The Paris Review has posted an extensive excerpt of an interview with writer Gay Talese from their summer issue. Wonderful stuff, ranging from his unusual writing process to how he got his start to a brief behind-the-scenes about writing Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.
All the other reporters of my generation would come back from an assignment and be done with their piece in a half hour. For the rest of the afternoon they'd be reading books or playing cards or drinking coffee in the cafeteria, and I was always very much alone. I didn't carry on conversations during those hours. I just wanted to make my article perfect, or as good as I could get it. So I rewrote and rewrote, feeling that I needed every minute of the working day to improve my work. I did this because I didn't believe that it was just journalism, thrown away the next day with the trash. I always had a sense of tomorrow. I never turned in anything more than two minutes before deadline. It was never easy, I felt I had only one chance. I was working for the paper of record, and I believed that what I was doing was going to be part of a permanent history.
It had better be good too, because my name was on it. I've always thought that. I think this came from watching my father work on suits. I was impressed by how carefully he would sew, and he never made much money, but I thought he was the real thing. His name was on those suits-the buttons couldn't fall off tomorrow. They had to look great, had to fit well, and had to last. His business wasn't profitable, but from him I learned that I wanted to be a craftsman.
Don't miss the piece of shirt board that Talese used to outline the Sinatra story. (via submitted for your perusal)
Update: Who else used shirt boards? Robert Rauschenberg.
And he's got several pairs of them. In this video, the noted writer shows off his suits and talks about "dressing up for the story" as a young reporter.
Gay Talese is writing a new book about his marriage to Nan A. Talese, a union that was almost ruined by a previous book Gay wrote about the sexual revolution.
The book, originally published in 1980, is about the sexual revolution, which Talese believed would be the most important cultural shift in decades, and which he spent most of the seventies intimately researching. It's the research itself -- particularly Talese's tendency to take the participant-observer concept to the extreme -- that turned out to be the unintended legacy of the project. "If you want to write about orgies," says Talese, who at 77 is still slim and handsome, "you're not going to be in the press box with your little press badge keeping your distance. You have to have a kind of affair with your sources. You have to hang out! I wanted to write about sexuality and the changing definition of morality. Maybe if I had put that in a subhead on the cover I might have gotten a better hearing."
As detailed in a 1973 New York article (written seven years before Talese's book came out), part of Talese's research included managing two massage parlors, living in a California sex commune for six months, and attending orgies.
Writer Gay Talese recently helped a few panhandlers out with their signs.
I stopped talking and reached into my pocket for one of the strips of laundry board on which I make notes when I'm interviewing people. On one strip of laundry board I wrote: "Please Support Pres. Obama's Stimulus Plan, and begin right here ... at the bottom ... Thank you.'' I handed it to him, and he said he'd copy the words on his sign and have it on display the following day.
One of his "clients" says that the improved message is resulting in more business. I found photos on Flickr of a couple of panhandlers who have been using other Obama messages (e.g. "I need change like Obama"). (via collision detection)
Robert Birnbaum interviews writer Gay Talese. "Look, if you want to make your living chopping people up, you will find an audience. You will, but it's not me."