I've always done non-fiction, since I started writing seriously in the
late '70s. I don't think of it as alternating; these things just went on
together. I was primarily engaged in writing fiction, and in some
ways I still am, but I have been doing an awful lot of non-fiction
recently. I'm pretty resolutely general in my interests, and I'm
happy to be able to write about many different kinds of things.
Sometimes I'm fortunate enough to have an editor call me and say,
"Would you like to write about X?" They'll know that I have an
interest and involvement in film, or they're familiar with the writing
I do. I don't write that often for magazines, but there are some, like
Art in America or the Voice Literary Supplement, that I
write for more than others, and I can call the editors there and ask,
"Can I write about X?" And sometimes it comes about through being
asked to present papers at conferences.
I would say I'm primarily a fiction writer, although I guess that's not
strictly true based on my output. My most recent book before The
Broad Picture was The Velvet Years: Warhol's Factory 1965-
67, for which I wrote accompanying text to Stephen Shore's
photographs. And I'm working on a book now about the history of
Books and Company, a tremendous New York bookstore that closed in
My latest novel, No Lease on Life, is 24 hours in the life of
Elizabeth, who lives in the East Village. She starts out in the middle
of the night, unable to sleep because the kids on the street are
yelling and breaking bottles. So for half the book, she's looking out
her window, thinking and fantasizing. And then during the day, she
goes out into the city. It's a very intense, detailed description of an
urban day. It's also filled with jokes that punctuate the text every
five pages or so. They aren't told by anyone; they're just part of the
fabric of the city.
Different forms allow you to do different things. Sometimes I try to
confound the two forms. I have a character, Madame Realism, and
I've written several essays, some of which appear in The Broad
Picture, in which she goes to art shows, so that I'm using a fictive
voice to write art reviews. It's one way of dealing with the problem
of Truth, which many of the essays deal with in one way or another...
I do really see all kinds of cultural production as being within a
context... How we take things into our own lives is always fascinating
to me. When you love something, like a book or a movie, it's
probably in part because that object is related to something deeply
personal to you not only as part of an aesthetic, but in a much
broader psychological and sociological mix.