Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Peter Birkenhead Interview

What inspired you to become a writer?
I've always been a sort of compulsive writer. When I was a kid I was always jotting down notes and song lyrics and ideas for books or movies. But I didn't start writing professionally until just a few years ago, after many years of being an actor, when I realized I was starting to amass a pretty sizable chunk of writing that someone might actually want to read some day, and that I was bored with acting.

How long have you been writing for?
That switch from writing to acting happened about five years ago-not coincidentally around the time I met my wife, without whom I might still be a bored actor with a bunch of unpublished notebooks on his desk.

Of your work, which is your favorite, or that you hold dear for one reason or another?
Well, GONVILLE is my first book, so it is far and way my favorite. I also write for magazines and newspapers and blogs, and my favorite of those pieces is usually the most recent, which in this case is a post I did for the Huffington Post last week, called "Why Memoir?" It addresses what I think is a misunderstanding among some critics about why people are reading and writing memoirs.

As an author, who is your favorite to read from?
I love Michael Chabon. He's able to pack more in a sentence or on a page than any other contemporary writer, while at the same time making the experience of reading them like drinking clear water. I think Lorrie Moore is a kin of magician, especially in her short stories. And Wells Towers' debut collection from last year blew me away with its range and virtuosity.

What is your favorite genre?
I don't think I have a favorite, but when I was younger I read all the early twentieth century detective fiction--Hammet and Chandler, and their later imitators like William Kennedy--and I loved the way those stories were able to accommodate the whole spectrum of human experience without sacrificing humor or sex or entertainment value.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Writing isn't an answer. :)
Well, my wife and I have a four-month old baby, so spare time is a rumor in our house. But I can't think of anything I'd rather do than curl up with my daughter and watch her figure out how to touch her feet.

Have you ever collaborated with another author? Or plan too?
I have never collaborated with another writer, but I would love to work with my mother or brother some day. They're both song writers (my mother is a Broadway lyricist who has a great new show coming up in the fall called Minsky's, that she wrote with Charles Strouse, of "Annie" and "Bye, Bye Birdie" fame, and my brother Richard is a rock and roll songwriter who's been in a bunch of bands, including one called Into Another, which was my personal favorite.)

Do you have any pen names? If so why do you choose to use a pen name?
No pen name. Some goofy screen names, but no pen name.

Any words of wisdom for your fans and readers?
I don't know if I have any wisdom for anyone. I'll say this, though: I am more and more impressed by how much good, how many different kinds of good things, including creativity, can come from kindness. Kindness is a fertile thing.

Peter, I had learned a lot about you via your memoir. Some of the things you touched on in this interview  elaborated on those. (Your mother's musical career, your brother's.) Congratulations to you and your wife on parenthood. Children are one of life's best miracles. It must have been a drastic change of pace for you to quit acting after all of them years. I can only wish you the best into your future of parenthood, and your writing. It was an amazing opportunity for you to allow me this interview.

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