a U2? In other words, do you change things up/improvise every night in order to keep things fun, or are there crowd favorites that you make sure to bring up, night in and night out?
DE: Every night is pretty different, because my attention span is very poor with these things. I usually do something like tonight, when we”re having two doctors debate the properties of itching once to try it out, then a second time to get it right. Then we move on.
TMD: In working on the book, did you have any set patterns that you followed, or did the creative process change a lot? Slow and steady, 9 to 5, or feverish, late-night inspiration?
DE: Very streaky. I write late at night, usually midnight to five, but sometimes I stay up all night stalling, painting pictures of bananas.
TMD: Did you ever find yourself holding onto a bit or section that, deep down inside, you knew didn”t really fit? How was it resolved?
DE: I usually leave things in even if a part of me wonders if it really belongs. I have a hard time cutting sections out I sort of prefer a looser structure to something more ordered and careful, maybe because it excuses me from making hard decisions.
TMD: Did you ever have any moments while writing when you simply made yourself laugh out loud, sort of a “Man, this really is some funny shit!” realization?
DE: That happens a lot. I sit there and think I”m hilarious, but the next day I read what I”ve written and can”t find the humor. I”d say every hundred things I think are funny actually make me laugh the second time around.
TMD: During the writing, what type of audience if any did you visualize for the book? I mean, did you ever begin to feel as if you were writing for a certain group/individual, i.e. “Oh man, so-and-so is just going to love this part.”
DE: I was writing mostly for people who like, in their literature, liberal usage of the word “motherfucker.”
TMD: In newspaper or magazine journalism, you get that satisfaction of seeing your work come to life on the page fairly quickly. Was it at all a trying experience putting the book together knowing that the gratification would be so much longer in coming?
DE: Absolutely. But there wasn”t actually that much delay in this case, because I was revising stuff until about two months before publication. But with most authors, I don”t know how they stand it the lag time between finished manuscript and publication is usually about a year.
TMD: Was there a single moment during the writing process where you took stock of what you”d produced and first realized that you were sitting on something really special?
DE: Here and there, I would write something that I knew was kind of good, and when you accumulate a certain number of parts you find very good, you begin to think you”ve got something. Not that you”re counting them as you go, but all writers know their book has its peaks and its plains, and while you”re trudging through the flatlands I”ll stop now. This metaphor is awful.
TMD: Was name recognition ever a goal for you? Has it now become one?
DE: Name recognition is nice when you can help people by having it. For example, lately a lot of writers I know have been trying to get books published, and when I say I”ll endorse the book, or design it, or whatever, for some reason and I”m not saying it”s always rational it helps that book get published.
TMD: I recently read an NYC writer”s bio, and it included the line, “He”s the most famous writer on his block, now that Dave Eggers has moved.” Honestly, what is your first thought/feeling when you see your name dropped all over the place?
DE: It”s rough, actually. I like seeing McSweeney”s mentioned, or authors we publish mentioned, but there are lots of magazines and websites I avoid, for fear of running across my own name. It”s just too weird sometimes.
TMD: So what is the weirdest site/item brought up by a web search for “Dave Eggers”?
DE: See, I don”t even know. I haven”t ever done that. I know there”s probably some pretty creepy stuff.
TMD: Do you ever feel paranoid about living up to the ultra-witty expectations that the book may have created for some people? Is it harder to have a good conversation with someone who professes that they”re “such a huge fan”?
DE: The people who say they”re fans are usually so unbelievably nice that conversations are easy. But make no mistake: I am ultra-witty.
TMD: When did you most feel like a celebrity?
DE: When I had sex with Dyan Cannon.
TMD: What city”s been most the most conducive to your style (writing or otherwise)?
DE: Living-wise, San Francisco. In terms of cities where audiences have been receptive: probably the biggest and warmest crowd ever was in St. Louis last week.
TMD: Is it true you sold the movie rights to the book? Will you be a presence during the production? Who would you like to see direct, star, et cetera?
DE: We sold the rights, and they were kind enough to give me a good deal of control over directors and all that. But we haven”t done anything yet. My dream, though one I know will never come true, is to have the movie set underwater, with an all-black cast. But I doubt it”ll happen might be hard to market that kind of thing.