UNDERWAY

WRITERS ANSWER:

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

ROBERT MAILER ANDERSON

Aside from generally “trying to create a revolution during my lifetime,” on the writing front, I just finished an article about “Guys’ Night at the San Francisco Opera” for San Francisco Magazine that’s a shameless promotional piece.

Mostly, I’m working on my second novel, Jackson Stone, which is about personal hypocrisy, gambling, coffee jocks, and the search for love here at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It’s a blend between a Philip Roth unreliable narrator’s rant (God, I wish I wrote The Human Stain) and a Charles Willeford noir. It’s supposed to be fast-paced, dark, funny, taking place in the North Beach and Tenderloin neighborhoods of San Francisco.

Somehow, constructing the minor characters in this novel, I’m working through my love for Joseph Mitchell. I’m also taking notes for another novel, a sort of updated Great Gatsby, set in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. I’m certain a Larry Ellison–type guy will be a major character, and somehow I’ll make him sympathetic.

And I’m almost done with my first play, The Death of Teddy Ballgame, which is where I pour all my 9/11 and daily New York Times headline angst that doesn’t belong in Jackson Stone. Unabashedly stealing from O’Neil, Mamet, Sartre, and Beckett, I’ve got a group of men gathered in a coffee shop a couple of days after the apocalypse, wondering if it’s safe to drink the coffee, discussing how they intend to survive nuclear fallout, radiation, small pox, anthrax, SARS II, roaming bands of marauders, no movies or ESPN, and other horrors, and whether or not it’s even worth surviving. It’s a comedy.

And lastly, I’m working on a screenplay with my cousin Zack called Pig Hunt that takes place in the hills outside of a small town like Boonville. It’s a creepy cross between The Blair Witch Project and Deliverance, with a little Jaws thrown in. The tag line is “Think BIG, think PIG!” You get the picture.

SUSAN SHREVE

I have a stack of books on one side of my desk for a novel I hope to finish this summer called A Student of Living Things—about a student of evolutionary biology who until this narrative begins has collected only dead things. There’s Darwin and Lewis Thomas and a basic biology text which I’m not quite equal to understanding and my personal favorite, Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson, which is a funny, informative book about the outlandish sexual behavior of the animal kingdom—an indulgence since the humor in my book is dark, not raucous. On the other side of the desk is a novel called Geography of a Marriage which was due last June and I keep beside me as a reminder to be vigilant since sometime in the course of the three years it took me to write that book, I fell out of love—and like the end of most love affairs didn’t realize it until too late and so withdrew the book.

And I’m doing the final edits on a children’s novel out in January called Under the Watsons’ Porch—a first love story.

JOANNA HERSHON

My desk is covered with pretty obscure and mostly falling-apart books on the Jewish population in Santa Fe at around the turn of the century, because I got it into my head—after hearing about a friend’s great-great-grandfather—that I needed to write my third novel about this. My friend’s great-great-grandfather came from Germany and found himself a young bride who agreed on accompanying him to America but insisted on having a grand piano, and so they traveled across the country by covered wagon with the grand piano in tow. The extravagance and ridiculousness of this endeavor appeals to me greatly—even if a mute Holly Hunter and the perennially naked Harvey Keitel do tend to spring to mind. So I’m reading these books (that basically cover the boring business endeavors of a few prominent families—no juicy bits as of yet) and I’m attempting to start the novel, which seems to want to be an absolutely modern story about a bad father and a series of screwed-up marriages. I’m hoping to sort all this out over the next couple of years.

MICHAEL CHABON

I am working on a novel, working title Hotzeplotz. It’s set in the Alaskan panhandle, in the present day, in the territory that was opened to the Jewish refugees of Europe, after Congress passed the King-Havenner Bill of 1940, for settlement during WWII. The precarious balancing act of this Yiddish-speaking nation-within-a-nation is imperiled by the discovery of a mysterious skull in a construction site, and the novel unfolds as its protagonist, a homicide detective named Meyer Landsman, investigates. “Hotzeplotz” is the name of a real town in the Ukraine or someplace but it’s used in the Yiddish expression “from here to Hotzeplotz,” meaning more or less the back of nowhere, Bumfuck, Iowa, the ends of the earth.

BROCK CLARK

One can of travel-sized Edge Pro Gel shaving cream, left here by a weekend guest who, for some reason, appears to have been shaving at my desk. Two open-mouthed, hourglass-shaped glass containers—the origin and purpose of which are unknown to me, their apparent owner. Three books: The Stories of John Cheever, Tess Slesinger’s The Unpossessed, and Miriam Levine’s A Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. The last of the three books is related to what I’m working on now, which is a novel called An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.

SEAN WILSEY

On my desk is How to Be a Party Girl, a book my mom wrote about coming to San Francisco from Oklahoma and giving flamboyant parties with the assistance of the window dressers at the department store where she worked (“The other day I came home from a modeling job in the middle of the morning wearing the marvelous tiger-print, full length chiffon gown I’d posed in…. After waltzing around the house by myself for a while, I thought what a pity it was to waste all this! Why not give a party, right now?”); an unfinished memoir my grandmother (Mom’s mom) wrote in 1955 about traveling with her itinerant minister husband and their eight kids all over Texas and Oklahoma, in the twenties and thirties, preaching tent revivals for farmers and oil field workers (“An amusing incident happened at Grape Creek in Coleman County at the day service. One morning a small green snake fell down from the branches above in the arbor. Women scrambled for their babies until a man struck it with a stick and killed it…. That was the only time we experienced a snake scare in our services. We did have trouble with dogs. They often came into our services. They discovered their masters were going someplace every night. They investigated and would find the way there. Try as the minister might to drive them away, it just couldn’t be done.”); a map of San Francisco; a picture of my wife wearing a too-small straw hat; and the screenplay for S*C*U*M*, an action movie I shot on Mom’s 8mm video camera, in high school. S*C*U*M*’s the story of a superhero trio who lose a magic candle that grants them great powers. To recover it they must battle an evil nemesis who takes pride in having extremely swollen legs. Along the way they consult a grinning, oracular, talking pear; assassinate Ronald Reagan; campaign against cigarettes (by wresting them away from smokers and smoking them themselves, with great relish); and employ many accents and costumes. Here’s a typical scene: “REX, a superhero, sits in a chair with his feet up and admires a porno magazine. A S*C*U*M* AGENT, in a commercial airline pilot’s uniform, enters. He hits the magazine and says, in a German accent, ‘Hey! I am from S*C*U*M*. I’ve been sent by S*C*U*M* to steal your magic candle!’ He pulls a toy gun from his breast pocket and brand-ishes it. ‘Don’t try to resist. This here is a stun gun and I will put you under now.’ He clicks the trigger twice and REX’s head falls limp…. ‘Ha. Ah, S*C*U*M* will be so impressed. Now the Candle, the secret Candle is all mine!’ He kisses the candle.”

I’m almost finished with the book that all this stuff fits into. I’ve also just written an essay about skateboarding and the once-great Thrasher skateboard magazine, for the London Review of Books.

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