How do you come up with your ideas?
I think what a lot of people are really saying when they ask this is, “Your ideas are outlandish” (like, say, a family’s story that is revealed through memorable episodes of throwing up, as in “Puke Diary”) or, more neutrally, “I would never have thought of that.” But writing is various and delightful because people, by and large, don’t have each other’s ideas and feel pleasure when they are surprised, especially when surprise is paired with recognition of human behaviour and emotion. My ideas come from news, people, geography (see answer for The Goat, below), phrases that pop into my head — generally, from noticing stuff — and from thinking, “What if?” and “How?”
Where did the idea for The Goat come from?
I was in New York for a conference and away from my kid, who was young and missed me a lot, for four days. I thought it’d be cool to send a new, short instalment of a story each day I was away. The first day, as I walked through Manhattan looking in wonder at the architecture, I noted a building with really wide ledges, and thought, “Man! A goat could live on that building.” That night, in my tiny room at the Pod Hotel, I sent the first instalment of the story: “Once there was a goat who lived in New York City…”
How do you pronounce “poemw”?
I say “po-em-wuh,” but welcome all pronunciations. You could pronounce it “poems,” because the “w” was originally a typo for “s,” or you could pronounce it with a silent “w,” or you could come up with something else entirely.
One Word Stories? Really?
This idea grew out of an obstreperous character in “Atmospherics,” a story in Pool-Hopping. A group of friends are telling stories one winter’s evening. One of them stands up and says, “Salamander,” then sits down.
Can you tell a story in one word? I don’t know. But what if you could? That was a really fun question to try out.
Did you always want to be a writer?
It never occurred to me that I could be. Writers were magical creatures with deep wisdom, startling insight and phenomenal endurance. I mean, they wrote hundreds of pages. I was a reader, though. At one point when I was a university student, I started telling people who wanted to know what I was going to do for a living that I was trying to figure out how I could be a reader. Turns out, being a writer is a pretty good way of being a reader.