Andrew Sean Greer: Becoming a Successful Novelist
Andrew Sean Greer is an American novelist and short-story writer. The New York Times called his 2008 novel The Story of a Marriage “lyrical” and “inspired.” His first novel, 2001’s The Path of Minor Planets, was well received, and his second, 2004’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli, earned him comparisons to Proust and Nabokov from critic John Updike. His stories have appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and other national publications. Born in Washington, D.C., Greer received his bachelor’s degree from Brown University and his master’s degree from the University of Montana. He currently resides in San Francisco. Greer was so well received as an undergrad that his classmates elected him the commencement speaker, for his own graduation.
Questoin: Can you talk about your next project?
Andrew Sean Greer: A little bit. I don’t want my editor to see this and get any inkling of what I’m doing. Yeah, I started it a while ago. It’s actually a book I abandoned a while ago and got really down about. I couldn’t figure out how to do it and when I was writing The Story of a Marriage I figured it out. I think you do that. You figure out the way into a book, which had a more comic tone and I will say it’s a time travel novel, which won’t describe it at all when you finally see it, but that’s the best I can do.
Question:Any downside to being a successful novelist?
Andrew Sean Greer: A downside to being a successful novelist. Wow, I can’t imagine one. Well, I think it would be bad to a truly successful celebrity person, because I know these novelists where people get a cult following and they have some strange personal attachment to them because it’s so personal to read a book. It’s one of those personal art forms, so you could become very strange about the author. I think I’ve done that about authors, but people don’t do that with me, you know, I’m not that level of author, so I’m in a good place. You know, people will e-mail me and say wonderful things or call me up because I’m still listed, but I don’t get any of the weird stuff and no one is mad at me. No one is blogging bad stuff about me.
Question: Is it more difficult to be a writer today than 20 years ago?
Andrew Sean Greer: For sure it is. I mean, it’s hard to say because it’s like saying strawberries don’t taste the way they used to, but I have no idea, but you hear people talk about writing. You hear Philip Roth talk about it and it’s clear, his first book came out, Portnoy’s Complaint, everyone in America talked about it, you know, not just people like you and me, but everyone. That doesn’t happen. It’s hard to remember because that could’ve been the center of the culture the way it is in Germany still. But on the other hand, you look at the lit blogs online and the book blogs and you see tens of thousands of people checking them out every day and you realize there is passion. You know, they’re getting angry about stuff. They’re getting delighted and enthusiastic about stuff, so the passion is still there.
Sean McManus: I’m curious, when John Updike rendered his compliment to your latest work did you call him and thank him? What was your response to that?
Question: How did you respond to praise from John Updike?
Andrew Sean Greer: Can you call and thank reviewers? I always wondered that. Does that make their job, you know, obsolete if authors are thanking them for things? I know when he reviewed my book Max Tivoli in the New Yorker I was at the New Yorker a month later and I wrote him a note and I said it was like having an older brother in high school who tells everyone that you’re cool and not to mess with you and that it made it so much easier for me and that was the best I could do. I think I might get a chance to interview him in the coming months and I’m definitely going to take him up on that.
Question: Is it different to write about gay relationships versus straight?
Andrew Sean Greer: It’s tough because my short story collection there’s a lot more gay relationships, but they’re sort of young and unformed because I was at the same time and in the latest novel there’s a gay tension. Hard to tell if it’s a relationship. It’s strange that I enjoy writing about different straight relationships a little more. I think it’s because for something like Max Tivoli it was already hard enough to write about a man aging backwards that I just couldn’t complicate too much, but I added a gay element to it too just because I’m curious. What makes me most curious, because I don’t write a lot of contemporary fiction, is to set all these characters in the past and see how the constraints of the time change it, so that becomes very obvious how a gay or straight relationship would be utterly different. But in contemporary times they wouldn’t be so different because I think now young people, everyone is mixed together. you know, it’s not like it was, in a good way.
Greer hints at his next project, his review from John Updike, and why it is so difficult to be a novelist today.
Is it acceptable to write a story from the perspective of someone who is completely unlike you?
- Man Booker Prize-winning writer Yann Martel, a Canadian man, has written from the perspectives of a man with AIDS, a body-switching woman, an Indian boy, and 20th-century Portuguese widowers.
- Is it acceptable to write from the perspective of someone who is completely unlike you? Martel believes these transgressions put empathetic imagination into practice, allowing your mind to go where your body cannot.
- In Martel's case, it's the recipe for great art—books that have been loved and read by millions. "[W]e are who we are in relation to others," says Martel. "But the key thing is the empathetic imagination, and the empathetic imagination is the great traveler. And travelers necessarily cross borders. And not only do they have to but it's a thrill to do so. It's a thrill encountering the other."
A review of the global "wall" that divides rich from poor.
- Trump's border wall is only one puzzle piece of a global picture.
- Similar anxieties are raising similar border defenses elsewhere.
- This map shows how, as a result, "the West" is in fact one large gated community.
The inventor Nikola Tesla's esoteric beliefs included unusual theories about the Egyptian pyramids.