Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area (South Pasadena, to be exact). Her first language was Farsi, her second (and luckily mostly forgotten) tongue, Valley Girl. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and The Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MA program. She has been awarded fellowships from Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo.
She began writing as an arts and entertainment journalist—her subjects have spanned from clubs (Paul Oakenfold!) to couture (Paul Poiret!); Maggie Gyllenhaal (Maggie’s first big feature!) to Fabio (Porochista’s first feature at 16!); New York City’s finest drinking establishments (Paper magazine bar columnist, 2000-2001, as well as New York magazine online bar critic) to rural Illinois’s most dangerous skydiving compound (2004 staff writer stint at The Chicago Reader). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Village Voice, The Chicago Reader, Paper, Flaunt, Nylon, Bidoun, Alef, Canteen, nerve.com and FiveChapters.com, among others.
She currently spends a third of her time in New York City and two thirds three hours away in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where she teaches Fiction at Bucknell University.
Question: How do you write?
Khakpour: I write very fast, and I write in great volume. Big and fast is really the way I write, mostly because I wanna get to . . . through the arc as fast as possible. I don’t like insecurity, and I don’t like surprises, and I don’t like not knowing. So I really . . . Say I’m writing a short story. I’ll try to get to the end as fast as possible. And then I’ll spend the next few months or the next few years editing. Editing is a big part of my process. It’s probably 75 percent of it. But you know the novel was written in about seven months, first draft. It was very fast. And I didn’t write every day of those seven months either. I would have these relentless weekends that I would just write from, you know, 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning until, you know, 2:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. So I would, you know . . . And then it took another two and a half years to edit that novel. But fast and big definitely is something that I believe in, and is necessary for me. I’d love to be one of those writers who labors over every sentence, and just goes one sentence at a time. But that’s not really my nature. I believe life is short, and let’s try to get it out there. And just keep going and not take the whole process too seriously. There’s so much talk among writers about the holy experience of writing, and the sacredness of the art. But that’s very intimidating. And that’s very . . . As a teacher I don’t like to tell my students to think that way. It’s not really gonna save the world at the end of the day. If you wanna help people, go out to soup kitchens. Go out . . . You know work one-on-one with the homeless and the truly disenfranchised in the world. But go there and physically do it. Writing a book is not gonna feed anyone at the end of the day. So I try not to, you know, put all that posturing into it. And I also don’t believe in writing every day. I think that’s what creates writer’s block – this feeling that you must write every day. Because then I would think eight out of 10 days you’re gonna feel like a very bad writer, and I don’t have time for that. I wanna write when I actually feel good about what I have to write. And so that might just be a couple times a week. It might be for like a month nonstop. But I’ve never put that pressure on myself. I’ve never been one to read the advice of other writers, or to play by those sort of “rules” – the sort of John Gardner school of, you know, how to be a writer and think of the whole process. I’m sort of in the . . . You know I’m a naturally nervous person, so I’d like to cut down on as much anxiety as possible.
Question: How do you edit?
Khakpour: Well I generally work . . . You know the material that I have, the very raw material is awfully raw. It’s . . . Sometimes my sentences don’t have periods. Sometimes they’re just fragments. Sometimes every word is misspelled and a jumbled mess, and there might be four adjectives when I only need one. So I have to really go sentence by sentence and take the rock and chisel at it and get, you know, what for some would be their first attempt and a normal sentence out of it. So it’s . . . It’s pretty brutal, but knowing that I have the whole arc . . . I have a beginning, middle, and an end really becomes encouraging because then I can look at the minutia. But if I don’t have the microcosm, I can’t look at the micro. There’s no way. So I really have to actually go back and write sentences, literally.