Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder? In other words do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?
George Saunders: Seems like a dysfunctional combo of both - I build it up brick by brick, then chip each brick down to the minimum. And then I try to take out a few inessential bricks. So...that's fun.
What was your first publication?
I had a story called "The Compassionate Groundsman," in a Chicago magazine called Nit&Wit.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
Memoirs of US Grant
The Eyes Were Watching God
Patriotic Gore (Edmund WIlson)
Middlemarch (George Eliot)
If you had to inhabit a fictional world, what would it be (i.e., the environment of which
novel or short story)?
I'd like to spend a few hours in a Gogol story – but also have a way to get out when I need
to – like when the giant Nose is approaching.
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
They were all pretty interesting but I got a lot out of eight years I spent tech writing.
It wasn't conventionally exotic or exciting but was sort of like Capitalism 101.
Novel writing or short story writing? Any preference?
So far, short story writing. Every novel I start just shrinks right down.
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
All answers come out of work.
Your books have great titles. Were they your first choices?
I think so, yes. Except they made me change "BUY THIS, PLEASE, I HAVE TWO KIDS IN
COLLEGE YOU BASTARDS."
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
I tend to keep my in-progress things a little secret. I can say it has phrases, sentences,
punctuation – the whole shebang.
What's an interview question you've never been asked that you wish had been?
"Would you please accept this ten million dollars in cash, just because?"
At one point a geophysical engineer, MacArthur Fellowship-winner George Saunders is an acclaimed writer of short stories, essays, novellas and children’s books. His work includes the story collections CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award, Pastoralia and In Persuasion Nation, one of only three finalists for The Story Prize in 2006. He has also won prizes for his bestselling children’s book The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip and has, most recently, written a book of essays entitled The Braindead Megaphone. He currently teaches Creative Writing at Syracuse University, New York, and writes regularly for GQ, Harper’s and the New Yorker, who in 2002 named him one of the ‘Best Writers Under 40’. He lives in New York with his family.