AS YOU LIKE IT

08.22.12

How I Write: ‘The Tragedy of Arthur’ by Arthur Phillips

Arthur Phillips, the author of The Tragedy of Arthur says he would like to take Shakespeare to the movie Anonymous, which claimed the Bard didn’t write any of the plays and that the real author was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Where did you grow up?
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Where and what did you study?
Medieval history at Harvard. Jazz saxophone at Berklee.

Where do you live and why?
Brooklyn. Close to friends and family, and publishing. And a dog park.

Describe your morning routine.
Wake obscenely early, empty the dogs, exercise, breakfast with kids, see off everyone to school, then go to write.

What is a distinctive habit or affectation of yours? 
I am notorious for always having two beagles with me, in any and all circumstances.

Please recommend three books (not your own) to your readers.
I just finished reading the stunningly good The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits. Can't rave enough about it. I am seriously considering re-reading all 12 volumes of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, even though it's only been a few years since I read it the first time. I recently blurbed Jennifer DuBois's A Partial History of Lost Causes, a book which completely disarmed me.

What’s your routine when conceiving of a book?
Just walk the dogs. The rest will fall into place. I just go to a cafe. I've gone to a cafe for 3-6 hours every day, nearly every single day, for the last 15 years. That seems to be working.

Is there anything distinctive or unusual about your work space?
I like the window seats. Nothing distinctive, except the constant flow of tea and pastry.

What do you do when you are stuck or have temporary writer’s block? 
So far, no troubles on that front. That may just be because I have a low bar for what passes as a "productive" day. I need only to have sat in place, in front of my notebook, for a couple hours, and not have been distracted by anything else. As long as I gave the time over to my writing, it doesn't matter whether I actually wrote any words or not.

What is your favorite snack?
Madeleines dipped in linden tea, of course.

If you could bring back to life one person, who would it be?
I admit I would be curious to spend a day with Shakespeare. I have some questions for him about his methods, approaches, attitudes. We could go see Anonymous together; I wonder if it would piss him off?

What is the story behind the publication of your first book?
I wrote it for four years, and then a friend of a friend was becoming an agent. She had time, read it, liked it, called me. Everything went smoothly. Actually, that's a great story, only because it went exactly the way you hope it will. In short, I got incredibly lucky.

Was there a specific moment when you felt you had “made it” as an author? 
Going into a publishing house to meet an editor who might want to buy your book? That pretty much does it.

What would you do for work, if you were not a writer? 
I'd go back and write something else, I suppose. Ads, press releases, speeches. All the things I wrote before I was published.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Write. Enjoy writing. Then, and only then, worry about the business end of it. Start loving your hobby, and then you can't go too wrong.

What would you like carved onto your tombstone? 
As long as they spell your name right...

What is your next project? 
A TV pilot for HBO, and a book of stories that I'm just now sketching out. I'm trying to do both at once, and feeling very uncertain how that trick is done.