How did you get into greeting cards?

Well, I started with Seuss and refused to vamoose,
As the pleasures of rhyme found their traction.
Faced with business or law, I’d just doodle and draw
As my studies were spent in inaction.

Stayed a student for years while my friends got careers;
I weighed “marrying wealth” or “adoption.”
When it happened one day I found Hallmark would pay
I accepted. (Did I have an option?)

I should note here as well that though work life was hell,
I’ve decided that this is my curse:
Writing cards 9 to 5 I could barely survive,
But at everything else I suck worse.

Did you ever imagine you’d still be writing greeting cards, fifteen years after quitting?  Particularly since publication, in an enterprise like Greeting Card Emergency, which started as a goofy way to promote your book but has led to actual industry offers?*

Why don’t you have a business card?

I’ve never had a business card.  Even when I was a freaking greeting card writer at freaking Hallmark–the coolest job a person in Kansas City can have–I was unable to prove it and help my social stock rise at parties.  (Sure, you can just say you’re a card writer, but people often demand the long form.) To this day, when I meet someone and we need to trade numbers, I just grab a nearby napkin and draw something like this:

Which is also keen in a way, but really time-consuming.  Also, I’ve never been able to win a free lunch by throwing this cartoon in a business’s fishbowl.

You’re a regular contributor to public radio’s This American Life.  So what’s Ira Glass really like?

I’m happy to report that he’s incredibly sweet, and he really does genuinely like people.  He will listen to bores and irritants–people who drive even me to vexed agony in seconds–for an hour or so, with every appearance of actually caring what they say, and since he’s always in demand at parties, he’s also very adept at juggling people’s attentions without seeming too damn inaccessible.  The man could write a seminar.

Having said that, when he’s at work, you don’t want to interrupt him.  In fact, what Ira Glass is like is actually what every single producer at This American Life is like: brilliant, funny, friendly…and, with the flip of a switch, perfectionistic to the point where it looks like mental illness.  They all work late without even thinking about it. They all care deeply about telling the best story.  They’re all ruthless about what’s not working, cut down inanities in a trice, and are passionate about the possibilities of radio.  This is why the show is still brilliant after 400 episodes, and I’m really glad I know them.  You couldn’t ask for a nicer bunch of creative obsessives.  Also, I owe them my life and career.  So there’s that.

Is there anything else you’d care to add?

In a nod to Al Hirschfeld, I’ve hidden the word NINA in consecutive letters six times throughout this interview.  Happy hunting!

*(I believe the answer to this one goes without saying.)

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DAVID ELLIS DICKERSON grew up in Tucson, and was raised a conservative Christian geek, and although he has left the religion behind, from a writerly standpoint, that upbringing is still paying dividends. He is a regular contributor to public radio's "This American Life," and the host of a videoblog on YouTube called "Greeting Card Emergency." His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Gettysburg Review, and (through some fluke of taxonomy) Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. He has also appeared in The New Yorker, if crossword puzzles count. He likes to think they do. He lives in Brooklyn with his XBox.

9 responses to “David Ellis Dickerson: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. D.R. Haney says:

    I’m your fiction counterpart here this week at TNB, and as such, I wanted to say:


    Love the verse and cartoon.

    It’s nice to hear what you say about Ira Glass, who was only recently mentioned here at TNB by Allison Aucoin, one of our contributors.


  2. Erika Rae says:

    I really, really want your “business napkin” now. I’d give you a free lunch.

  3. David, it’s great to have you featured on TNB. I’ve enjoyed this immensely.

    I’m totally with Erika on the business napkin/free lunch deal.

  4. Quenby Moone says:

    I feel like I’m having my six degrees moment! I mean, I love Ira Glass, and you know Ira Glass. I’ve bought greeting cards, and you wrote greeting cards. I’ve had a business card and you doodle business cards piecemeal!

    I swear, we’re like doppelgangers.

    Welcome. I’m totally proud to be six degrees of someone who’s done something really really cool.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Not only am I down with your geekness, David, but Quenby Moone’s gotta be the most laidback standup heer on Proper Spellers Anonymous. You two could stop a silver bullet in a business card and send it screeching back with like 49 stanzas riffed via NJ. One sees a Haney future for you both but maybe not so mellow ok more like Greg oLear who cannot pronounce his own name but who’s perfect reaLLY?

      • Quenby Moone says:

        Am I going to be outed as a loser if I admit I have absolutely no idea what this means? What is a “laidback standup” and Proper Spellers Anonymous? I know that I want to stop a silver bullet with a business card, but I don’t know why I would do so. Also, why New Jersey?

        Help. Me.

        Although I’m with you on the OLear tip. I fell asleep last night wondering if I had it right: “O Lee-ur. Oleeer. No, Oh Lay Ar.” Seriously. Are you just trying to fuck with me, mighty editor? I mean, my name looks pathological, but it’s pronounced EXACTLY LIKE IT READS: Kwen-bee Moon.

        That is all.

  5. Gloria says:

    I love every single thing you said about This American Life and the folks who make the thing go. Brilliant. Loved this self-interview.

  6. Thanks so much, y’all, for your kind welcoming comments! I’ve never been published in a magazine before where I felt like I was part of a family. Everyone here is so lovely! I’m afraid if I stick around too long I’ll run out of napkins.

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