What are you working on? What’s on your desk?
On my desk (actually the dining room table—I just moved), I have The African Religions of Brazil and Epitaph of a Small Winner by Machado de Assis (my next book takes place in Brazil), a Portguese-English dictionary, and a lot of opened CD cases. I should be reading more of the former, but mostly end up listening to the latter. Alas, Brazil...
GLEN DAVID GOLD
From left to right: stacks of 3x5 cards with cryptic comments about the next book, some of them taped to my printer and monitor (“All they can do now is amuse me with their sufferings”—Wilton Barnhardt); an empty tin of Marco Polo tea which was full before I started working on the next book; letterhead, postcards, bills, invitations, office supplies, computer equipment; an eighteen-inch-tall flamingo with feathered headdress, that’s actually a pen, given to me by my friend Leila of Operation Smile, because she felt I needed something of proper dignity to sign books; Meshell Ndegeocello’s Bitter and a stack of Glenn Gould CDs; some archival CD-ROM documentaries that relate obliquely to the next book; a shot glass from the Madonna Inn next to a stuffed “Death” doll from The Sandman (for ages eight and up); a peace symbol that I made when I was age eight; a 1920s 9.5 mm Pathe Baby film I won off of eBay that may or may not relate to the next book, depending on whether I can find a projector to make it work; more 3x5 cards listing all the things I haven’t done (repair our car’s back bumper, which I damaged when doing a three-point turn into a retaining wall, apologize to many people for many things); a framed manuscript page from Lynda Barry’s Cruddy, on which she has painted a fierce-looking mysterious farm animal; a box of Altoids on which rests ashes remaining from a cone of green tea incense; a huge and unkempt file of newspaper clippings, photocopies, auction catalogues, photographs, xeroxes of posters and images, all of which relate to some extent to the next book; a 50,000 dong note sent to me by an adventure racer in Vietnam as an informal royalty for the copy of Carter Beats the Devil that she sold at a bar in (I think) Denang; a hygrometer; a thirteen-year-old, sixteen-pound tortoiseshell cat named Batgirl who sleeps in a basket under a poem my wife wrote about Batgirl’s intense and very passionate cross-animate love affair with the garden hose.
Right now, I have a novel percolating, which I’m not going to talk about, because it’s my first novel and so I feel like I’m falling off a cliff, although I suppose I do have little bitty wings. Other than that, I’m working on a piece for Organic Style about Fair Trade coffee, for which I traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, in particular, I was moved by what a difference it makes to pay coffee farmers (mostly ex-Sandinistas) a fair price for their coffee, although I’m not sure American consumers are going to be willing to pay a few cents more per cup to know that they’re helping leftist Central American farmers. I’m also writing an essay for O the Oprah magazine about a book list I have kept since I was thirteen years old (after a summer reading contest at the library). I’m doing a “Hellraiser” column for Mother Jones, and an essay for More magazine about how women in midlife are once again vulnerable to being duped by the pseudo-science of diets, just when we should be grown up enough to accept the fact that real women have asses and thighs. I just finished a piece for Gourmet about a funky restaurant I ate at on Taha’a in Tahiti, and I’m doing research for a feature I’m writing for them about one of my favorite places in Italy.
On my desk are bank statements, refinancing documents, birthday party invitations, a summer camp application for my son, a folder full of EOBs (Explanation of Benefits, that is) from our health insurance company, a list of phone numbers from a place where I got an amazing massage so that I can try to find the artist who painted this exquisite scene of Venice that was hanging in the bathroom, the latest schedule of classes from the place where I do yoga, some return address labels with my name that I got from the American Diabetes Association, a booklet of coupons to make monthly payments to my daughter’s orthodontist, and my laptop. On my laptop, where I seek refuge from the other items on my desk, is the beginning of my new novel. It’s set in the Bay Area, where I live, and as I have in the past tended to write about places where I used to live, I’m adapting to the pleasures and pressures of having the world in my mind reflect and be reflected by the world outside.
I’ve been trying to write about Costa Rica ever since I spent three months living there, two years ago. I’d mapped out a collection of stories inspired by the country, and the people I’d met there, but nobody wants a collection of stories, they want a novel. So I spent some time—too much time—trying to force a big, melodramatic arc on the thing. It didn’t work, so I broke that back down into stories and found myself staring at the outline I had written in a notebook in Costa Rica. There’s so much life in Costa Rica that you can’t avoid death, even if you’re just going for a walk to the market. The story I’m working on first will probably be the last in the book. A woman in physical pain, high on pain-killers, travels to Puerto Viejo and thinks that the wild horses are trying to guide her. I took pictures of the horses there, in the middle of the night, with a Lomo. The exposures were so long that the colors blurred into brushstrokes. That’s the way this character sees them.
These days it’s all about short stories. I’m completely in love with the form, and I hope a year from now to have a collection done. I’ve just yanked back a story that had been scheduled for magazine publication in June; it wasn’t anywhere near ready. I might have tried to rethink and rework it on short notice—god knows how—but luckily I had a better one to substitute. I’ve got half a dozen more kicking around waiting to be born. Some are thirty-odd pages and still unrealized, others aren’t much more than a title, a couple of lines, and a feeling. For the past few years, I’ve also had a hundred or so pages of fragments of a novel, but I want to have made much more progress with the stories before I begin trying to make that work—if I ever do. Right now I’m not much in love with the novel as a form. Meanwhile, I’ve got my regular editing and writing duties at Newsweek, I’m teaching, and I have several nonfiction projects: an introduction and notes for Donald Barthelme’s 60 Stories, long overdue but almost done—an essay on cutting and splitting wood for a forthcoming anthology, an essay on Jimmy Olson comics for another forthcoming anthology, and an anthology of my own: fiction set in the workplace.
On my desk right now are mostly law school–related projects: a series of interviews about how Republicans managed to convince Congress that it should repeal the estate tax, despite the fact that it effects only two percent of the population, those being the very wealthy. Depressing reading, but an insight into how the lobbying machine works in Washington. I’m also working on an essay about the history of the legal treatment of suicide. No more cheery I’m afraid, but at least the gravity is a bit closer than taxes to questions of ultimate ignificance.
Right now I’m spending most of my time working on a novel called The Brief History of the Dead, but I’m also answering last-minute queries about a novel called The Truth About Celia, which is coming out this summer, and cleaning up a children’s novel called Grooves; or, The True-Life Outbreak of Weirdness. And I’m reading, of course—currently On Wings of Song by Thomas M. Disch.
At the moment, I’m banging the big rounded part of my forehead against a brick wall repeatedly over a new novel having something to do with television, independent film production, and dowsing. The bloodshed part is going well, if not the novel writing part.
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