Boxing matches in Las Vegas
Goth music festivals in Illinois
Tranny bars in New York
Jonathan Ames was a fencer at Princeton University, which is also where he began writing. Since 1989 he has published three novels, four essay collections, a graphic novel, and several short stories, all of which blur the line between the fictional and real Jonathan Ames. Ames also edited Sexual Metamorphosis, a collection of memoirs on transsexuality, a subject that he explores at length in his writing. An HBO show, Bored to Death (based on his short story of the same name), airs this fall, and a film adaptation of his novel The Extra Man is currently in postproduction.
I first spoke to Ames in Iowa City in the fall of 2007, when he was a visiting professor at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. We sat down for an interview directly after Iowa’s NonfictioNow Conference, at which Ames performed monologues. The last two years have been some of Ames’s busiest, and to chronicle his progress, we met twice more. The three discussions have been arranged here chronologically.
THE BELIEVER: Do you ever find yourself playing into the “Jonathan Ames” that you’ve created in your essays? Do you ever find yourself living life and being like, “Well, if I just push a little further tonight, I might end up with an essay?” Do you live in order to create the material?
JONATHAN AMES: Not so much now. When I had the column and I had this “every two weeks” deadline, there was a relentless recording going on in my mind, thinking: Is this a column or is this a column? You know, I was getting two hundred and fifty dollars a column, which was five hundred a month. I liked writing the column because in New York, at the time, it was pre-Internet and people were still picking up the alternative paper. So in my little village—the East Village or Brooklyn, wherever I was living—people were reading that paper, reading my column. And it was fun. You write something on a Tuesday, you send it in on Wednesday, then it’s out the following Tuesday, and then you’re getting feedback, and there would be letters in the paper the next week! So I did enjoy writing it, but at the same time it was like a gun to my head. Only a few times did I really push situations so that I might write a column about it. I think it comes out in my second book of essays (My Less than Secret Life, 2002). I was invited to an orgy, and I’m not really into group sex, but I was thinking, “Yeah, this could be a column.” And I was a bit curious too. Again in that book, a friend of mine was doing an animal sacrifice—she’s into voodoo—and I normally wouldn’t have participated—well, I don’t think I would have. I mean, I do like to do weird things, but there was this voice in my head going, “This could be a column. Go do it.” I had to watch this chicken being killed.
We hope you enjoy this excerpt.
To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.