Monday, August 2, 2010

Author Interview w/ Teddy Wayne

TNBBC was thrilled to have Teddy Wayne, author of Kapitoil, spend the week with us answering all of our questions. An all out great guy with a wickedly subtle sense of humor, Teddy dishes on things like living in NYC, editing his novel, and the one thing he cannot live without!

Though an old hat when it comes to writing and seeing his work in print - having been published in McSweeny's, The New Yorker, the New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, Esquire, The Los Angeles Times - Kapitoil is his first novel.

TNBBC: Welcome Teddy. Thank you so much for joining us and taking the time to meet the most wonderful book group on Goodreads! I am going to be a greedy host and start firing off questions to get this started:

How long have you been living in NYC? What is the best and worst part of living in a big city?

Hello to all two of my Goodreads fans! Glad to be here. I'm from New York and moved back here after college in 2001, with a break in St. Louis for graduate school from 2005-8. The advantages of living here are the cultural stimuli and other urban detritus, the career benefits of being at the epicenter of the publishing world, and waiting for the subway during the completely mild New York City summers. The drawbacks are the punishing cost of living and the everpresent distraction; I was generally more productive as a writer in St. Louis.

TNBBC: Who was the coolest, most friendly, most memorable blogger that you met at the Book Blogger Reception in NYC during BEA?

I can't remember any bloggers I met at BEA. Oh, there was one who stood out. Dori, I think her name was? Just kidding--it was Corey.

TNBBC: How long did it take you to write Kapitoil, from the first word to the last?
How long was the editing process?

My first Word doc for Kapitoil is dated 12/8/05, which really means I began it a little earlier. I started working on it in earnest in Feb. 2006. It was sold in Dec. 08, and I worked with my editor on it from Jan.-May 09. Then there's a copy editing process. I must have crossed the last T in August 2009.

Earrings asked: What are your favorite books of all time? and favorite authors?

I list 10 influential books in the back of Kapitoil, in Harper Perennial's P.S. section. Some of these are my favorite books and authors--The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (though Infinite Jest is my favorite of his), White Noise by Don DeLillo, and a few more.

Carol(Kitty) asked: If someone wanted to break into the writing field I am assuming NY would be the place to be. How do you find a subject to write about? Was Kapitoil a subject that you had wanted to write about for awhile? And lastly do you do your own research?

For Kapitoil, I had a job editing business school application essays for a few years after college (there's another essay about this in the back of the book, and I also wrote an essay about it for the Wall Street Journal -- The applicants were mostly ESL speakers who had a limited command of English but deep vocabularies for business jargon. After a while, I got the idea for doing a version of this for the voice of Karim in Kapitoil--someone who spoke and thought through the lingo of finance and technology but who also had a poetic streak in his soul.

I have a 12-person team of highly paid assistants who do all my research for me while fanning me with palm leaves. Though, on occasion, I've been known to do it myself.

Carol(Kitty) asked: At what age did you decide you really wanted to write? Was it something ingrained or did you just wake up and decide I have a flair for this?

I first got the idea I wanted to be a writer around 3rd grade, and it developed over adolescence. I didn't take any writing classes in college, though, which put me at a disadvantage. At about 24 I decided to make a real attempt at fiction, wrote an unpublished novel, went to an MFA program at 26, and here I am now.

TNBBC: I love how your job gave you the idea for a character. Speaking of characters, Karim is a very unique guy, with a very unique sense of humor. Is he the sort of guy you would want to hang out with? What do you think your readers will like most about him? What do you think they will like the least?

Karim would be very enjoyable to spend some time with in real life--he's curious about others, polite and friendly, and has a wealth of knowledge of generally esoteric areas. But what makes him, I hope, most fun to be with in the book are his thoughts, which would be much less accessible in person. Readers seem to respond to his vulnerability, his intelligence, and his sweetness, all of which are encapsulated in his different voice. Of the criticisms I've seen, some people find him a little too autistic-sounding at times. He is quite awkward, but I, at least, find that quality endearing in him.

Mon asked: I was reading McSweeney's and must say your piece on Ashton Kutcher is absolutely hilarious (and the James Joyce piece as well so I sound more literary)! How did you get started with the journal and what sort of material appeals to you with in terms of these satirical articles?

Thanks, Mon. I turned the Ashton Kutcher piece into a video for Comedy Central--it (and a few others) are viewable here:

I started writing humor pieces in 2004, after having a mild fascination with it in college, and began submitting to McSweeney's. I broke through after a few attempts. I like writing about topics that are socially or politically relevant (I have the Shouts and Murmurs column in this week's New Yorker, about "Mad Men" updated to the modern day) or about a character, which makes it feel more like fiction writing.

Bobble asked: Can you tell us about the editing process? Television shows, like Being Erica, glamorize the process. What is it like working with an editor?

On the TV show "Being Teddy," it's all very glamorous. I sit in my apartment and receive emails from my editor and then painstakingly revise. Here's how it goes: After your book is accepted, the editor writes a several-page editorial letter describing the bigger changes she wants made, and also goes through the manuscript making comments and small changes. I then incorporate her suggestions and make further changes. We did another round of this, and then I went through the book several more times on my own (I'm a perfectionist about these things). My book--and most that they take nowadays--didn't require a tremendous overhaul, so I'm not sure what it would be like if the book needed a bigger makeover.

TNBBC: So in the end, Kapitoil remained the same book you envisioned when you first set out? Did it hurt to make the adjustments to the manuscript, or do you feel you have a better finished product because of it?

The first draft of it had a fairly different second half, and it didn't sell. I revised it considerably over the summer of 2008, and was very pleased with the new direction it took--more character-centered, less plot-driven. My editor helped improve it even more. Each revision improved it, until I felt I was making changes only for the sake of making them. I enjoy the revision process a lot more than the drafting process--I find it much easier and more pleasurable to work with something that's there.

TNBBC: I'm in constant awe of writers. To have an idea, and then take that idea and flesh it out, to put it into words ... simply amazes me. Are you working on anything new at the moment?

Baby steps on a new novel, Lori. Believe me, I'm in awe of writers who can relentlessly churn out fiction, too.

TNBBC: Touche, Teddy! What are you reading right now?

The best fiction I've read recently is Aryn Kyle's "Boys and Girls Like You and Me," and the best nonfiction is Andre Agassi's memoir "Open." I wrote about them both for Time magazine. I heartily recommend Kyle's book, in particular.

TNBBC: What was the strangest job you had ever held?

I think probably the business essay-editing job, but I've had some other strange places that editing has taken me. I once spent a few days in an insurance office fine-tuning their Word documents so that the lines had appropriate spacing between them--that was my entire job. And I recall being in an industrial printers' office, proofreading a company's year-end report, in a small room by myself while right outside huge printers churned rivers of ink. It was strangely relaxing and also deeply alienating, being the one human in a warehouse full of machines.

TNBBC: It sounds like those jobs required you to be alone, or at least work alone, most of the time. Do you find that you prefer to be alone when working, or writing? Or do you find yourself being pulled towards places that are full of life and activity?

Probably both. At times, you need solitude to write, and when it's going well, it's very pleasurable. Other times, it's good to have some kind of company. I either write in my apartment or, if I feel I need some human contact, in a coffee shop or library or with a friend. I've had a few fun office environments, where going in was mostly enjoyable, but I've certainly had my share of bad ones, too.

TNBBC: Do you ever find yourself stuck in a rut when it comes to writing, or experience writers block? What do you do when you have run out of things to write about?

Of course--writing fiction is generally a struggle. When it's more so than normal, I remind myself that the first draft of anything is usually bad, so it's more important to get something down, not be paralyzed by the blank page, and have faith that, with revision, it'll improve.

TNBBC: Do you use friends or family as proof readers and test audiences? Do the people you know attempt to find themselves in your characters or subject matter?

I have a few friends, from grad school and elsewhere, I had read Kapitoil for feedback. I had my younger brother, who's a neuroscientist, read it to help and check all the mathematical and scientific material in it (if this fazes you, don't worry, it's all very accessible), and another friend verify all the financial info (same thing).

People who know me well pointed out a few details they recognize from real-life situations--a throwaway example is how a friend told me her piano teacher, who was often hungover, once said, "Water never tasted so sweet"; Karim, when he gets drunk in one scene, gulps water the next morning and says "I had never valued water as much"--but no one in the novel is so closely modeled on any single person. As you'd expect, they're all composites of people I've encountered, myself, and my imagination.

Hollis asked: How much of your time do you spend on your writing as opposed to the other things in your day? I know there a lot of writers out there who write for basically the entire day which amazes me. I've tried writing for a whole day before and there is actually a great deal pf physical as well as mental effort that is involved in doing that: it makes you realise how much work is involved in creating a book.

For forms of writing other than fiction, I can go for quite a while, but with fiction I tend to top out at three or four hours. There's much harder work in the world, but it's fairly taxing to have to keep inventing something out of nothing.

TNBBC: Teddy, if you were given the opportunity to make a living doing anything you dreamed, while still writing, what would you do?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the amount of attention on music (rock and singer-songwriter, especially Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen) in Kapitoil, I'd love to be a musician. Unfortunately, I'm an intermediate guitar player and have no knack for songwriting. I also think it'd be fun to be a comedic writer-director-actor, in the Christopher Guest/Ricky Gervais/Larry David/Woody Allen mold.

TNBBC: What's the one thing you can't live without?

CHOCOLATE!!! Wait--that's not true. I don't need chocolate at all. I don't know why I answered that. The real answer is: VANILLA!!!

TNBBC: One final question Teddy! What authors, novels, websites, would you recommend people take a look at?

The list of novels and authors discussed at the back of Kapitoil is a good place to start--I've mentioned a few of them so far. For websites, my mainstays are the New York Times, McSweeney's, Slate, The Onion, Pandora, and Arts & Letters Daily. And, of course,

Thanks to Lori and everyone else who weighed in. I will recommend this group to all my writer and reader friends.

TNBBC: Teddy, Let me thank YOU for being so wonderful and hanging with us all week! I had such a great time getting to know you better... and hope that this interview experience showed some of the TNBBCer's what a great book they are missing out on!!


  1. Holy sh!t - Teddy Wayne's a David Foster Wallace fan. Um, man crush now firmly established. Weird?

    Great interview - loved reading this!

  2. Greg, your man crush comment made me laugh! Thanks for enjoying the interview. I like to please my audience! And Teddy was absolutely wonderful about it, which always makes it fun!