Why are you a writer?
It happened by accident. I grew up in an ungrammatical family. There weren’t many books in the house, mostly just the Lansing State Journal.
So what happened?
Well, I was an athlete in high school, an all-state distance runner. I loved running. It made me feel so good and it felt good to be good at something.
I don’t see the connection.
Running was what I was good at, but then I broke my foot and then a car hit me and I broke my arm in two places and then I had a hernia. That didn’t all happen at once. It was a series of events. But when I tried to come back, to be a runner again because that was pretty much my whole identity, I developed tendonitis so bad that my leg wouldn’t bend. So I had a lot of down time. I spent a lot of time in bed trying to heal and I started reading a lot. I discovered that I loved books, but I didn’t try to write anything back then. I was a reader. I still read more than I write.
This reminds me a little of Eudora Welty’s story of how she became a writer—but injury instead of illness.
It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when you’re lying in bed all broken in different places. The books were a kind of comfort.
I feel a little like that’s starting to happen right now.
I have always liked women with glasses.
I get it—reading is sexy.
You should see the way my wife wears glasses.
Let’s maybe bring this back to writing?
For me, writing comes out of a similar instinct as running. It does the same thing for me that running used to. It’s something that makes me feel good, feel alive, feel like I’m doing something. I use the same discipline with writing that I did with running—every day, sometimes twice a day. I feel funny, odd, off, if I don’t do it. And it is an issue of identity. It took me three books to think of myself as a writer. Not until I published Dear Everybody did I describe myself as a writer, a novelist. I always used to tell people I was an editor, which I was, or that I rewrote college textbooks, which I did.
I didn’t think that was what you were going to say.
Books are a comfort, the ones I read and the ones I write.