It must be hard to live with another writer. What’s the worst thing about it?

We’ve managed not to succumb to the jealousy and insecurity that wrecks more successful writer couples, so we’re going to say the long initial period of straight-up poverty. The key is to have separate studies and agents—two things we learned the hard way. We do share an editor these days (the sent-from-heaven Fred Ramey at Unbridled Books), but he respects that we are different writers and different people.


So you’re never competitive with one another?

E: No.

D: I’m even less competitive.


Then tell me: who’s the better writer?

Our 12-year-old daughter asked that recently. While one of us pondered the most diplomatic answer, the other immediately answered, “I am.” So now he’s officially the best. It’s like calling shotgun.


Does your writing cause fights?

We used to fight over writing time when our kid was a baby and we were working as freelance translators. Then we both gave up sleep and found that worked well enough. Our writing turned to shit, but we were too tired to fight. An evil critic could have fun by noting in a review how one of us is better than the other. But we all know who’s best—officially.


But really you must admire each other’s work or you wouldn’t be together?

There was that time when one of us finished a novel and the other one pronounced it “clearly written.” Talk about damning with faint praise. Mostly we recognize each other’s genius. Sometimes this involves reminders.


Do you write in similar styles and like the same books?

No, and (mostly) yes. Our lists of favorite writers overlap. You’ll find Sebald and Ondaatje high on both, and neither of us can endure rotten prose. We tend to explore similar motifs—either from shared affinities or a shared life—but one of us writes much more clearly. It’s probably more important in marriage to like the same music than the same books; the music you can hear in the kitchen.


Have you ever stolen each other’s material?

A few years ago one of us wrote a story about a bus ride taken by the other. Not only did she publish it, but she got invited to New York for the journal launch party while the other stayed in South Carolina with the kid. Now we’re careful to call dibs on our personal experiences. There’s shotgun for some things, dibs for others.


Speaking of personal experience, you both write about sexually promiscuous and adulterous characters. Is your work autobiographical?

Don’t be ridiculous.


Who has written the most unpublished books?

Let’s focus on our new books instead. An Unfinished Score is a novel of blackmail and betrayal, set in the world of contemporary classical music. (Composers have it even worse than writers of literary fiction.) And Panopticon is novel about the dangers and seductions of today’s digital omniscience set on the San Diego-Tijuana border.


So, I have to ask again, you’re really okay with one of you being more successful than the other?

E: Yes.

D: That depends on how you define “successful.” For me it’s less a question of writing clearly than of how many countries bought the foreign rights to your first novel.

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DAVID BAJO is the author of the novels Panopticon (2010) and The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri (2008), which has been translated into ten languages. His short stories have appeared in Five Chapters, The Cimarron Review, Zyzzyva, and The Sun. He has worked as a journalist and translator and currently teaches writing at the University of South Carolina.

ELISE BLACKWELL is the author of four novels: Hunger, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish, Grub, and An Unfinished Score. Her short stories and cultural criticism have appeared in Witness, Topic, Seed, and Quick Fiction. Her work has been translated into several languages, and her books have been chosen for numerous “best of the year” lists, including the Los Angeles Times. Originally from southern Louisiana, she holds an MFA from the University of California-Irvine and currently directs the University of South Carolina MFA program.

One response to “David Bajo and Elise Blackwell: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Hey guys–so glad to see you both here, and excited to see TNB’s debut “joint interview” on the Fiction Section. I’m excited to go read both your excerpts right now!

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