Recently, one of my book-club friends won an author phone
chat with Jennifer Egan, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the
Goon Squad. Though our group has been meeting for several years, we hadn’t
hosted an author—in person or otherwise—before, and we were thrilled to “meet”
Egan and ask her questions. In fact, a couple of years ago, we had read another
of her novels, The Keep, which spurred one of our most interesting discussions.
Goon Squad follows Bennie Salazar, a
punk-rocker-turned-record-executive; his assistant Sasha (one of my favorite
characters in the book); and a number of other engagingly complex personalities
who flit in and out of Bennie’s and Sasha’s lives. Egan structured the book
like a record, with sides (or parts) A and B and 13 distinct songs (or
She explained her three rules for each chapter:
- It had to feature a different character as the protagonist.
- It had to feature a different style.
- It had to stand on its own.
You’ve likely heard about the chapter written as a
PowerPoint presentation. What I hadn’t known before the author chat is that
Egan included a video of the slide presentation, including some music, on her
website, and that The Office Show (as in Microsoft) interviewed her about how
she used the software in her storytelling. She also told us that this story’s
protagonist, Alison, is most like her in that they’re both storytellers and the
peacemakers of their families.
Back in 2007, contributing editor Sarah Anne Johnson
interviewed Egan for The Writer, and the novelist offered the following advice
to aspiring writers:
Read and write. Get into the habit of writing every day the
way one does with exercise—so that not doing it feels strange. Be willing to
write very badly, because the good comes after the bad, but you’ve got to
release that bad stuff, sometimes, to get at the good. And read and read and
read, because your reading is going to be your immediate nourishment and source
of inspiration. And in the longer term, certain writers and books will become
part of your literary DNA, and will inform your choices and interests as long
as you work.
Finally, check out videos of Egan discussing changes in publishing, journalism and the
music biz with former MTV veejay Adam Curry and
making macaroons on Cooking the Books (a visit from the macaroon squad!).
C. Lange, associate editor
Photo by Pieter M. Van Hattem/Vistalux