Interview: David Foster Wallace

By TOM SCOCCA  |  November 30, 2010

How do the different kinds of writing differ for you, fiction versus nonfiction?
Golly. You know, I'm not a journalist and I don't pretend to be one, and most of the pieces in the book were assigned to me with these maddening instructions like, "Just go to a certain spot, and kind of turn 360 degrees a few times and tell us what you see."

I'll be honest: I think of myself as a fiction writer. Fiction's more important for me, so I'm more scared and tense about fiction, more worried about whether I'm any good or not. The weird thing is that when a couple of the nonfiction pieces got attention, then other magazines started to call. And then I start thinking of myself as doing that, too, and Mr. Ego gets in there and I begin worrying and sweating over that stuff.

As you're getting more offers, are there things you don't want to write about?
Well, I've decided I'm not going to do any more nonfiction for a while, 'cause I'll use that as an excuse not to work on fiction. The funny thing is, I think magazines are all so desperate for stuff that -- when was it? There was that really long piece about the cruise, and a version of it appeared in Harper's, and for I think about six days I was really hot with these editors. There was one offer to go to a nudist colony and write about being in a nudist colony, and there was one offer -- Elizabeth Taylor was having the product launch of some new perfume, which bizarrely was being held at an Air Force base. There was an offer to interview David Bowie. I don't know anything about David Bowie. For a while there were all these offers and it was really neat. I took a couple that I thought were going to be kind of interesting to me, but most of them I just kind of laughed and said, Thanks anyway.

There are several places around the book where you lay down a challenge to the editors -- where you say that they probably won't like this, or they'll cut this. Were there some of those that didn't make it into the original magazine articles?
Well, the reason for doing the book -- other than the fact that Little, Brown said they'd publish it, and I of course am a whore -- is that this was the chance to do the long, original versions of these things that had gone through meat grinders in various magazines.

I'd worked really hard on these things, and then magazines sliced and diced them, and here was the chance to do kind of a director's cut. [Laughs.] You don't have to put in the thing about me being a whore -- by which I simply meant it's just a big thrill to have a publishing company be willing to publish one of your books.

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