On The Ecstasy of Influence

My review of Jonathan Lethem’s The Ecstasy of Influence just went up at the New York Journal of Books. Here’s how it begins:

1. From the pages of my journal . . . Oct. 6, 2004: I met Jonathan Lethem today, but I accidentally made somewhat of an ass of myself.

To read on (or to read some of my other reviews), visit NYJB!

D. Thomas Minton Interview, Part Two

Heartfelt thanks once again to D. Thomas Minton as the second half of our conversation goes online! This time around, I answer questions about the craft of writing — namely, developing a narrative voice, the most common mistake beginning writers make, and whether I’m a plotter or a pantser. We also touch upon my love for talking animals and my prospects for taking a Russian rocket into space. Check it out! And when you’re done with the interview, check out Minton’s latest story, “Still Life Through Water Droplets” at Daily Science Fiction.

A Possible Brush With Fame Circa 2001

What is it with my need to place myself in the company of celebrities? I was looking through some old journals recently when I spotted this entry for November 17, 2001:

I think I saw Robin Williams on the Southwest corner of Broadway and Houston in NYC today! I should have said something clever like, “Nanoo nanoo!” but he was moving too fast. There was a look on his face that said, “I know I look like a famous person, but could you please let me by without too much of a fuss?” Kind of an obligatory “good to see you” that his adoring public must expect from him. Assuming, of course, it really was him.

What gets me is that it’s barely two months after 9/11, I’m walking down Broadway, and all I can think about is whether or not I just bumped into Robin Williams. Not about the tragedy that’s still fresh in everyone’s mind, not about the new, broken world we’ve suddenly found ourselves living in, but about the possibility — however unlikely — that I may have just made eye contact with the guy who played Popeye (and, okay, many other more memorable roles).

So why? What is it about me — about us, assuming I’m not the only one who’s so easily starstruck — that makes us go gaga over celebrities? Is it something about them? About us? About our makeup as human beings? Were there famous neanderthals that all the other neanderthals swooned over? That guy who killed the wooly mammoth in the cave painting everyone’s been talking about?

The crazy thing is that I don’t watch TV, and I barely go to the movies, but if Ron Livingston crashed his car in front of my house, my first instinct would be to grab a camera and get a picture of him. Then I’d probably ask for an autograph. Eventually, I hope, I’d ask if he were okay. And maybe I’d volunteer to call for an ambulance. But while we were waiting, I’d pepper him with questions about what it was like to work with Jennifer Anniston in Office Space or Nicolas Cage (not to mention Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman) in Adaptation.

And the sad thing about my possible encounter with Robin Williams? It still comes up in conversation! I bring it up whenever I can, no matter how tenuous the connection: Dead Poets Society? Sure I’ve seen it. Funny movie. You know, I met Robin Williams once. Well, not so much met him. But we shared a moment. I think. 

Even sadder, I’ve spent many hours building a plausible framework for his sudden appearance in my life, most of which hinges on the fact that he appeared in Death to Smoochy the following year — and that the movie was filmed in New York at about the same time I saw Robin Williams!

So here I am, haunted by a fuzzy memory of maybe running into Robin Williams in New York over a decade ago, and I can’t stop talking about it, can’t even stop writing about it. But, Robin, if you’re out there, this song’s for you!

“Call me!” the sad little blogger said, extending a thumb and pinky to mime a telephone receiver…