Behind the Name: Joe McGinniss, Jr. Talks Life, Writing and the American Way

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published August 2nd 2016 by Simon Schuster

Joe McGinniss, Jr. isn’t just his father’s son. Here, the author of The Delivery Man and Carousel Court sheds some light on growing up the son of a celebrated author, his own writing process and, well, the thing he would change about American society if given the shot. After reading and reviewing Carousel Court, I was intrigued at the thought of getting to know more about this author in particular, and now we can. Here you have it folks — Joe lets loose his wry outlook on life and writing in this hilarious but thoughtful interview.

 

Question # 1

Some would say that writing is in your blood, as the son of the late, esteemed writer Joe McGinniss. How did your father’s professional heights, experiences and struggles impact your urge or desire to become a published author?

Great question. So, I watched him from afar; my parents divorced around the time of my birth, and my mother raised my sisters and me. We’d visit him on the weekend and during the summer and, though most of the time we spent with him he wasn’t working, the days he did were the same scene: dad in the kitchen early making something weird for breakfast, then into his office, closing the door and the hum of the Selectra…the paper being spooled in,….then typing….hours of it…until lunch.

 

Question #2

In your 2016 article, “Lessons from My Father” printed in The New Yorker, you gave a poignant account of your father’s life from your own point of view, from your childhood to his death after you’d become a published author yourself. What was it like to write such a telling account of the triumphs, pains and struggles of this man you loved beyond the words we know on his pages, and how does your knack for fearlessly regarding hard truths translate into your own fiction writing?

Oh boy. Kind of draining. But not technically difficult because there was so much emotion fueling the writing of the piece. I felt compelled to get some information out there about his personal struggles, demons if you will. He was loving and supportive and driven and flawed. His vulnerability and isolation haunted me. Something unseen prevented him from fully embracing the moment and those who cared most about him without drifting back into his personal darkness. Depression and drinking were/are a family legacy (both of his parents suffered from it both their entire adult lives. He was an only child. A lonely child.)

 

Question #3

As the author of full-length novels The Delivery Man (2008) and Carousel Court (2016), what is the hallmark of your writing process? Do you follow a particular path from inception to completion of a novel, and how does this process—if any—change as your career grows and morphs?

Initially, for the first two stories, there was a tonal quality that appealed to me. Visceral, spare, propulsive and haunting were all goals and came more readily. As well, so much of what I read that moved me tended to be spare and accessible, if not dark. A sense of place and location also were critical. Las Vegas and the exurbs of Los Angeles had me mesmerized, and I wanted to channel that as best I could through the lens of the story I was architecting. The current novel is less about place or even tone/mood and more character and plot driven (though the first two certainly had what seemed like pretty propulsive stories that one could ideally, if they were into it, race through). 

Dear lord those years. Too many between them from a writing perspective. I was, and am still in many ways, an idiot. I didn’t realize that it kind of doesn’t help one professionally in the writing business to take nearly a decade between books. Yes, I had good reasons (my son was born and my wife worked outside of the home).

 

Question #4

Both The Delivery Man and Carousel Court are phenomenal displays of contemporary literary Realism, written as “shattering indictment[s] of a society.” As a writer, do you start with this at the heart of your novel-writing process—an intuition to dispel myths and expose truths—or do you find it to be a byproduct of the topics you write about?

I’m not that sophisticated. I create what I can and try to convey what I feel and try to make sure it’s interesting. Does the story move and entertain and surprise? Is it boring the reader? Does it feel simultaneously real and dreamlike? I never know, but through the process of rereading and stewing about it, obsessing about how thin and uninspired it might read and is it working, will people want to pick it up and if they do, will they want to read it to the end—and if they do will they post some crap review on Goodreads complaining that the characters weren’t “likable” enough, as though novels and stories now have to provide new bff’s for readers.

 

Question #5

Your 2016 novel, Carousel Court, is written about a street you actually know intimately yourself. Did the actual people you know from this neighborhood shape the direction of the novel? If so, how?

Interesting. So Carousel Court is the name of a random cul de sac (I believe) that I located on Google maps, then zoomed in and did the whole street view thing where I spent hours tooling around the neighborhoods in the Inland Empire east of LA imagining life there. So no, I did not know it well. And the characters who I sentenced to a life there were pulled from the ether and other odd places and shaped into the cast of Carousel Court.

 

Question #6

In writing your novels, what were some of the sections, passages or themes that you or your editors opted to remove from the final drafts of the manuscripts, and why? How does this part of the editorial process shape your writing as a whole? 

Well my esteemed editor – a brilliant bloke named Jofie Ferrari Adler – suggested I write the last chapter in French. So that was awkward.

No not really. There was actually, with Carousel Court, one significant story turn that we didn’t agree on initially but discussed and meditated on and in the end, as always, the editor was right.

 

Question #7

Tell us one thing you wish you could change permanently about the American way or our society.

Public education. Schools should be community hubs, financed like private colleges, tailored to meet the needs and wants of the people they serve. Open year round and paying teachers so much more and training and retraining so that children and their families have an oasis available to them every day of the year every year of their lives no matter where they’re born or their neighborhood’s property values.

Oh and no more “summer vacation.” A few weeks off here and there but wow, like we need to educate and nurture our children less?

 

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