I started writing in notebooks when I was probably six or eight – it’s hard sometimes for me to discern reality from family myths. Anyway, by the time I was 10, reading and writing had become central to my daily life and very survival. My initial efforts, like now, involved trying to make sense of things and to savor the beauty of the world, the indifference, the chaos and drama. You know, pompous artsy whiny stuff (grin).
2. Who are your main literary influences? Do you emulate any of them?
This is going to sound clichéd, but if I were to be stranded on a desert island and had only one author’s work, it would hands-down be Tolstoy. War and Peace and Anna Karenina are the best novels ever. By themselves they would be enough.
Another all-time favorite is JD Salinger; I have spent years reading and studying him. I also love Virginia Woolf; I treasure her prose, her lyrical and psychological depth. And Dostoevsky, Raymond Chandler, Adrienne Rich. The list goes on. In general, I love books, a lot of different kinds of books, and when I find ones I love, I carry them around for years and re-read them time and again.
Do I emulate my favorite authors? You bet I do – or at least I try to – just like guitarists and drummers and singers, I guess: borrow here, borrow there, add your own two cents.
3. OK, now you’ve done it – you are stranded on a desert island, one turntable, no booze, 5 albums….what are they?
Ha, no booze, interesting! OK, I wish I could just have 5 mix tapes (REALLY, my musical tastes are MUCH broader than the question allows (I’d like a Brandenburg Concerto, a piano piece by Keith Jarrett, blasts by Coltrane and Mingus and Monk, Satchmo’s It’s a Wonderful World, and the Exploited’s Sex and Violence)), but sticking to the spirit of your question, five albums as follows, followed by five back-ups in case of warping due to sun or saltwater:
First Five: The Clash’s The Clash (U.S. release w. “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais”), David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Leonard Cohen’s The Songs of Leonard Cohen, The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground and Nico, and Husker Du’s Zen Arcade
Back Up Five: The Replacement’s Let It Be, Tom Waites Nighthawks at the Diner, Bob Marley Legend, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1
4. What is the status of your long toiled-over life’s work, the semi-fictional “Vicious Circles”?
It is virtually done, except for my final confession in the last chapter and the epilogue. Or maybe that’s a gross misstatement; maybe I should just say it’s what it is and I am virtually getting ready to slay the beast one final time. I am working on it part-time now but I think about it all the time and hope to deliver it in-full next year. So, yeah….it’s been sixteen or seventeen or eighteen years, depending on the math.
5. What is it about?
It’s about a sixteen-year-old Sarah, a girl who ran away in 1977 from the suburbs to the city of Chicago. It’s a true story based on nearly 100 hours of tapes Sarah and I made together. She was of course, like virtually all runaways, exploited. It recounts her adventures and misadventures as a girlfriend, a professional escort, a wife, a mother. It’s drugs, sex, power, survival, Chicago, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s, and it’s about running away and, then again, not running away.
6. You are also a chef celebrating the opening of your first restaurant, Fusion Cafe; is the name autobiographical?
Well, celebrating is not exactly the word for it, if you know the restaurant business. It’s more like trading in your life and working and worrying all the time, but luckily I love it.
I hadn’t realized it exactly until I thought about your question: yeah, I guess the name is autobiographical. Fusion, the melting pot, my African father, my English mother, my art, my science, my cooking, and on and on and on…. It’s almost like a guiding principle for me, now that I think about it. (see Tristan’s ‘Cafe 101’ cooking blog)
7. You’ve always been an avid indie music purveyor and dabbling songwriter, does music have a nexus with cooking?
Yes, I think so, very much. Think in terms of a production, the mix, the balance, the quality of performance, the quality of equipment, and of course the composition itself, the melodies and harmonies, the tempo and rhythms, and of course the lyric…. These all have almost direct analogies to a successful (or unsuccessful) dinner service.
8. What are you listening to these days?
I’m listening to Pandora a lot these days. I had been listening a lot to internet radio on iTunes a lot for a couple of years really, especially Coyote Radio out of UCal.-SanBernadino and Boot-Liquor, a SomaFM alternative countryish station with a alcohol sub-theme. But ever since I started Pandora when I got my iPhone, I’ve been listening to a lot of Superchunk Radio and stuff like that.
9. As a writer, do you have to stay busy at your craft to keep your chops up like a musician, or do you have to walk away from time to time to keep things fresh?
Well, I’m probably the last person to give advice about writing habits, but I’d say both have their place. Like with everything of course: practice, practice, practice is the way to get better and to get things done. Writing though especially takes place not only in the act of writing but in the act of living too.
10. What takes more courage for you, actually writing or reading what you have written?
Wow, that’s a good question. I don’t know, probably the writing; as much as I love it, I am very afraid quite often and really, you know, it can be hard and it can hurt. I love the quote from Hemingway: “There’s nothing to writing, just sit at the keyboard and bleed.”
In terms of reading, the hard part is getting past the understandable but unreasonable loyalty to what one has written – that is, to approach and see it objectively. to be able to critically assess its virtues and weaknesses and to have the courage to re-write.