Tim Sandlin is the author of the GroVont trilogy—Skipped Parts, Sorrow Floats, and Social Blunders—as well as Western Swing, Sex and Sunsets, and Honey Don’t. He is also the author of a collection of columns from the Jackson Hole News called The Pyms: Unauthorized Tales of Jackson Hole.
1. You’re known for having a very satirical and irreverent take on American culture. What state does HONEY DON’T find American culture in? Are we crazier than ever or about the same? The state of American culture is as crazy now as it has ever been. The difference is that in the past—say three years ago—the craziness was harmless and goofy. The nation’s ethical debate raged on over the question of whether oral sex constituted sex. After searching their hearts, the Senate voted along straight party lines, which is always a sign of hypocrisy. The craziness now is neither goofy nor harmless. 2. You seem to have a lot of affection for your main character, Honey Belle DuPont, and all those other Southern girls named after high-caloric food. You also have a lot of female fans. Do you think you have an unusual sensitivity to women? What do you identify with in them? I’ve always been interested in female emotional states. Why women do what they do and how they feel. I’m something of a male-ophobe, often accused of being a lesbian trapped in the body of a man. My female characters are varied and strange; my male characters tend to sound like me.3. What about the other characters – the disillusioned journalist, the president’s bitter wife, the gay football player, the mob bagman, the old Mafia don and his precocious grandson. Where did they all come from? I do not now, nor have I ever, known any big city journalists, president’s wives, gay professional football players, Mafia dons or their grandchildren, bagmen, national politicians, or Secret Servicemen. I made them all up. Part of the reason I wrote this book was to see if I could create people I knew nothing about.4. You’ve set a number of your novels in small Western towns, but you’ve plunked HONEY DON’T down right in the nation’s capital. Are you shifting your focus somewhat? My focus is on whatever I’m writing or thinking about at the moment. After my fifth novel set in Wyoming, I found I had said all I had to say about the subject, and there’s nothing worse than a writer who keeps talking after he’s said all he has to say. Maybe I’ll have more to say about the mountains later, but for now, people fascinate me and I’ll write about them wherever they are.5. You’ve said that in each of your books you deal with a different problem that you’ve encountered in your own life. Is HONEY DON’T that kind of book for you? What prompted you to write it? Is it a more farcical, light-hearted book than some of your previous novels? My problem when I began Honey Don’t was that I was out of problems. The other books were of the deeply personal nature, but I don’t think you can sustain a long career writing about yourself. I was lucky to get five books out of me, and that only shows how deeply screwed up I was when I started writing. Unless you are Philip Roth, you can’t strip mine yourself forever. So I decided to write about people who are nothing like me. Part of this is due to my years of writing screenplays. Part of it is because I got bored with my angst. Is this book more light-hearted than the rest of them? None of my novels sound like comedies when you write the one-sentence description—stalkers, alcoholics losing their babies, the fall-out of group rape. It’s only in the telling that they become funny. This one is no different. 6. You’ve also said that you’re interested in people on the edge but not too far out there – people right on the line between being able to perform in society and not being able to. What draws you to that place? The edge is called that because if you are on it you either fall off or you don’t. People already off, just fall, which isn’t that interesting, and people back from the edge don’t have to fight to save themselves. So, the edge is where the drama is. 7. Is it true that you originally wanted to write Westerns? Do you still have any ambitions in that direction? I would love to write Westerns, but the market died years ago. Louis killed it.8. You’re also a big fan of classics of psychology and social observation, like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. How far of a stretch is it from books like those to HONEY DON’T? God, I don’t know. I’m not about to say I’m writing Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, but I am writing about women who are forced by society to fill certain roles, to live the way they are told to live, but they rebel against it. In the old classics, written by males, the women who rebelled against expectations committed suicide in the end. My women win.9. You held an amazing series of low-level jobs to support your writing before you published your first novel. What kept you going for all those years? From the age of maybe ten or eleven I had a burning sense that my life was meaningless unless I wrote stories, and I could not stand a meaningless life. So I wrote. Also alcohol and a fairly complex personal life kept me distracted from the fact that I was an aging dishwasher who called himself a writer. It could just as easily turned out the other way. 10. You’re a favorite of a number of Hollywood celebrities, including Drew Barrymore and Tom Arnold. What has that been like for you? Has it worked for you or against you or both? I haven’t talked to Drew in years and I never talked to Tom Arnold. He just produced the drunks-on-the-road novel for Showtime. I have met a lot of creative, wonderful people in Hollywood, but, on the whole, it’s a brutal world out there. The language is completely different from what we’re used to in Wyoming. Until you figure that out, it can eat you alive. Heck, it can eat you alive anyway.11. You’ve also won acclaim from big-time writers like Larry McMurtry and John Nichols. Are there any contemporary writers you find particularly interesting or inspiring? Contemporary writers? Nick Hornby, of course, and Joanne Harris. They’re both English, which is interesting. When I was in my formative stages, I read all the Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham I could get my hands on. English writers don’t seem to peak on their fourth book and slowly peter out from there. 12. Do you read your reviews? Do they give you any new insights into your work? I’ll read the first and last paragraphs of most reviews. The middle tends to recap the plot and I already know the plot. In technical terms, reviews come in raves, mixed, and trash jobs. If a writer takes the raves seriously, he or she has to take the trash jobs seriously also, and that’s counterproductive to writing with any degree of freedom. So, I don’t let them ruin my day. Sometimes, you’ll get a personal attack that doesn’t even connect to the book itself. I have an editor who takes those personally and swears eternal revenge on the writers, so I don’t have to.13. You’ve written several movies, including a couple based on your books. Do you enjoy writing for the movies? How is it different from book writing for you? Writing screenplays is telling a story with pictures; writing novels is telling a story with words. There’s a big difference. Screenwriting is also art by committee, which can be fun if you trust your committee and the most miserable experience a writer can go through if you don’t. With movies, you have no control over the final product. The studio or whoever pays for the script owns the copyright. On a novel, the writer owns the copyright. This may sound like a technicality but it’s not. Imagine working on a novel for three years, then a publisher buys your novel and the editor calls up another writer, faxes him a one paragraph plot synopsis of your novel, and hires him to write the story. When the novel is published, your name is on the cover, alongside the new writer, but there
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