Columns > Published on January 4th, 2013

10 Questions with Ed Sikov... by Ed Sikov

The Boys’ and Girls’ Little Book of Alcohol, Ed Sikov’s first work of fiction, has just been published by Vook. It’s a novella with annotated cocktail recipes, and its central character is a former film studies professor named Ed, who writes a syndicated column about cocktails. LitReactor thought it might be fun to have our intrepid columnist Ed Sikov interview Ed. Unfortunately, most of what Ed had to say was unusable; here’s what we managed to salvage.

What was the first story you ever wrote, and what happened to it?

I think it may be in one of the boxes I packed up and moved to New York from Pittsburgh when my mother died in 2009; I’m not sure, because there are a few boxes of family stuff I’ve been unable to face going through. I know she saved it. I wrote it when I was about six. It's a scary one-page page-turner called “Hazel Witch.” (Get it?)

When you sold your first piece of writing, how did you celebrate?

I had sold a few pieces of nonfiction early on, but not for very much. Around 1984 I earned what I thought was a lot of money for something I wrote for AT&T Magazine. I picked up the check at the AT&T Building, hailed a cab as though my name was suddenly Rockefeller, and sped to Zabar’s (a great foodie emporium on the Upper West Side) and bought my first Cuisinart.

If you’ve got loans you can’t pay back and you’re living off Miracle Whip and generic Cheerios, you’re better off taking a break from writing, making some money and getting out of hock...

Tell us about your process: Pen, paper, word processor, human blood when the moon is full... how do you write?

There’s no process at all. It’s a job and always has been. I mean, you don’t really want to hear about the crying and all that fucked up stuff, do you?

What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?

Not thinking it through enough at the beginning - going into it more or less blind. At a certain point in my 30s, my friends from college were lawyers making scads of money, and I started wondering if I had been – and remained - delusional.

What's your perfect soundtrack for a session of writing, and why?

You’re kidding, aren’t you? I can’t write with a distracting soundtrack competing for attention. I listen to Fountains of Wayne a lot, but never when I’m working. It’s hard enough to concentrate. Then again, I was so deep into writing one day in 2001 that I failed to notice that the World Trade Center had been reduced to a cloud of smoke and ash outside my window.

Which fictional character would you most like to have a drink with, and why?

The easy answer is Tyler Durden, especially if he’s played by Brad Pitt. Why? Because maybe I could get him toasted and he’d have sex with me. But that’s screwed up, because we all know who Tyler really ends up being, and if the narrator is my stand-in, I can – and do - have him every day. A better answer is Stephen Dedalus, because meeting him on the page when I was young ended up changing my life more than any character before or since, and I’d like to thank him for opening my eyes.

Where do you buy your books?

I used to buy a lot more of them than I do now. I have Parkinson’s disease, and it’s put a real crimp in my ability to think clearly all day long. So I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. Once I get done writing for the day, I find it hard to deal with more words. When I do buy books, I buy them in now-standard places and ways: online and at large chains, or at the Strand, the amazing mold-filled used bookstore in my neighborhood in New York City.

How do you handle a bad review of your work?

Miserably. So many years ago I stopped reading reviews, good as well as bad. But I’m usually made aware of reviews anyway by “friends” who don’t believe that I’m really better off not knowing, and it’s always excruciating. Now that literally everyone’s a critic, you can’t even go to your book’s amazon page because Joe or Louise Shmoe from East Jesus is there to tell you and the rest of the world that you’re a lousy writer, you’re boring, you’re stupid, and they carry just as much weight as the New York Fucking Times.

What's the worst advice you hear authors give writers?

“Just keep writing.” That’s all very nice if you’re well financed or at least not in debt. But if you’ve got loans you can’t pay back and you’re living off Miracle Whip and generic Cheerios, you’re better off taking a break from writing, making some money and getting out of hock, and rethinking the whole writing thing when your mind isn’t clouded by starvation and threats from the repo boys.

Many LitReactor readers know you only from your nasty comments and snarky columns. Why are you so goddamn hostile?

It’s just who I am. I’ve made a successful career out of it, so why should I change? Back in the ‘80s, I was the media columnist for a GLBT bi-weekly in New York, and I regularly ripped viciously into other writers and politicians. Liz Smith went berserk over something I wrote about her once; I have her four-page scribbled response (in red felt tip!) framed on my shelf. My therapist at the time believed he could “help” me be less angry. It didn’t work, which made me madder. Finally I told him to go fuck himself, kept my rage alive, and now I couldn’t be happier. That said, the one category of humans who are exempt from my anger is my students – as long as they do their work. I care about them very, very deeply. Some of my closest friends are former students. Like my husband, they know the real Ed – the one with a heart.

About the author

Ed Sikov is the author of 7 books about films and filmmakers, including On Sunset Boulevard:; The Life and Times of Billy Wilder; Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers; and Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis.

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