Q: Was your writing encouraged at home?
A: Mostly not, no.
Q: Have you matured as a writer?
A: What is my hot material? My Midwestern childhood, my parents, their marriage.
A: I’m that oddity of a writer who had a good high-school experience.
A: I had an idea of the social novel that I didn’t realize was already outmoded.
A: But that didn’t stop me from trying to write a Corrections-like book.
Q: Is that obsession with appearances still a concern to you?
A: Most of the book.
Q: You’ve described your first two books as “systems novels.”
A: Cigarettes had made me smart, and smart had been the organizing principle for a couple of books. Smart had been the locus of my manhood, but it was no longer getting me anywhere.
Q: Blake Butler?
A: I built an office up in Harlem in 1997. The people at the Swedish Academy, who bestow the Nobel Prize, recently confessed their thoroughgoing lack of interest in American literary production. The conflict in my marriage could no longer be ignored.