I had the pleasure to speak to him the other day about his new novel, set on the Berkeley/Oakland border. It's a long, rich book centered around a used vinyl shop that specializes in various styles of black music from the '60s and '70s. (If Brokeland Records really existed I would go digging for an original Blue Note pressing of the early works of Grant Green. And I bet they'd have it.)
Here it is.
The interview is fairly long, but here is one more exchange exclusively for Misread City readers.
The other thing that strikes me about Telegraph Avenue is that there’s this buzz and hum to the street life, a kind of Jane Jacobs city life with its love of density. But at least going back a decade or more you’ve written at an artist’s retreat, at which you also have a role as chairman of the board. Why is that valuable to you and to other writers and artists.
I can just get more done, be completely disconnected. When you’re at MacDowell, you have no Internet access – that’s the heart of it. When I started going there, there was barely an Internet; it didn’t play anything like the role it does now in distracting me from my work. But that is what it has metamorphosed for me. More than any kind of getting away I do there, I get away from the Internet.
But a close second is having the opportunity to only be thinking about your work. When you’re not thinking, you’re reading, or walking – nothing else gets in the way. So even when you’re at dinner, and chatting with a composer and a sculptor, the things they say to you somehow feed into the work that’s your doing.
That level of immersion, 24 hours a day, even in your dreams – it’s feeding into the work. You end up using much more of your brain.
While when I’m home, I work all night, I hit my word count… But then I wake up the next morning, there are all this piddly things I’ve got to take care of, from housework to childcare to shopping for dinner, planning the menu, and the Internet, the greatest distraction of them all. I’m not working during those periods. There’s no subconscious work being done.