October 2012 © Darryl Estrine, Cigar Aficionado
Bookpleasures.com is excited to welcome as our guest today best-selling author Gay Talese. Gay has written eleven books and from 1956 to 1965 he was a reporter for the New York Times.
Since then his articles have appeared in Times, Esquire, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and other national publications.
Gay was born in Ocean City, New Jersey, and currently lives in New York City. His groundbreaking article Frank Sinatra Has a Cold was named the "best story Esquire ever published," and he was credited by Tom Wolfe with the creation of an inventive form of nonfiction writing called "The New Journalism."
His most recent book, A Writer's Life, was published by Knopf in 2006 and reissued in trade paperback by The Random House Publishing Group in July 2007. A collection of his sportswriting, The Silent Season of a Hero, was published by Walker & Company in September 2010. Other books include Honor Thy Father and Thy Neighbor's Wife, published first in 1980.
Norm: Good day Gay and thanks for participating in our interview.
What do you think over the years has driven you as a writer?
Gay: Curiosity, and the patience to research deeply and write well.
Norm: What is the worst advice authors give to writers?
Gay: Aspiring writers should not listen to published authors. As Sinatra would say: "I did it my way."
Norm: What is the most important characteristics of an author?
Norm: Which of your books/stories are you most attached to and why?
Gay: I have always done my best, and there is nothing that I have written that I have regretted writing. I've been a published writer for sixty-plus years. I'm 83. I'm an expert on nothing. As an author, I keep switching subjects--I've written at length on bridge-building, the Mafia, the history of The New York Times, the Italian immigration to America, the late 20th century redefinition of morality, my ups and downs as a writer of nonfiction, the obscure people who populate and energize New York, in addition to two books I've yet to complete--and I make no distinction between any of them. In my opinion they all represent my best.
Norm: What do you want your work to do? Amuse people? Provoke thinking?
Gay: If what I write is amusing, or thought-provoking, I welcome that--but that it is not enough. I want to inform readers, to bring to them new stories and insights.
I am a careful writer and researcher, and what I bring to the readers of my books (or the articles I occasionally submit to The New Yorker or to The New York Times) is the hope that what I write will not only be relevant at this time but will have lasting appeal--that is, it will hold up and be worth reading in future years. It has been my good fortune to see my works remain in print decades after their initial publication.
Norm: What does it mean to tell the truth? And what does it mean to tell stories in a work of non-fiction?
I do not use composite characters. I do not write about people whose names are not revealed, and whose identify cannot be verified. I strive to establish what should be a clear distinction between non-fiction and fiction. My work is not influenced by my imagination.
I do not make anything up. I do not invent scenes or create characters. In my writing I describe what I see and what I have observed, and my credo has always been: "You must personally show up." Go where the story is. Show up. Do not use the technology. Do not do research over the telephone, or Google or Skype your way through a story.
Show up! Be there! I once flew to Beijing to interview a Chinese woman soccer player, and in order to understand her (via a Chinese interpreter) I remained in Beijing for six months. I am now finishing a particular story that I began thirty years ago. Until now, the person in this story would not allow the use of his name. So I held up he story for thirty years until he finally relented and allowed me to use his name. Again, my rule: no unidentified sources, no composite characters, no easy outs. If you want to make anything up, describe what you're doing as "fiction," so the reader is fully aware of what they are reading.
And even if I do complete a subject, it does not mean I'm done with it. In my mind, the story is never over just because I've completed my research and went public with a new book. The story in print is not a story that is necessarily over. I have gone back years after a book is published, and done an updated edition. My book The Bridge was first published by Harper & Row in 1964.
In the year 2014, an updated edition of The Bridge was published by Bloomsbury USA. I have updated in recent years such books as Honor Thy Father (originally published in 1972), and Thy Neighbor's Wife, published first in 1980. The magazine article published in 1967, Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, is coming out in book form this coming October, republished and accompanied by many photos in a $200-a-copy Taschen edition.