**Interview pulled from nola.com**
As part of the Tennessee Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival’s Master Class series, acclaimed author Dave Eggers sat down with former Times-Picayune book editor Susan Larson for a conversation about how he writes, researches and appreciates the written word. Here are some of the highlights:
Times-Picayune archiveIn July 2009, author Dave Eggers signed his new book, ‘Zeitoun,’ in New Orleans.
What made being a writer seem possible to you?
I had kind of a string of never-ending excellent English teachers. I keep in touch with almost every single one of them. From Ms. Wright, my first grade teacher who saw me make my first book out of paper and yarn — that was “Monster Mish-Mash.” Another teacher wrote at the top of a paper, “Sure hope you become a writer.” He was this very educated, erudite and sophisticated guy, and he was very intimdating if you were on his bad side. But it meant a lot to have his support. I had so many great teachers. That’s what makes me so grateful.
McSweeney’s [the Eggers-founded publishing company] has recently put together a beautiful newspaper prototype, the San Francisco Panorama, along with an accompanying book review and a magazine. Why did you pursue this?
I love newspapers. I only get my news from newspapers. We decided to breathe a little bit of life into the form, because a lot of my friends were getting really depressed about the state of newspapers. We studied papers from all across the world and throughout history and looked at best practices. We went back to the big broadsheet, 15×22, which is still the world standard, by the way, just to sort of prove that if journalism on the printed page is going to survive…people still have to be able to pay for it. And for people to want to pay for it, you have to offer a clear alternative to getting it for free on the internet. We found that people will read anything as long as it’s worth reading.
In the age of the 24-hr news cycle, when editors are putting up content just to get stuff up,…newspapers I think have the unique ability to say, ‘When you get it in the morning, we assure you, we can guarantee it will be proven, it will be true, it will be reliable.'”
On the joys of self-publishing:
It does give me the ability to avoid rejection because you’re working there. I’ve been self-publishing since I was 16. Having that ability to publish what you want to when you want to, it’s hard to give up.
On the importance of literary criticism:
On any given book I write, I choose a group of people for feedback. Whatever you do, you’ve got to submit to that feedback. I think that humility, I try to teach first.
On getting rid of distractions in order to write:
When I had the Internet at home, I would find myself down a rabbit hole. I’d sit down in the morning and I would look up and it’d be 1. The internet is just too interesting, but, some of it, in a very base way. You’re always a click away from cat porn, you know? You’re like, “Why am I here?”
I don’t have Internet at home. I queue up my e-mails, and I go and park in the parking lot of a carpet store. I sit there and send out my emails and then I go home.
Writing is just a constant fight against your own worst habits and procrastination. I think you just have to eliminate as many of the unwanted distractions. Whatever works, whether it’s going to a writer’s retreat. I’ve tried everything at this point. Just working out in the shed behind my house, with a door that locks…that seems to work at that point. The Internet will be there when you’re done.
How did you explore the landscape of another person’s experience in “Zeitoun,” your book about post-Katrina New Orleans?
It was a process for sure. With “Zeitoun,” the first thing that we did, once I knew Zeitoun’s story, I made him every day take me on a trip. Because [after the levee breaches], every day he would canoe around the city and check on people’s properties. I made him take me in a car and show me where he went. He was more than happy to do that; he remembered everything. He knew exactly where he saw these dogs that had been shot. So again, it was just really dogged research. Then I’d make him do it again and I’d videotape it.
Some people have said that Katrina is over and that readers don’t want another book about it. What do you think about that?
Just like any great moment of upheaval, you need time to unpack all that. I think there should be a book about the Danziger Bridge, about Lakeview. Who’s written about Lakeview? Nobody.
Dave Eggers (born March 12, 1970) is an American writer, editor, and publisher. He is known for the best-selling memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and for his more recent work as a novelist and screenwriter. He is also the co-founder of the literacy project 826 Valencia, and the founder of ScholarMatch, a program that matches donors with students needing funds for college tuition. His works have appeared in several magazines, most notably The New Yorker. His works have received a significant amount of critical acclaim.