George Saunders has been interviewed on The Charlie Rose Show, Late Night with David Letterman and The Colbert Report – and was selected by Entertainment Weekly as one of the 100 top most creative people in entertainment. Saunders has received both Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships – and an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He writes short stories for The New Yorker and travel pieces for GQ. He’s traveled to Africa with Bill Clinton, gone on patrol with the “Minute Men” on the Mexican border, spent a week in the theme hotels of Dubai and lived incognito in a homeless tent city in Fresno, California. Prior to his new book, Tenth of December, Saunders wrote three other acclaimed story collections and a New York Times bestselling children's book, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip. Saunders's book of essays is The Braindead Megaphone; his illustrated fable is The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil.
COG: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A baseball player for the Chicago White Sox, who was a surgeon in the winter and a year-round Senator, who didn't do much in the Senate, but that was okay, because he was such a good baseball player and surgeon that everyone in his district cut him a lot of slack.
COG: How did you become you instead?
Bad at baseball, science, and hated the idea of running for office.
COG: Fave lesser-known hero (personal or fictional)?
Maury Muehleisen, who was Jim Croce's lead guitar player and a very cool dude, and who died with Croce in a plane crash.
COG: What’s the most enjoyable aspect of your work; the least?
Most: when a story starts to reveal itself and teaches you something in the process. Least: I actually like it all, even the parts where you get stuck. Don't love having to turn people down when they ask for blurbs.
COG: If you were a hybrid, what would your two halves be?
Weeping sentimentalist vs complete cynic. So...unicorn + alligator?
COG: Describe a teacher, student or colleague you hated (or hate, you big meanie); why?
Nah. I think the role of the student is to take whatever hit the teacher gives and use it for good. (Assuming the teacher knows his/her stuff and has good intentions.) And I have been very lucky in my teachers. I did have a guitar teacher once who heard my very best piece and then took a long pause and said, "If you don't change the way you live, you're going to be a very unhappy adult." Which...made me think. He was saying, I now believe, that I wasn't taking sufficient care with my tone...which got into my head and stayed there forever. And he was right. So I didn't love it at the time but he did me a lot of good. It wasn't pleasant, but it worked.
COG: In desktop publishing, a character tag is embedded code defining the style of a word or phrase. But in the literary lexicon, “character tags” refer to fictional characters’ habits, catch phrases or other distinguishing marks: Yoda’s syntax. Hello Kitty’s bow. Clint Eastwood’s rugged squint. What’s your character tag?
I would think that a writer wouldn't want to know this, but would hope to rediscover it with every story.
COG: What’s the last thing that made you laugh, cry or cuss?
Cry: Arrival,* last night.
COG: Describe your ideal road trip.
Long, slow drive from NY to California, in a truck I used to own - a 1966 Ford with a camper on the back. With time to meet people and talk to them, and with a small writing desk built into the back. But also, my wife and kids and all of our pets are along.
COG: What problem, large or small, are you hell-bent on solving?
How to represent, in prose, both the beauty and horrors of life. And make it, you know, funny.
*Arrival is a 2016 science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve. The screenplay by Eric Heisserer was based on the 1998 short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang.