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Aug 29, 2016

How Bestselling Author Jay McInerney Writes: Part Two

The bestselling author of 11 books, including the eighties defining Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney, took a break to chat with me about his new book, the writing process, and some timeless tips from his mentor, Raymond Carver.

Vanity Fair called Mr. McInerney “Our modern-day Fitzgerald,” and his most recent book — Bright, Precious Days — is described as “… a sexy, vibrant, cross-generational New York story — a literary and commercial triumph of the highest order.”

The author is a renowned short story writer, screenwriter, and actor, who has lived in New York for three decades and rubbed elbows with a laundry list of literary lions, including his mentors Tobias Wolff and Raymond Carver.

In addition to fiction, Jay writes a highly regarded wine column for Town & Country magazine, and has written several essay collections on wine.

The author most recently joined the Prince Street podcast as a culinary and arts correspondent and has interviewed director Francis Ford Coppola, author Stephanie Danler, and celebrity chefs including Eric Ripert, to name a few.

Join us for this two-part interview, and if you’re a fan of the show, please subscribe in iTunes to automatically see new interviews, and help other writers find us.

If you missed the first half you can find it right here.

In Part Two of the file Jay McInerney and I discuss:

  • The Author’s Astute Anatomical Analogy for Writer’s Block
  • How a Short Story Became a Series of Bestselling Novels
  • Why Writers Need to Stretch the Boundaries of Their Genres
  • The Big City as Creative Muse
  • Some Timeless Advice from Raymond Carver on the Importance of Discipline

Listen to The Writer Files: Writing, Productivity, Creativity, and Neuroscience below ...

The Show Notes

The Transcript

How Bestselling Author Jay McInerney Writes: Part Two

Kelton Reid: The Writer Files is brought to you by StudioPress, the industry standard for premium WordPress themes and plugins. Built on the Genesis Framework, StudioPress delivers state of the art SEO tools, beautiful and fully responsive design, air-tight security, instant updates, and much more. If you re ready to take your WordPress site to the next level, see for yourself why over 177,000 website owners trust StudioPress. Go to Rainmaker.FM/studiopress right now. That s Rainmaker.FM/studiopress.

These are The Writer Files, a tour of the habits, habitats, and brains of working writers from online content creators to fictionists, journalists, entrepreneurs, and beyond. I m your host, Kelton Reid, writer, podcaster, and mediaphile. Each week we ll discover how great writers keep the ink flowing, the cursor moving, and avoid writer s block.

We return with the best-selling author of eleven books, including the 80s-defining Bright Lights, Big City. Jay McInerney, who took a break this week to chat with me about his new book, the writing process, and some timeless tips from his mentor Raymond Carver. Vanity Fair called McInerney “Our modern-day F. Scott Fitzgerald” and his most recent book Bright, Precious Days is described as a sexy, vibrant, cross-generational New York story, a literary and commercial triumph of the highest order.

The author is a renowned short story writer, screenwriter and actor, who’s lived in New York for three decades, and has rubbed elbows with a laundry list of literary lions, including his mentors Tobias Wolff and Raymond Carver. In addition to fiction, Jay writes a highly regarded wine column for Town & Country Magazine, and has also written several essay collections on wine. The author recently joined the Prince Street Podcast, as a culinary and arts correspondent, where he’s interviewed director Francis Ford Coppola, author Stephanie Danler, and celebrity chefs, including Eric Ripert, to name a few.

Join us for this two part interview, and if you’re a fan of the show, please click “subscribe” to see new shows and help other writers find us. If you missed the first half of this show, you can find it on iTunes and in the show notes. A quick note that the show will take a short break for Labor Day, and we’ll return with more interviews with great writers very soon. In part two of the file, Jay and I discuss the author’s astute, anatomical analogy for writer’s block, how a short story became a series of bestselling novels, why writers need to stretch the boundaries of their genres, the big city as creative muse, and some timeless advice from Raymond Carver on the importance of discipline.

There’s some really, really great contemporary blues, men and women, taking up the mantle now. Do you find yourself seeking out any … No names are popping into my mind, but I know that they come through New York at times.

Jay McInerney: It’s true, although … I don’t know. I’m just sort of stuck with the classic, sort of, Chicago and Mississippi guys, at the moment.

The Author’s Astute Anatomical Analogy for Writer’s Block

Kelton Reid: Absolutely. One thing we talk about on this show quite often is writer’s block. Do you have an opinion?

Jay McInerney: It’s terrible. It’s like talking about impotence.

Kelton Reid: Right. No one wants to talk about it. Is it a thing? Is it real?

Jay McInerney: Yeah. Well, you know, it has been for me. It’s funny because once I wrote Bright Lights, Big City, I felt like I had broken the curse, and that I would never have that problem again.

For many years, I didn’t really seem to have a problem. I seemed to go from one project to the next, and in a relatively smooth fashion. But then around 1999, 2000, I just experienced this terrible writer’s block. I just couldn’t write fiction. I couldn’t get started on anything new. It was a real struggle for me, and it was a terrible feeling, because that’s what I do. That’s who I am. I’m somebody who writes fiction, who writes novels. I think it’s something that most writers deal with at one time or another, except for maybe Joyce Carol Oates.

Kelton Reid: Right. Have you ever … Sure, sure. Have you talked with other writers … You’ve rubbed elbows with a who’s who of literary giants. Has anyone ever spoken about it with you, or is it just something that’s like, “Hmm, no. Let’s not talk about it.”

Jay McInerney: You know, it’s funny, but I feel it really is something that writers don’t want to talk about at all, the same way men don’t want to talk about impotence. It’s kind of an embarrassing subject. It’s kind of like saying, “I can’t do the thing that allegedly defines me.” It just calls your whole identity into question. It’s very frustrating, day after day, to not be able to produce anything. It makes for some bad days and nights with the people that one lives with.

Kelton Reid: Well, let’s not talk about it anymore. Just sweep that one under the rug.

Jay McInerney: I’m happy to say that I haven’t felt that in quite a while now, and I’m already working on some short stories, which is about all I can do right now, because I have a fair amount of promotion to do for this book. But for some reason, I feel like the next one is going to come to me before too long.

How a Short Story Became a Series of Bestselling Novels

Kelton Reid: Yeah. The latest, I mean the series that incorporates the lives of the Calloways, started as a short story. Is that right? It started as a short story Smoke I believe?

Jay McInerney: Yeah. Actually, the first thing I wrote after Bright Lights, Big City was a short story called Smoke. It was published in The Atlantic, and it had this couple … I don t know, I just sort of created this couple. The couple was kind of based on there were two or three couples in New York, at that time, that I kind of idealized a little bit. These people were smart and good looking, and threw glamorous cocktail parties, and seemed to have it all together in a way that the rest of us, perhaps, didn’t. Of course, as it turns out, all of those couples broke up before too long. But I wanted to explore this idea of “the perfect couple,” because, of course, there is no such thing.

Russell and Corrine were kind of … I thought of them as representative figures of the time, in a way. Some people would call them yuppies. They were very well educated. They went to Brown University together, got married shortly after they got out of college, went to New York to pursue their fortunes. And also as somebody who was on his second marriage by that time, I was intrigued to explore the idea of monogamy. Also Russell was kind of an alter-ego, for me, because if I hadn’t been a novelist, I’m pretty sure that what I would’ve done is I would’ve become an editor. He was living the life that I might have lived.

Kelton Reid: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Like an alternate universe.

Jay McInerney: Yeah. What Philip Roth called The Counterlife.

Kelton Reid: We will be right back after a very short break. Thanks so much for listening to The Writer Files.

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Why Writers Need to Stretch the Boundaries of Their Genres

Kelton Reid: Well I know that you’re a busy man, and you’ve got places to be, and people to see, so I’d love to pick your brain about creativity a little bit. Certainly … Creativity is at the core of what you do. You intertwine fiction, wine, writing, food, all the senses. Do you have a definition of creativity floating around out there, somewhere?

Jay McInerney: I think, specifically, in my case … That is to say, in the case of my life as a novelist, that I think … What I look for, what I hope for, in my own work, and what I look for in other people’s work, is reinventing the tradition, and stretching, taking a form … In this case, let’s say the novel or the short story, and applying your own imagination to it in such a way, that it becomes something that it never was before. It becomes … That you stretch, that you stretch the boundaries of the genre, just a little bit. None of us has ever really completely reinvented the novel, or the … Except possibly James Joyce. But that’s the goal, to deploy imagination in a way that something new under the sun has been created.

The Big City as Creative Muse

Kelton Reid: Absolutely. Do you personally have a creative muse, at the moment, outside of promoting your baby?

Jay McInerney: Well, honestly, I’m speaking to you from my apartment in Greenwich Village, in New York City, and I feel like the city is my muse. I feel like every day, I walk out there, and I fully expect to see something that I’ve never seen before, and to hear something I’ve never heard before. I don’t know. Just today I was walking back from lunch, and somebody was saying, “Man. Can you believe those neo-Nazis in Chipotle?” I didn’t hear the rest of that conversation, but I don’t know. I’m always picking up fragments on the street, and insights, and weird juxtapositions … New York continues to inspire me. I guess really that’s my muse. I occasionally write about other settings, but I always come back to this city. Specifically, my city is Manhattan.

Kelton Reid: Yeah.

Jay McInerney: There are many wonderful younger writers who are coming out of Brooklyn, who live in Brooklyn. They’ve made it sort of the new mecca of urban literature.

Kelton Reid: For sure.

Jay McInerney: For me, it’s Manhattan. I moved here in 1980, and I will probably die here.

Kelton Reid: Awesome, awesome.

Jay McInerney: I’ll continue to write about it.

Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. All right, I’m going to give you one fun one before we wrap. If you could choose one author from any era, for an all-expense paid dinner to your favorite spot, who would you take, and where would you take them?

Jay McInerney: Huh, let’s see. Well, I don’t know. I think it’d like to take Jane Austen. I think she would be a dazzling conversationalist. There’s any number of New York restaurants that I might take her to, but if I were taking her to a place to show her New York, and its great social panorama, I would probably take her to Balthazar.

Kelton Reid: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay McInerney: Which has, in the last twenty years or so, become one of the great New York institutions. If it turned out that she was a foodie, I would take her to Le Bernardin, the three star Michelin restaurant operated by my friend Eric Ripert up in Midtown.

Some Timeless Advice from Raymond Carver on the Importance of Discipline

Kelton Reid: For sure. It’s funny, because you chatted with him on your show, on your podcast interview, and he was kind of riffing with you about writing and writing rituals, so I will encourage listeners to find that one on the Prince Street Podcast. I’ll link to it. Finally, do you have any advice for your fellow scribes on how to just keep going, keep the cursor moving, keep the ink flowing?

Jay McInerney: Well, I would just go back to what Raymond Carver said to me when I started to study with him. He had already gathered, from visiting me in New York City, which is where we first met, that I was living a fairly undisciplined and irregular life. He told me “You’ve got to do it every day. You’ve got to write every day. When you don’t write, you go backwards. Even if you don’t write, you have to be there, at your desk. You have to be in place. You have to be waiting. Even if nothing comes out of it. You have to be ready for inspiration, and you have to be ready for the muse. You have to keep pushing those words around, until suddenly, you see some kind of flash of light, or you hear some kind of music, that makes you realize that you’ve started down the right path.”

Kelton Reid: Yeah. I love that. Lock, stock, and barrel. The latest, from Jay McInerney is Bright, Precious Days, out now. You can find everywhere reputable books are sold. It’s a fantastic read. Congratulations on the latest, and best of luck with all of your future work. I really appreciate you coming on the show.

Jay McInerney: Thanks, Kelton. It was great to talk to you.

Kelton Reid: Thanks again.

Jay McInerney: All right. Take care.

Kelton Reid: Thanks so much for joining me for this half of a tour through the writer’s process. If you enjoy The Writer Files Podcast please subscribe to the show and leave us a rating or a review on iTunes to help other writers find us. For more episodes or to just leave a comment or a question you can drop by WriterFiles.FM. You can always chat with me on Twitter @KeltonReid. Cheers. Talk to you next week.