Friday, February 20, 2009

Anatomy of My New York Times Interview

Yesterday morning I opened my e-mail, which I do first thing in case someone has written to me during the night to offer me millions of dollars for something (and not in the Nigerian Scam/Irish Lottery kind of way) or George Clooney has come to his senses and asked me to take him back. And there I found a message with the kind of subject line writers love to see: URGENT: QUERY FROM NY TIMES BOOK REVIEW RE: JANE BITES BACK.

Best of all, this time it wasn't a joke being played by one of my stupid friends. It really was a request from a writer from the Book Review asking if I might be available for an interview regarding the current Jane Austen monster phenomenon. Fortunately my lunch date with the Queen of England and my canasta club meeting had both been canceled, and I was free.

Several e-mails with the publicity department at my publisher later we had a set time of 11:30 AM for the interview. Which or course meant that I couldn't possibly do any writing because it would be interrupted and my creative fire would be extinguished. So I was forced to play computer backgammon and chess for several hours. I also spoke to my agent, who called to remind me not to say anything stupid.

As 11:30 rolled around I watched the phone for signs of ringing. It's old and I've been having problems with it, so when it got to be 11:45 I hit the call button to make sure there was a dial tone. Then I worried that at that exact moment the reporter had tried to call me and I had canceled out her call. I hung up. Then I remembered that the off button has been sticking, so I hit it a bunch times to make sure I really had hung up. Then I hit the on button to make sure there was a dial tone. The vicious cycle had begun.

Anyway, I eventually stopped checking the phone and then the dogs all decided that they needed to go out. I managed to herd all five of them down the stairs while keeping my eye on the phone and out we went to the back yard. Where all five immediately started barking at nothing, making it impossible for me to hear the phone. Then I remembered that I could just take the handset with me, so I ran back inside for it. But I'd left it upstairs when I went for the dogs, and it was still there. I raced up there, got the handset, and checked the machine to make sure no messages had come from the reporter, who I was certain had called in the ninety seconds it took for all of this to transpire.

The dogs continued to bark despite threats of euthanasia, and I became concerned that if they phone did ring I would have to interrupt my answers to the reporter's questions with shouts of "Sam! Knock it off!," "Andrew! Don't pee on your sister!" or "Teddy! Don't even think about eating shit!" I suspected this would do nothing for my reputation as a leading literary light. I begged the dogs to behave and became unnerved when they appeared to be laughing at me.

Eventually everybody came back inside and I made them go upstairs, where two of them (Andrew and Teddy) got into a fight. I left them to it, came back downstairs to my office (aka The Garage) and resumed fretting.

By one o'clock I was a little peckish, having eaten only a frosted cinnamon Pop Tart for breakfast. But I didn't want to make lunch lest the phone ring while I was eating, which seemed rude. However, I perform poorly when I haven't eaten, and I was getting a little faint. So I risked everything by making a sandwich, which I then wolfed down because if the phone rang I would have to set the sandwich aside and look at it longingly while talking to the Times writer, most likely resulting in my saying something stupid (See: Warnings From Agent above).

At half past one, my sandwich a lead ball in my belly, I called my agent. "She hasn't called," I said. "

"Are you sure you weren't supposed to call her?" he asked.

I frantically checked all of the e-mails from the publicist. "No, it says she's calling me," I answered.

"Did it occur to you to call your publicist?" asked my agent.

"Isn't that what you're for?" I shot back.

I called the publicist. A few minutes later he called back to say that the reporter was running late and would call me any minute now.

The problem was, I had to pee. But if I went to the bathroom the likelihood was great that the phone would ring mid-stream and I would have to either answer it while finishing up (remember, I had the handset) and hope she thought I was standing near a fountain or try to stop peeing and take the call elsewhere. I don't know if you've ever tried to stop peeing, but short of employing a rubber band it's not as simple an undertaking as it may seem.

Neither option was ideal, so I decided to hold it. But with every minute that went by the need to go became more urgent. At the same time I worried that with every passing minute the call was more likely to come in. Only when my bladder threatened to proceed without me did I give in, holding the handset and praying it wouldn't ring. Thankfully, it didn't.

After another fifteen minutes the dreadful thought occurred to me that it might never ring. Perhaps she no longer needed--or wanted--to talk to me. I saw my one chance to appear in the NY Times Book Review go up in smoke. My friends would laugh. My agent would fume. My editor would be disappointed. Worst of all, I had already changed my Facebook page to say that I was being interviewed. In my head I heard the voices of children chanting, "Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!"

Clearly, my life was ruined. The Times hated me. The only option was to kill myself. I wondered if I had enough pills to do the job. I imagined botching it and ending up in a coma, which my insurance totally would not cover.

Then, of course, the phone rang. The reporter was lovely. We chatted for ten or fifteen minutes. We laughed. We made plans to get together for drinks (okay, we didn't). I hung up. Then I called my agent to let him know the interview had happened after all.

"Did you say anything stupid?" he asked.

I couldn't remember a single thing I'd said. But the piece comes out next week (I think) and we'll find out.

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