Author Interviews Himself

The Author Interviews Himself:

Q: For many years, you functioned primarily as a comedy writer. How did a Saturday Night Live sketch guy, a Disney Imagineer, and author of such novelty books as Dudes the Cult of Cool manage to delve into something so personal and ostensibly serious as Marker?

A: Well, Al Franken is a senator now.  So being well-acquainted with the ridiculous seems to have been the perfect preparation for his transition. As for myself, one day my sense of humor up and abandoned me in a dark wood.

Q: That sounds like Dante.

A: Well, he did write a comedy. For me, at that time in my life, I found it a relief to be freed from the desperate drive to wring a laugh from folks. To be “on” all the time in social settings was exhausting. Heretofore, it had been my way of finding approval, of being liked; a way of hiding my discomfort at being around people.

Q: Is Marker a novel or a memoir?

A: It is both. A nov-moir. A mem-ovel.

Q: So you took liberties with real life events?

A: A habit I’ve yet to break.

Q: Hence, the Appendix of Lies?

A: Yes, I wanted my readers to know what was an exaggeration, an embellishment or a barefaced lie—sometimes referred to as fiction.

Q: What were the challenges in adapting your own personal stories into a novel?

A: Staying awake.

Q: Really?

A: Yes. I felt it was important to keep my story not only interesting for the reader, but interesting for me the writer. I had already lived through this part of my life. It’s not that interesting just to repeat it—beat it out in words. There had to be some imagination involved, some invention. Even soldiers enduring a war have long tedious periods where nothing much happens. If you tried to tell your entire life story any sane reader would use your book for a pillow. Real life taken day to day—the quotidian is a lot of boring stuff. Unless you are Marcel Proust whom I’ve never read.

Q: Speaking of Proust, why did you write “Marker”?

A: I kept coming back to stories from my life. There were events that continued to shadow me. I remember taking a creative writing class at UT Austin and not being able to think of anything interesting to write about and yet, much of what is in “Marker” had already happened to me by that time, at least the early years: my abandonment, foster family and eventual adoption—my ‘three mothers era’ as I like to call it.

Q: So you began writing these stories that far back?

A: No. As I said, I didn’t think my life was that interesting. A pale and unworthy topic for literature. And yet, it was there underneath, influencing everything. Basically, I just didn’t think that I was interesting. I copied the personalities and tics of people I found interesting. Which if you consider my early childhood abandonment issues, a brief, but heartfelt fling with a foster family and an adoption by strangers with whom you have so little in common, then it makes sense that I didn’t find myself a worthy subject. The child informs the man—his wants, his fears, what he’s deemed his limitations.

Q: What did you write in those early days?

A: It was terrible. Some of the poetry was okay in an adolescent kind of way. I realized that my motivation was not so much to write about my self as it was to find a new self that was more extraordinary—some combination of Henry Miller and Jim Morrison. Add to that the fear of an early demise from a genetic disease and you have something I very much wanted to flee from rather than articulate.

Q: So you were living, as they say, ‘in denial’?

A: I resided there whenever possible. I invited friends over.

Q: And what finally changed that?

A: Well, of course, no matter where I fled the same issues kept coming up: the relentless drive to connect to people and an inability to trust them, obsessively seeking intimacy with a woman and incapable of sustaining it, producing work that others admired and yet, I somehow always found lacking. How could I like it when it was made by me? I wanted things that were decidedly not me. Then I met a woman who for some reason wanted to get married and have a child—with me. So I had to address the real possibility of whether or not I was carrying the gene for Huntington’s disease.

Q: And this led to your search?

A: First, it led to the bar. But after many cocktails and some costly chats with professionals, it did propel me not only into the search for my biological family, but to undertake a more serious examination of the events of my life. Like a detective, I was investigating what happened to me and my siblings, to my biological family and, as I did so, my own psychological profile began to surface with a painful clarity.

Q: So you began the book?

A: No, I order more cocktails. But it wasn’t the same. Pandora’s Box had been breached. There was no going back. I wanted this experience—all the misery that myself and my siblings had suffered—to be of some use instead of just a reason to get blotto and crack bitter jokes. I wanted it to be some kind of reminder to myself and to others out there: the displaced and mis-placed, the disconnected who feel they have no family, no love and are of little value that they are worthy. And though you often feel mired in what seems a pointless and terrifying loneliness—you are not alone. We are all connected. And if you look, you will find a way to live, find a way back to love. You may think you have lost it, but if you look, you will find what is yours. You will learn to forgive yourself and survive. You will begin to forgive the world and thrive. Other than that, a few amusing sex scenes and a fist-fight with a large dog, the book is fairly useless.

Q: Are you still uncomfortable around people?

A: It depends on what they’re wearing.

Q: Their clothing?

A: Cologne. Or too much perfume and I find myself shallow-breathing until I can get away.

Q: I shaved this morning.

A: Yes, I know. That’s why I’m sitting in the other room.

Q: Sorry.

A: No need to apologize to me since I am you.

Q: So you lied about being in the other room?

A: Yes, I did. But I have also accepted much of the mess that makes up who I am, and though I tend to keep producing more of the same mess on a daily basis, I seem to care less and less what others think. Of course, we all want to be loved. Or at least well-thought of. I’m not sure why. Safety in numbers? The drive to be part of a pack? We like to pretend we don’t need each other, but we do or we fade away. Like candles we burn brighter in the presence of others.

Q: So you like people.

A: I wouldn’t go that far. But I acknowledge I need them. And the challenge is to remain yourself as you try to please others. I find it gets particularly interesting around the rich and famous. And really beautiful people will test you. I spent an afternoon in Washington Square Park with Alec Baldwin many years ago and was amazed at the purely physical attention he drew from people. This was before his fame. He was working on soap in the studio below SNL. It was like watching this dumb power operate. Not that Alec was dumb by any stretch, he is very witty, but his beauty was nothing but this thing—it expressed no intelligence or morality, no hard-won skills and yet people were so clearly drawn to it. Scary, I remember thinking—both to those who have it and those drawn to it.

Q: What would you like to think your readers will take away from Marker?

A: There are some human moments. Each reader will come away with his or her own particular connection. I hope it serves them well. Even if only a reminder that to really live we must love. “And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.” as Walt Whitman said.

Q: Thank you for your time.

A: I am so glad I have it to give.

Comments
  1. Betsy says:

    LOVE the interview! You asked yourself some very good questions.I hope that after I buy a copy, you’ll sign it for me. It sounds great Mel! Congratulations on your book and your marriage! When did you and Rhonda get married? I’m so happy for you both…being married is a blast! Hi to Oliver.
    Betsy

  2. James says:

    Mel, I think you handled the interview very well. It’s so tempting to blow these people off with a simple “uh-yes” or “uh-no.” You gave him just enough without letting him get inside your head. Of course they always write what they want, anyway. Looking forward immensely to reading the book.

    • Mel Green says:

      Damn straight, Jim. Can’t be trusted, used my lew and manhandled my dog and I’m the one asking the questions. The nerve! Ah well, anything for a scoop … hope you enjoy. I wonder if smaller copies of the book should be designed for smaller living spaces? A thought…

  3. Thomas Kerrigan says:

    It turns out I have been writing an amalgam of the two genres myself. I was struck by the fact that when we get old details of our early life we assumed we had forgotten come flooding back in our memory. I had attached cosmic significance to this phenomenon, implications of another world I was bound for even. Of late I have read this may be due to a misfunctioning off the bowels.

  4. Bill Balch says:

    Even though I’ve been aquainted with you for over 40 years, I realize I hardly knew you at all. A fascinating narrative, and powerfully presented. Your candid and courageous disclosures tempt me to confront some of my own psychological lleftovers. But maybe at the age of 71, I should let it all go, and follow Candide’s advice to Dr. Pangloss: “Yes, that’s all true. But let us cultivate our garden.” My metaphorical garden is painting and eating ice cream.

    • Bill Balch says:

      Whoops. “Acqainted” not “aqainted.” An embarrasing typo for a former English teacher. I could say I had a senior moment. When you get to be an old duffer it’s amazing what you can get away with just by saying “Oh, had a senior moment.” Instead of people getting mad at you, they smile benevolently and say “Ahhhh…” Except my wife who is onto the game.

      • Mel Green says:

        The problem with a wife? They tend to be well aqainted with our ways. I’m looking forward to being in Lajitas for DOD: wacking weeds, pissing off the porch and maybe painting some fascia boards–I dunno, you can get hurt working at heights like that. We’ll see. I’m getting Ollie ready to attack some Javelina! Yum, bacon, bacon, bacon …

  5. Bill Balch says:

    Jeez! ACQUAINTED!

  6. Bob says:

    Hey Mel,

    Looking forward to reading the book. Just remember to widen your stance, just a little bit.

    Bob

  7. Billy Brown says:

    Mel, this is Billy Brown. I googled you out of curiosity and came upon your blog and mentions of you writing. Your “self-interview” was particularly interesting as it conjured up the you I knew, and also gave me a glimpse of the wise cat you’ve become. I’m married and living in Austin. I have two boys, 18 and 14, and am still in the TV biz. I try to live a mindful life and am usually happy. I’m glad to see that you’re healthy, funny as ever and working your mind. Stay well, my long-lost friend and collaborator.

    Billy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s