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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
The Salinger Exclusive 
Wednesday, November 14th, 2007 | 04:14 pm [fiction, writing]
Steve
Hessler screwed me. He asked us all who our favorite authors were, and like an idiot I said J.D. Salinger, naively never suspecting that he would end class that night by assigning us to go and interview that author, whoever he or she was. Why couldn’t I have said Nora Roberts? She’s an awful writer, but she lives right in Boonsboro, for Christ’s sake.
 
At least I didn’t say Bukowski. Getting that interview would have posed greater difficulty, I think it’s safe to say.
 
Turns out Salinger is a relatively easy dude to find. He still lives in his cottage in Cornish, New Hampshire, and, for a few bucks (and a case of Sam Adams longnecks, in my case), the locals are more than willing to sell him out. I got his address, then I got his phone number and gave him a call. We had a pleasant conversation for a few minutes. I explained my situation, how my interview with him would never be published and was an assignment for a writing class at school, and he agreed to speak to me the next day.
 
The next day — it was a Friday — I found the tall fence surrounding his property unlocked. I arrived on his porch with a pad and pen, no recording devices of any kind, as agreed, and knocked on his front door.
 
SALINGER (through the door): What? Who is it?
 
ME: Mr. Salinger, it’s Steve Shives. We spoke on the phone yesterday.
 
SALINGER: What about?
 
ME: I wanted to interview you, for my writing class. Remember? I drove all the way up here from Hagerstown, Maryland?
 
SALINGER: Well, I’m sorry to have put you through the trouble. Shall I give you some money for gas on your drive home?
 
ME: No, that’s all right.
 
SALINGER: Good, because I wasn’t going to.
 
ME: Look, can’t you just let me in? As we agreed yesterday? I won’t stay more than a few minutes, I promise.
 
SALINGER: No, I’m afraid I’d rather renege on our agreement. Sorry about this, but I’ll have to ask you to get the hell off my porch.
 
ME: Well listen, at least open the door so I can give you your present.
 
SALINGER:  What present?
 
ME: The present I bought for you as a token of thanks for being so gracious as to speak with me.
 
SALINGER: What is it?
 
ME: It’s a book about urine therapy by Paramahansa Yogananda.
 
SALINGER: There’s no such book.
 
ME: There is, I have it in my hand right here. It’s from a recently discovered, never-before-published manuscript.
 
SALINGER: You’re not shitting me?
 
ME: I would not shit you, sir. You are my favorite author.
(At this point, Salinger opened the door and invited me inside. He was disappointed to learn that indeed I was shitting him about the Paramahansa Yogananda book, but showed me to his sitting room anyway. The room was so crowded with stacks of books, magazines and manuscripts that it was difficult to walk. We found our way to a pair of old wooden kitchen chairs by a window overlooking the backyard, including a modest but lovely vegetable garden, and sat down.)
 
ME: So, what made you want to become a writer?
 
SALINGER: Let’s skip all these boring opening questions, shall we? Why drag this out any longer than it needs to be, right?
 
ME: Okay, then I’ll cut to the chase: Who are you writing about in Seymour: an introduction?
 
SALINGER: Seymour Glass. And that’s a retarded question, if you don’t mind my saying.
 
ME:  I mean who was Seymour really? Who’s he based on? Was he your own brother? A friend of yours?
 
SALINGER: I’ve never had a brother. And he was not based on any of my friends.
 
ME: Then who was he?
 
SALINGER: I’m not sure if you’ve gotten to this point in your writing class, but often, when developing a story, we writers employ a process known informally as “making shit up.”
 
ME: So Seymour and the entire Glass family is just made-up? There’s nothing of anyone you knew in any of them?
 
SALINGER: Well, Buddy is me, obviously.
 
ME: What about Franny? Is she Claire Douglas?
 
SALINGER: No, Franny is Franny. Franny isn’t Claire, because Franny spells and pronounces her name differently than Claire, and because they look totally different, talk totally different, have different siblings and parents, and one of them isn’t real.
 
ME: Which one?
 
SALINGER: Don’t be ambiguous! Ask questions that can have sensible, rational answers! And that goes for your writing, too. Be ambiguous in your themes, not in your prose. Be definitive in your prose. Or else you’ll wind up writing something like Garden State, and then God help you.
 
ME: Any other advice for writers?
 
SALINGER: Don’t wipe your ass after handling raw meat.
 
ME: What the fuck does that have to do with writing?
 
SALINGER: Nothing, but you didn’t ask for writing advice — you asked for advice for writers. And wiping your ass after handling raw meat is a bad idea no matter what your vocation.
 
ME: Any advice for writers that relates to writing?
 
SALINGER: Don’t publish.
 
ME: Don’t publish. Ever?
 
SALINGER: Well, not never, for Christ’s sake. Write. That’s my advice, see? Write. Be disciplined, be brutal, and write like your immoral soul depended on it.
 
ME: Think you mean “immortal.”
 
SALINGER: Whatever. Write your balls off, is my point — but publish nothing. Save everything you write as manuscripts, and leave specific instructions on what to publish after you die. That way, you get to spend your whole life writing just for yourself, and then after your ashes are scattered to the wind, the rest of the world reads your life’s work and calls you a genius.
 
ME: Yeah, but a lot of good it does you at that point. You’re dead!
 
SALINGER: If you don’t want to write for yourself, then you have no business trying to write at all.
 
ME: What about you? You published like crazy until the 60s, when you suddenly stopped — conveniently, it seems to me, when you’d reached a point where you didn’t really have to publish anymore in order to make a living. Not everyone has the luxury of being a financially secure former famous author who can sit on his ass writing whatever he wants all day while residuals for shit he wrote sixty years ago pay the bills.
 
SALINGER: So publish! What do you want me to tell you? Publish! If you can convince those do-nothing agents and know-nothing editors to print you, then go for it! Let them print your words on every magazine in the country! Put your picture on the front page of every newspaper! “Famous writer signs latest masterpiece at local book store!” It’s a tough room to even make it into, and once they get in, a lot of people realize too late that they can’t take it, and they try to find something that’ll help, and they go to booze, or they go to women, or they go to cocaine, or they get themselves a gun and blow their own faces off. That’s what Hemingway did. He was a better writer than me or you or anyone else ever thought about being, and rich and famous and loved all over the whole world, and he put a two-barreled shotgun to his forehead and pulled both triggers. He was Ernest Hemingway, for Christ’s sake. And he couldn’t take it. You think you can take it? You think you can take the rejection, the frustration, the feeling like there isn’t a thing worth doing that you can do worth a damn? You think you can handle success, if you’re so lucky or so god-damned to attain it? Then go with God, little one, and God fucking bless you.
 
ME: I’m a little thirsty, do you have a glass of water or something? Or an iced tea? Anything would be great.
 
SALINGER: No, I never drink fluids of any kind. I’m afraid I have nothing else to say to you on this or any subject, so would you mind leaving me alone?
 
ME: Sure. Thank you so much, Mr. Salinger, for talking with me.
 
SALINGER: Please, call me Jerry.
 
ME: Really?
 
SALINGER: Fuck no.
(Salinger showed me back to the front door and out onto the porch. He instructed me to please be sure to close and lock the gate in the fence on my way out. I said good-bye and started to walk away. After almost a full minute, when I had nearly reached the fence, he called out to me.)
 
SALINGER: Excuse me one second!
 
ME: Yes, what?
 
SALINGER: Do you know Wes Anderson?
 
ME: The director? Sure.
 
SALINGER: Do you know him personally?
 
ME: Well, no, I don’t.
 
SALINGER: Nevermind, then. I just wanted someone to tell that son of a bitch to stop plagiarizing me!
 
ME: Oh! Well, if I ever run into him, Jerry, I’ll give him the message!
 
So what have we learned? That reclusive writers are actually friendly and accessible, provided they’re also slightly but innocuously insane? Perhaps. Perhaps also that Ernest Hemingway was just a big fat pussy afterall. And perhaps greatest of all, when J.D. Salinger finally does settle down for that eternal dirt nap, we shall all of us have a lot of reading to do, because I am telling you, that motherfucker has been busy.
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