How do you get the ideas for your books?

The start of something can pop into my head at any time. I’ve often had good ideas on waking, yet another reason to get a good night’s sleep.

How do you work when you collaborate with someone? 

Depends who it is. When I worked with my friend Jon Etra, I had a full-time job and he didn’t, so he agreed to supply a first draft, chapter by chapter. I rewrote his material, and did all the revisions. We outlined our books together in great detail. And we followed the outlines at least half the time. When I worked with my friend Terry Bisson, we were both writing full-time, so we took turns generating chapters, and then revising them. We also outlined our books together carefully, and then forgot the outlines once in a while. Career advice: If you plan to collaborate with another writer, pick one with a really good sense of humor.

How did being an editor affect your writing?

I had high standards. I was conscious of the marketplace because I was in the business. I was careful about deadlines. And, knowing their importance, I was horribly demanding about copyediting, artwork, cover copy, and marketing copy. In short, I was the writer from hell, and I still am.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

There was no single moment of blinding light. It came on gradually, like a disease.

Describe your work habits.

I write in the morning for a few hours, break for the afternoon, and get back to work after tea/dog feeding. When I’m working very hard, I’ll write in the evenings, too. At such times I use the morning to revise what I’ve written the night before.

Who are your favorite writers?

The list is long, and changes all the time. Charles Dickens, Isaac Babel, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Stone, Isaac Singer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Angela Carter, Beryl Bainbridge, Clyde Robert Bulla, William Gibson, John Cheever, Paula Fox, Homer, Ovid, Mary Renault, Philip Larkin, Bill Bryson, Cecilia Holland, Don DeLillo, Sir Thomas Malory, and on and on.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Bernard Malamud once said, “Writers kiss with one eye open.” In other words, there’s a watcher in the writer that almost never takes time off. I’d say, foster your curiosity, be observant, take notes, read a lot, and pay attention to the way good writers write–you can learn from them.

Illustration | Steve Björkman