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Patrick Flanery: How I Write

Courtesy of Patrick Flanery

Why is the author of the novel ‘Absolution,’ set in a contemporary South Africa dealing with the long-term effects of apartheid, in exile in London?

Where did you grow up?I was born in Fresno, Calif., but grew up in Omaha, Neb., where I nonetheless continued to think of myself as a transplanted Californian, since both of my parents were from there. I never thought of us as Nebraskans, although in retrospect I can see how much I must be a product of the Midwest, or at least of certain tendencies in Midwestern manners. Because Omaha felt so far from anywhere—from extended family but also, simply, from those cities and landscapes that struck me as “interesting”—I was always anxious to leave, which is not to suggest it was a bad place to grow up.

Lonesome Crowded West

Larry McMurtry: How I Write


‘Lonesome Dove,’ ‘Terms of Endearment,’ ‘The Last Picture Show’—Larry McMurtry has given us some of the most memorable works of literature and cinema for the last 50 years. He tells us which of the films based on his books he likes, and which he doesn’t. His latest book is ‘Custer.’

Where did you grow up? Born in Wichita Falls, Texas. Raised in my grandparents’ home, located on Idiot Ridge in southeast Archer County. Moved to Archer City, Texas, at the age of 6.Where and what did you study? I began my college career at Rice Institute (not yet Rice University) in Houston; however, Rice at that time was mainly an engineering school, and when I received a 2 on my first calculus exam, I transferred to North Texas State, where I received my bachelor’s degree.


Cass Sunstein: How I Write


Obama’s former regulatory czar’s new book heralds a more efficient government as a result of fewer and smarter regulations that are based on behavioral economics. The Harvard Law School professor talks about how he writes in half-hour intervals, and what the difference between academia and government is.

Describe your morning routine, post-White House.I begin by checking the Internet: my favorite newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post. I’ll also probably check, within an hour or two of getting up, the National Bureau of Economic Research website,, and the American Economic Association, to see if there are any new papers. I’ll probably spend an hour reading. I tend to wake up at 7:30 and if I’m actively engaged in writing, I’ll start writing by 9.

Caged Bird

Maya Angelou: How I Write

PRNewsFoto/Forsyth Medical Center

The poet talks about why she wears head ties when she writes, and why she agreed to create Hallmark greeting cards.

Tell me about the dinner party at which the writer James Baldwin and the cartoonist Jules Feiffer first encouraged you to write your first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.Well, I don’t know if it was a dinner party! Martin Luther King had been killed, on my birthday, and I had been planning a birthday party. I had planned to join him after my birthday. [His death] shocked me so that I stopped eating, I refused to answer the phone. Finally James Baldwin came to my apartment door and he made noises, and said he wouldn’t leave until the police came.

‘Odds Against Tomorrow’

Nathaniel Rich: How I Write

Courtesy of Nathaniel Rich

The ‘youngish’ novelist lives in New Orleans next to a federal officer of some kind who talks constantly about fantasy sports. His latest book, ‘Odds Against Tomorrow,’ has just been published.

Where did you grow up? New York City, the birthplace of Jell-O.Where and what did you study? I studied literature and Italian at Yale. I wrote my thesis about Italo Svevo, one of my heroes.All Yalies have a favorite pizzeria. Are you a fan of Sally’s or Pepe’s Pizza? Sally’s. Their white clam is the best pie I’ve ever had. But don’t sleep on Pepe’s. Pepe’s is no joke.Where do you live and why? I live in New Orleans, because it’s the strangest city in the United States.

Play Ball

Major League Writers

Evan Vucci/AP

It’s Opening Day, and we talk to Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe and Jayson Stark of ESPN on what it’s like taking meticulous notes of every game, traveling with the team, and writing from hotel rooms and airport terminals.

With Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season upon us, we talk to two of the best baseball correspondents writing today: Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe and Jayson Stark of ESPN. From writing in hotel rooms to the press box, from 2 a.m. clubhouse interviews to watching every detail of a ballgame, life as a sportswriter is more Ironman triathlon than A Room of One’s Own.Most folks that I interview write books. But you are journalists who are asked to produce a certain number of columns each week.

What to Talk About

How I Write: Nathan Englander

David Levenson/Getty

Acclaimed writer Nathan Englander talks about translating the Haggadah, how he writes his fiction (hint: throwing most of it out), his coffee addiction, and what to put on his tombstone. His latest short story collection, 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,' is out in paperback.

You’re in Madison, Wisconsin now. Is that home number two?It sounds very writerly to have two homes, doesn’t it? My wife is getting a PhD out here at U of Madison. Go Badgers! So we’re back and forth between Madison and New York. In the fall my play [The Twenty-Seventh Man] was up at The Public Theater, so I was in New York, while Rachel was doing research in Malawi.Did you grow up multi-lingually?I hardly grew up mono-lingually! I was raised religious, so there’s a tradition of semi-access to a second language.

Literary Dreams

Blake Bailey: How I Write

L image: Mary Brinkmeyer

The great literary chronicler on the life of forgotten writer Charles Jackson, and why he’s lucky to be working on Philip Roth’s biography.

Where did you grow up?Oklahoma City. I write about this (plug alert) in my memoir, The Splendid Things We Planned, which will be published next year by Norton. I hope it proves that even middle-class life in Oklahoma can get pretty bouncy, given the right (or wrong) mix of people.Where do you live and why?Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia, because my wife was hired out of graduate school (University of Florida) as a pain management psychologist at the Naval Hospital here.


William H. Gass: How I Write

Ropi/Zuma Press

Three novels in 47 years—Gass’s books aren’t so much written as molted into dense, solid masterpieces. The latest is ‘Middle C,’ 18 years in the making.

What drew you to the study of philosophy, and how does that subject tincture your fiction? As a youngster, I read anything that came within my reach. I found the morose philosophers (Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Spengler) the most interesting. Then it was Thomas Mann. The books of these authors made me look smart.Where do you live and why? I live in St. Louis, Mo. Washington University offered me a job in 1969, when I very much needed one. The city is easy to move around in and, at that time, Wash U was growing into something great.

Immortal Life

Rebecca Skloot: How I Write

Daniel Boczarski/Getty

The author of ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ on her meticulous research and interview process.

How did you first come across the story of Henrietta Lacks?  Did you immediately see a book in it, feel a “click” moment?I first learned about Henrietta Lacks and her amazing cells when I was 16 in a basic biology class at the local community college (a class I was taking because I’d failed biology at the local high school and I was trying to make up the credits to graduate). At that point I was planning to be a veterinarian, so I didn’t immediately think, Ah! I’m going to write a book about Henrietta! So a “click” definitely happened in that moment that changed my life, but it wasn’t a moment that made me realize I wanted to be a writer, and that I wanted to write about Henrietta.

Sweet Carolina

Ron Rash: How I Write

Ulf Andersen/Getty

‘I never outline, I never plot,’ says Ron Rash, the author of the new story collection ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay.’ ‘I almost always start with an image.’

Where do you live and why?I live in Cullowhee, North Carolina. That’s where I teach, at Western Carolina University. That region is where my family has lived for a long time and that region is my landscape.You’ve often been described as an “Appalachian writer.”  Is that a geographic or stylistic title, or a little of both?I have mixed feelings about any adjective in front of the word “writer.”  Chekhov has talked about this, that any designation besides writer (Russian writer, whatever) was a diminishment.

To Live

Jess Walter: How I Write

Jess Walter

The National Book Award finalist talks about his hometown and reading to people who don’t speak English.

You live in Spokane, Washington. It seems rare and special these days that someone should live in the hometown they grew up in. Hmm. That doesn’t sound entirely like a compliment. (It’s so rare to meet a writer who still lives in his parents’ basement.) The four-second biography: I grew up in a blue collar family, screwed around in school, became a dad at 19, went to work for a newspaper to support my daughter and, by the time I could afford to leave Spokane, had more kids and had realized two things: 1) this might be the most underrated city in America; and 2) it’s where I’m from.

Right Bad, Talk Pretty

Ben Yagoda: How I Write

Maria Yagoda

The author of the new book ‘How to Not Write Bad’ talks about how to avoid common grammatical errors.

What’s your morning routine like?If it’s a teaching day, I get in the car first thing and drive 29 miles to Newark, Delaware, home of my employer, the University of Delaware. If not, I shamble to my third-floor office and stew in my own juices till I manage to accomplish something, even if it’s only a Facebook post ranting about a bad movie I saw the previous night. I try to go from that to something less negligible, and so on up the line.What is a distinctive habit or affectation of yours?Affected, moi? For some reason, the thing that comes to mind is that I’m fanatical about using the word “farther” (instead of “further”) for anything that connotes distance, even metaphorical, e.


Karen Russell: How I Write

Michael Lionstar

The ‘Swamplandia!’ novelist picks her favorite short story from her new collection, ‘Vampires in the Lemon Grove.’

NC: You had an unusual debut—your first novel, Swamplandia!, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and, by most accounts, should have won. I’m wondering how having such a successful debut affected your approach to your next book? KR: The timing was so funny on that. The stories in this new book had been in the works for awhile. I think half of them had been published while I was still lost in the swamps of Swamplandia! The other half were written afterwards.

Chronicles of Albania

Ismail Kadare: How I Write

Sophie Bassouls/Sygma, via Corbis

The Albanian novelist, whose new book is ‘The Fall of the Stone City,’ talks about his choice of weapon in the fight against totalitarianism and how he came to publish his first book.

Where did you grow up?In a medieval village in southern Albania.Where do you live and why?I divide my life between Tirana and Paris.You won the inaugural Man Booker Prize, in 2005. How did winning that prize affect your career? Was it particularly meaningful to win the inaugural year of the prize?That was one of the most important prizes in my life as a writer.You have been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Very few writers will ever have that experience.

About How I Write

Every week, we interview writers about their daily routine and where they keep their desks.

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