What books are on your nightstand?
Twenty-three of them. The only one who officially lives there is The Riverside Shakespeare, but it gets lonesome and throws parties. At the top of the stack nearest the bed today is Strangely Enough!, a childhood favorite by C.B. Colby.
Who is your favorite novelist of all time?
Cormac McCarthy
Who are your favorite writers — novelists, nonfiction, journalists, poets — working today?
Novelists: McCarthy, Jim Crace (though I’ve suspected since reading it that Harvest is his last book). Nonfiction: Mary Roach. Journalist: Matt Taibbi. Poet: any woman I’m trying to hit on.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
I don’t normally choose books by genre. The genre I’ve followed the most closely since childhood has been crime. I wish I could say horror, but too little of it is worthwhile, and when horror fails it’s just putrid. Fantasy loses me, and I can’t stand detective books with continuing characters. “It’s a Rabbi McGillicuddy Mystery!”
Of all the genres you write in, which is the most fun? The most difficult? The most rewarding?
Genre has no impact on the first two. The most rewarding thing that you can write, from an aesthetic view, is a plausible ghost story.
You’ve written a number of novellas over the years. What’s the attraction of the form? And what novellas in particular do you especially admire?

The novella is a long thing that a reader might finish in one sitting. That lets you incorporate all kinds of subtle effects. Once you stretch past 50,000 words, you have to make greater sacrifices for profluence.

Great novellas that come to mind: “Carmilla” by Lefanu, “The Wine Dark Sea” by Robert Aickman, “The Jaunt” or “The Mist” by Stephen King, “The Corn Maiden” and a slew of other ones by Joyce Carol Oates.

Music has been a big part of your life and infused your work. Do you have favorite books about music or books written by musicians?
The Real Frank Zappa Book is the longest book on any subject that I read for the first time in one day. I keep it on my reference shelf.
What books might we be surprised to find on your bookshelves?
A lot of Peanuts collections from the 1960s and early ’70s. The books that most often elicit disdain from visitors to my home are celebrity bios for obscure celebrities, but I rarely keep them.
Take a moment to praise a few unheralded writers. Whom should we be reading?

My friend Louis Maistros has written an eerie historic novel set in turn-of-the-century New Orleans. It’s called The Sound of Building Coffins, and its audience has grown over the years to the point that someone’s publishing a new edition reinstating material that got cut for space from the first one. (There was a lot of it.)

To my mind, the best modern descendant of the excellent American multi-genre writers of the 20th century is David Schow. (“Unheralded” doesn’t actually apply, since he has won awards for decades, but way more people would like his story collections than currently know about them.) He’s a successful Hollywood screenwriter, so why does he keep wasting his time on short stories? I don’t know, but let’s hope he doesn’t wise up.

I’m eager to see Emily St. John Mandel’s next book. Station Eleven was superb.

I haven’t read anything by Harriet Lane except She, but I’ve got my eye on her. Her moral landscape is brutal, somewhere out there alongside Muriel Spark’s and Patricia Highsmith’s.

Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite or the most personally meaningful?
Naught but a Shadow. It’s the only novel I’ve seen about that subject that doesn’t center around a suicidally drunk British consul.
Do you enjoy fiction in translation? Stories from particular corners of the world?
No. The exception is Jorge Luis Borges.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite book? Most beloved character?
Short attention span. Favorite kid’s book was No Flying in the House, which I think later got pulled because the protagonist is a little girl who finds out she’s a witch and doesn’t mind too much. By age seven I hated kid’s books. My favorite books were The Martian Chronicles, The Lottery, and a Poe collection.
If you could pick your next book to be turned into a movie or TV series, which would it be and why?

A producer picked me to write two screenplays years ago that I subsequently adapted into short novels when her financiers fell through.

I would choose one of them because I would get paid and the script’s already written.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
I don’t eat with writers if I can help it.
What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t?
Can’t answer this one. I was reviewing books professionally by the time I graduated college, so if I ever felt that kind of pressure, I don’t recall now.
Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
I do that daily. Shame on me.
What book hasn’t been written that you’d like to read?
A careful, painstakingly researched history of the Grass Roots. Dozens of members! The band originally started as a backing group for P.F. Sloan, with Bones Howe (the guy who produced Small Change) on drums.v
Whom would you want to write your life story?
Nobody. I live in dread of such a thing.
What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
Blood Meridian, Or All the Seas with Oysters by Avram Davidson, The Lottery, all of Lovecraft and Aickman.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
Anna Karenina. And it probably ain’t happening, ever.
What do you plan to read next?
The new McCarthy as soon as it come out. Right now I’m about to start The Tenant by Roland Topor.

Photo credit Louis Maistros Photography

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