UNDERWAY

WRITERS ANSWER:

What are you working on? What’s on your desk?

ADAM JOHNSON

I just finished a last pass of edits on a novel that will come out in the fall. It’s called Parasites Like Us. I have a new novel that I’m excited to start, but the urge to write again has yet to strike. Maybe I don’t have anything else to say. Maybe I never had anything to say. Certainly the world would be a more beautiful place if I stopped writing. Certainly the world wouldn’t even notice if I stopped writing. Anyway, that’s the kind of post-novel lull I’m in. Luckily, we have a new baby boy, and I’m spending all my time with him. And I suppose I’m catching up on all the things I didn’t do while writing night and day for two years, like reading and shaving and lawn work. The weed-whacker is fun, and yes, I wear my safety goggles. If I ever see any royalties, I’m going for one of those big-ass chippers.

GARY SHTEYNGART

I am working on my next novel, tentatively titled Absurdistan. The plot concerns a creature name Misha Vainberg, a 400-pound disaster of a human being who meets up with Absurdistan, an oil-rich 4,000-square-mile disaster of a modern nation state. Things fall apart, the center does not hold. I will be moving for over a year to Italy in October to get the hell away from everything and focus on the novel.

TOURÉ

I’m working on squeezing the last bits of my mind into my novel. It’s been like trying to get the last bits of the raw orange juice into the glass. I’ve been at it for more than two and a half years and the juicing is almost over, but it’s still going on. The book is called Soul City. There’s people who can fly at birth and a man who can go to Heaven and talk to God or go to Hell and talk to the Devil. (But he doesn’t go to Hell that often because Satan always tries to trick him into staying.) Death is a character. He’s not the mean guy that Hollywood makes him out to be. He’s not an agent of Satan. He’s a freelancer. He doesn’t understand why everyone is afraid of him. He tries to hire a PR agent, but his appointment doesn’t go so well and she ends up dead. (PS, If anyone knows of a psychiatrist in the New York area who believes in medicating first and chit-chatting later, email me.)

RICH COHEN

I am just now working on a book about early rock and roll record men, a sort of profile of a generation, the music of Chicago, which drove me nuts as a land-locked, suburban kid, but also the businessmen, small-time schnorrers and knock-around guys who, for a few bucks, went into a recording studio with Elmore James or Howlin’ Wolf or Johnny Shines and came out with the few inches of vinyl that would make them rich. These were guys like Sid Nathan at King Records in Cincinnati and Hy Weiss at Bang Records in New York who told me, “How do you celebrate a hit? You go to the bank, schmuck.”

SHELLEY JACKSON

I’m working on a novel about Siamese twins, memory, dead animals, undead animals, prosthetic devices, disguises, the desert, doll houses, ghost towns, ghosts. I’m also designing the Web annex to the Shelley Jackson Vocational School for Ghost Speakers, which will train translators to handle any of the three trillion dialects of the dead. I’m especially excited about my home study aids, which will include printable paper patterns and instructions for constructing your own 3D devices—ear trumpets and the like—with which I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to speak to the dead in your own home once I get a few technical details ironed out.

STRAWBERRY SAROYAN

My book is coming out in July, so I am in that chaotic space of trying to get publicity, plus make money to tide me through until it hits stores. Among the things I’m working on: a stream-of-consciousness excerpt from Girl Walks into a Bar about the magic of bars, which I think should be paired with a fashion spread (a long-shot—and one that screams Visionaire—but I say, why not take it mainstream?). A piece on the allure of the Beverly Hills Library, where I did a fair amount of the manuscript’s editing. A piece I wrote a while ago about the Sopranos, which I have recently revisited and sent out to a few friends/editors. And in the back, ideas for my next big project: I started writing a novelized version of what I want to make into a cable series (it seemed the easiest way in).

DAVID AMSDEN

These days, I’m the middle of my second novel, which is about, in a sense, persistent adolescent erections in the era of AIDS. When that intimidates or depresses me, I scribble possible titles for the novel and work on short stories, most of which are, these days, about sexual neuroses of one sort or another. There are also essays and magazine articles in various stages of development.

DAN CHAON

I’m about finished with a novel called You Remind Me of Me, but I haven’t figured out how to tell people what it’s about. It has to do with two brothers, one of whom is given up for adoption, and one of whom the birthmother keeps. It’s sort of like “The Hours,” except with white trash guys instead of lesbians. I think it might be bad that I can’t actually explain the plot.

But I think it might be a good book. I’m hoping, at least. I’ve been working on it for about three years, which seems like a long time. With modern technology, It feels like a person could build an entire city in three years. Nevertheless, it’s been an exciting and interesting project. I’ve always thought of myself as a short story writer, and it seems to me that stories are like intense, passionate love affairs, while the novel is like a long, difficult marriage. I’m very nervous about how this will all turn out.

RYAN BOUDINOT

I have been working on a novel and two essays. One essay compares the work and lives of Isaac Babel and Bruno Schulz. Primarily short story writers, they achieved varying degrees of recognition during their lives and were both murdered/executed for political reasons. The other essay is about Billy Joel’s Glass Houses album and how it made me, at seven years old, pledge my allegiance to rock and roll. It grew out of a concept I’ve been working on for a while now, about eliminating “guilty pleasures” from my media-consuming life. There should be no guilty pleasures, only pleasures. So now I can hold my head up and say without shame that I truly love the Bee Gees’ “Night Fever.”

NICK FOWLER

I’m currently re-reading (and hence laughing out loud in the New York Public Library) every Bruce Jay Friedman phrase I can get my hands on. For a piece I’m writing, I actually had the pleasure of interviewing the largely unsung comic genius. I’m also slaving over my next novel, teaching writing courses at Mediabistro and NYU, and dealing with the daily existential dilemma. Which is always most acute on awakening.

JASON ROBERTS

My current book is about the man who, prior to the invention of the internal combustion engine, was the world’s greatest traveler, thus the most noteworthy item on my desk is a freestanding jeweler’s magnifying glass, with articulated pincers that make it resemble a particularly detail-oriented miniature assembly robot. I use it for deciphering photocopies of documents from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—documents whose authors never knew the concept of mechanical duplication or keyboards, and thus were free to wield their pens with vast degrees of stylistic subtlety. For example: in the 1826 log of the HMS Eden a little bug squiggle, surely a sign of quill cleaning, pops up persistently. It took me several contextual transcriptions to realize that this was a logogram for “therefore,” much like @ stands in for “at” today. The magnifying glass is also excellent for holding self-reminding notes, which glare up hugely at me through the lens.

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