John Haskell (APS 1, 2, 7, 14) is the author of the novels Out of My Skin and American Purgatorio, and I Am Not Jackson Pollock, a book of short stories. His story "DOA" is forthcoming in APS 17. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
1. Can you describe your daily routine, any rituals or habits?
I'm in the middle of changing my habits and routines. I've given up the "office" I've had for a number of years and with it the familiar rituals that got me to sit down and think about words on a page and how to make them perfect. So now what I'm doing is trying to forge new habits, new ways to make the not-quite-perfect a little better. Some of these habits, I hope, will be temporary. For instance, lately I've been doing what other people have been doing for years: going into a coffee shop, getting a baked good, a large cup of coffee, and trying to block out the world and focus on the words that exist, either on my computer screen (for as long as my batteries last) or on the papers I've brought with me. I'm finding the difficult part of this is to make the muffin or scone or whatever it is last as long as my attention. Sometimes I get a refill and that can keep me going for a while but eventually the coffee and the croissant have been consumed and I'm left with just me, slightly buzzed, stomach full, and that's the habit I really have to be rid of. The habit of putting something into my mouth. I would like to learn to just sit, typing or scribbling, and letting the white noise background of music and conversation become conducive to concentration. That's what I want to develop, the habit of concentration, the habit of sitting and working, and if all goes well, soon I won't be sitting in coffee shops but in a real room, small, with books, and there will be distractions, no doubt, but I will have learned to incorporate them, and in fact will be able use those distractions to make my mind a little more focused.
2. Where do you go to people-watch?
Johnny-Watch-the-World-Go-By. I was given that name a few years ago, in Los Angeles, eating a taco, or several tacos, bought from a truck on the street, sitting on a bench supplied by the truck, and because the sun was shining that day couples and families were shopping and strolling, and it wasn't so much watching the people (it wasn't the fashions or the hairstyles of the passersby) as it was watching movement, like watching a river, except in this case I could see the individual elements of the river and those elements, enjoying themselves in the warmth of the sun, were elements of life, so that what I was watching was life itself, and somehow, because I was sitting out under the same sun, I was part of that life.
3. What are your anxieties about language?
Language, because it's a kind of refuge for me, tends not to attract anxiety.
4. Is there a character, a scene, a moment that you dream of conveying, but haven't figured out how to yet?
Yes. Many moments like that. Everything I write involves the dream of conveying a moment (of thought, of emotion, of experiences of a character) and then figuring out how to do that. Sometimes the figuring out reveals what the dream is but it all boils down to the same thing. And I'd rather not go into detail now about what I'm dreaming of conveying because I'm superstitious about being superstitious.
5. What landscape do you most often fantasize about?
The object of my fantasy rather than the location of my fantasy? Well, besides real estate, which I am always fantasizing about (where to live and where I would be happy living), I would have to say the most recurrent fantasy involves being in a foreign country. I was born very close to the Mexican border and as a child my family took vacations to different parts of Mexico. I often dream of being in a landscape south of the border, talking or trying to talk to people in a language that's unfamiliar to me. Maybe this is my language anxiety. Maybe the way we exist in a landscape is like the way we exist in language, moving through words like moving across a field planted with corn, or a vineyard, or a street with buildings, or across the alluvial plain of a desert
6. What is the last book you didn't finish?
Remainder, by Tom McCarthy. I was waylaid, but I intend to get back to it. Also a book of essays by Rebecca Solnit. Usually it's my mood, but sometimes I have to keep going back again and again before I can find a way into the writing. And sometimes I never do.
7. What are you looking forward to?
My new office, maybe not as big as my old office, but my concentration in this new office will be amazing.