THOMAS E. KENNEDY
A Last Conversation With Robie Macauley
He spent four years in the Counterintelligence Corps in World War II. Afterward, he taught in the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and there became close friends with Flannery O'Connor.
After a couple of years in Paris on a Rockefeller fellowship, he returned to Kenyon to succeed Ransom as editor of the Kenyon Review, turning its focus from criticism to fiction. Then, for a dozen years, he served as the fiction editor for Playboy and published many of the best fiction writers of our times in its pages.
In 1978 he moved to Houghton Mifflin in Boston as Senior Editor, the Executive Editor, where he published, inter alia, Paul Theroux, Russell Banks, W.P. Kinsella, and Brenda Maddox. Along the way, he managed to publish two novels (The Disguises of Love, Random House, 1952, and A Secret History of Things to Come, Knopf, 1979), a collection of short stories (The End of Pity, McDowell, Oblensky, 1957), with George Lanning, a critical book (Technique in Fiction, Harper, 1964 and a revised edition, St. Martin's Press, 1989) and with Dr. William Betcher, The Seven Basic Quarrels of Marriage (Villard/Random House, 1990).
Robie Macauley was a tall, soft-spoken man with an easy-going manner. Up until the end of his life, he divided his year between Boston and Wellfleet on Cape Cod, taught class at Harvard University Extension and was co-Director of Emerson College's Ploughshares International Writing Seminar at Castle Well in the Netherlands, where he taught with his wife, the fiction writer Pamela Painter (Getting to Know the Weather, U.Ill. Press; What If?, HarperCollins).
This conversation took place on a summer afternoon in 1993 in the village of Well in the Netherlands at an outdoor restaurant table on the grassy bank of the River Maas. Our conversation was punctuated by the quack of ducks on the river, the occasional slam of a pile driver as workmen nearby built a dock, and the buzz of small aircraft in the blue sky.
RM: Well, what do you want to talk about, Tom?
TK: Robie, you have vast experience as an editor and as a writer of criticism and fiction, several books and a lot of stories. I am wondering how these two things combine? Can they combine? Are there advantages and disadvantages?
RM: Well, I guess I always wanted to be an editor because that's the way I started out. My father gave me a printing press for a birthday present, and I graduated to bigger printing presses and started printing little books. But the main thing was I took as a role model my first teacher of any note, Ford Maddox Ford, who divided his career between editing and writing, and successfully so. He was the editor of two quite famous literary magazines, The English Review and The Transatlantic Review. Ford's wisdom, the wisdom you get from editorial experience and attitudes, along with his creative side, impressed me, and probably set me out on the wrong path. My problem was I didn't have either the time or the energy that Ford had. I think he wrote about eighty books, a lot of them easily forgettable, and I don't like the idea of writing easily forgettable books, but he was a journalist, too, and supported himself by a lot of literary journalistic writings. I do wish, looking back, I'd had a little less editorial work and a little more time to do my own work, but you know: vain regrets.
TK: Where did you study with Ford Maddox Ford?
RM: That was at a little college called Olivet in Michigan, a tiny denominational college that happened to be taken over by a man named Joseph Brewer, a friend of mine. Joe had inherited quite a bit of money. He was a Paris expatriate in the twenties; he knew all the writers and artists and so on. He came back and went into publishing and failed at that, and then decided to be a college president. So his father gave Olivet a lot of money and he became the president of the college. Joe brought in people like Sherwood, Anderson, who was the first creative writing teacher, before Ford Madox Ford. Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas came to visit us in the farmlands of Michigan, and we had a writers' conference, one of the first in the country, with people like Katherine Anne Porter and Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon, and so on. The next person scheduled to be a writer in residence there was Thomas Wolfe, but he died before he got there. They tried hard to get Ezra Pound. There was a very interesting correspondence between Ford and Pound about Pound's coming to Olivet. Pound demanded that Olivet establish a college press and publish a lot of his books. Ford had to gently tell him, "No, you can't do that, Ezra, and you can't teach any of your fascist economic ideas in class." That was around 1937-38.
TK: Did you study with Sherwood Anderson?
RM: No, I never met him. Wish I had. Anderson was there just the year preceding. Then Ford came. Anderson went to North Carolina, attended the wrong cocktail party, swallowed a toothpick, got it caught in his throat, and died.
TK: Did Anderson and Stein just come through as visiting lecturers?
RM: Yes, they would come for a few days and lecture and such. Alice Toklas turned up with a leopard cub, which was a great sensation in Olivet. They'd never seen anything like that before. And we all sat around at Gertrude Stein's feet and heard her pontificate. At that time, Olivet was very much into semantics, it was the intellectual rage of the time; Joe brought over Count Corshibski, who was the inventor of general semantics. This was considered the wave of the future at that time. My freshman English course was all the study of semantics, so it was kind of a wacky school with a lot of writers ad artists around and a lot of fun. Then, after one year, Ford left and my interest waned, and I went on to Kenyon.
TK: Who did you study with there?
RM: John Crowe Ransom was the reason I went to Kenyon. On the urging of a friend at Olivet, I started to read Ransom's poetry, and I guess probably Tate had some bearing on that too, because he turned up at that writers' conference. I loved Ransom's poetry. It was strange, unique, something I had never read before, and Ransom was just starting the Kenyon Review. He was a kind of role model, a man who divided his career between editing, writing, and criticism, and he was splendid at all three. I had three years at Kenyon then, again a small denominational college with high literary standards.
TK: How was it to study with Ransom and with Tate?
RM: I didn't study with Allen. I knew him and heard him lecture but I never studied under him. Ransom was a wonderful teacher, but a very indirect one. Afterwards, you always said, "Gee, I really learned something," but at the time you didn't know what you were learning. Often we'd just kind of talk on and in the talk, a lot of wisdom was buried that you would pick up. I still think of things Ransom said as being very shrewd comments on literature, but at the time I overlooked or was too dense to pick it all up. It was a very kind of conversational class that he gave.
TK: Your bachelor's degree is from Kenyon. Did you go on to graduate school there?
RM: I went into the army shortly after I graduated and served four years in the army during World Ward II as an officer in the Counterintelligence Corps. I got out in 1946, worked for a magazine and a book publisher in New York for a while, wasn't really very satisfied with that. I went on to teach at a little college called Bard, on the Hudson, a pretty good experimental school. But what really attracted me was Paul Engels' writers' workshop at Iowa. Paul offered me a job as an assistant in the writers' workshop. He was crazy to do so because I had published very little. n Nothing worth reading. Maybe one or two short stories, a couple of reviews. But Paul took a chance as he often did, and invited me to come out, and with me came out Anthony Hecht, a very accomplished poet, later winner of the National Book Award in poetry. Tony was my age and we had known each other in the army so we both went out there to the writers' workshop. I began working for an MFA and teaching freshman courses, enjoyed it very much, I liked Iowa, met a lot of fine people. My closest friend, I guess, was Flannery O'Connor, who was a student in the workshop, working for an MFA.
TK: Did you experience any workshop sessions of her stories?
RM: Yes, a number of her earlier stories were workshopped. There was one, I think, called "The Geranium" that won the Mademoiselle short story contest that year, 1949 or 1950, and we were all very proud of that. Flannery was writing Wise Blood at the time. She'd turned away from short stories to write her first novel. I used to date Flannery, and I still have vivid memories of sitting out on the front porch of the boarding house where she lived and hearing Wise Blood in her inimitable accent, chapter by chapter, and talking about it, and Flannery, she was a demon rewriter. She would go back and rewrite the dam thing three or four times. I really admired what she was doing. I thought it was entirely original, strange and wonderful, great language. We got along very well.
TK: Was she well received at Iowa? Her writing must have been rather innovative at the time?
RM: Yes and no. Some people thought very highly of her. The opinions in the workshop were kind of divided about Flannery. Some of the writers just couldn't dig it, they couldn't understand this strange, kind of sometimes kind of sadistic sounding, fiction from a strange part of the South. I think we were all used to Faulkner and Faulkner's South, and Flannery's was entirely different. On the other hand, I remember Paul Engels thought highly of her talent, to his credit, even though it was not Paul's kind of writing at all.
TK: So it was not a case of unrecognized genius? Do you think that happens in workshops? And, generally, what are your thoughts about MFA programs? They have really proliferated in the US, and many writers depend on their bread teaching in MFA programs.
RM: I think MFA programs are very valuable. They've produced a lot of good writers and have certainly raised the technical level of writing mightily. I notice the difference as an editor between the standards of literacy, of intelligence, uses and techniques of fiction, in people who've had an educational background in writing and those that haven't. For that reason alone, MFA programs are usually worth their weight. I think that genius is something that happens in spite of or along with or in conjunction with almost anything. You might be a journalist and if you're a genius at fiction-writing, as Hemingway was, well, you'll be a major fiction writer. If you go through an MFA program, you'll learn something about how to do it. It certainly won't affect your genius in any way, and you'll be as successful, except that you will know a little more about craft, you'll know the trade secrets after you've been through an MFA program, and that about sums it up for me. I very much believe in them. A lot of good writers have depended on them for a livelihood which is fine. Probably better than doing bookkeeping, or pile driving. (motioning to the river and the workers laboring over the dock there)
TK: In terms of the somewhat repressive attitudes in some American universities today--with political correctness from the left and fundamentalism from the right, Puritanism and so forth--do you think this might have any influence on the writers working in the programs, as to what they might feel free to write or publish? To think even?
RM: I think the biggest danger for writers in the universities is to be kind of herded along in a conformity of thought, whether it's PC or whatever. In a university, all your friends are liberals, and they all think very much along the same lines, and there's a lot of peer pressure. Maybe your strongest instincts are conservative. Saul Bellow, I think, never had that to contend with, a committee on social thought at the University of Chicago, but if Saul were in another university and a younger man, he would probably find himself bucking the tide and, who knows?--maybe influenced by a lot of peer pressure. That's probably the biggest danger in the university for a lot of writers. As far as being out of touch with life, that's the usual criticism, being in an ivory tower and not knowing what real people are like: I think that's pretty much nonsense. I don't know whether working in the assembly line or working on the assembly line or working as a hardware salesman, being a radio announcer or anything like that is going to teach you any more about life,. It seems to me there are certain professions that throw you into contact with a lot of life, but whether this will be useful to you as an artist is questionable. It may or may not be. I have a friend who's a foreign correspondent and seen a great deal of the history of the last twenty-five years, and he's trying to write fiction , but he doesn't write it better than anyone else who's trying. All of his wealth of experience is not available to him since he doesn't yet know how to handle it.
TK: Getting back to your own educational background, when you left, you taught and took an MFA at Iowa. From there you went to Kenyon again?
RM: No, to the University of North Carolina because two old Kenyon friends of mine were there and invited me down. I was there for about three years, teaching. Then I got a Rockefeller fellowship and went to Paris in a couple of years in the fifties, and then I was invited back to take over Kenyon Review. Ransom was about to retire and was looking for a new editor. Several people didn't want the job, and I got it. That was a full time job, but I did miss teaching and did some of that at Kenyon too.
TK: When you took over Kenyon did you make a lot of changes?
RM: Yeah, I made a lot of changes. I felt that Ransom had done a job I could never duplicate. His job was criticism, the New Criticism and other kinds, and he did a splendid job at that. I felt the age of criticism, as Randall Jarrell termed it once, was passing. I was more interested in fiction and felt I had more expertise in fiction, so I did more of that.
TK: Who were some of the writers you published in Kenyon?
RM: Some of those I published early or for the first time? I think I published Thomas Pyncheon's first story ("Entropy")--that's what his agent told me. I published Frank O'Connor, the Irish story writer V.S. Pritchett, Peter Taylor--this is at a distance of some twenty-five years and I'm trying to recall some of those names. Julio Phelon, quite a good novelist. J.F. Powers. Others. . .
TK: You edited Kenyon from 1959 to 1966, and from there, you were offered the job as fiction editor of Playboy. How did that happen?
RM: A.C. Spectorsky was the editor of Playboy at that time and needed a new fiction editor. He called me up one day and invited me to come on up to Chicago for a summer vacation and see if I liked it and might want to stay on.
TK: Did you know him?
RM: No, he'd read the fiction in Kenyon and liked it for some reason. He liked fiction, was a former New Yorker editor with a real taste for fiction. Nabokov was his hero. At the end of my summer there, he asked if I wanted to stay on. I said I didn't want to, I was pretty well settled where I was. So he said, okay, what do you want, write your ticket. I said, well I'd like to double the rates, get a lot more literary writers like Updike and Cheever, toy have a free hand in choosing fiction without anyone breathing over my shoulder. I also quoted a salary which for me was astronomical--I had been living on a small academic salary--and he said, all right, no questions, no argument, so how could I refuse? Also, a much more operative thing, my wife had been diagnosed with cancer and the oncology departments in the big Chicago hospitals were some of the best in the world, and she had to commute a hundred miles twice a week for treatment so that was getting to be an intolerable situation. So me moved and I had quite happy time at Playboy. I enjoyed it. My fellow editors were fine professionals, none of the usual kind of sly jokes about working at Playboy were ever true. It was a very professional, business-like affair,, made a lot of money and had a huge circulation, and for me the payoff was that I could publish a lot of writers like Doris Lessing and Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, a whole range of very good writers.
TK: I remember the fiction published in Playboy during that period. It was splendid. A lot of it appeared in the Best American Stories and O.Henry anthologies. How long were you there?
RM: From 1966 to 1977. Spectorsky really created Playboy, not Hefner. We went from a circulation of about one million to seven million in the time I was there and printed a lot of very good journalism and fiction. We had a Playboy writers' conference once and anybody would be impressed with the people who turned up. We flew them over from wherever they were and put them up at the Playboy hotel and had all sorts of entertainment like Polanski's first showing of his new movie, Macbeth, and him talking about it. The fiction writers who came included Saul Bellow, V.S. Prichett, Sean O'Faolain, James Dickey, John Cheever . . . I had a luncheon party and they were there, and I felt proud to have published them. Most of them were out of my price range at Kenyon. ON the nonfiction side we had just as impressive an array, John Kenneth Galbraith, Art Buchwald, Alex Haley who had just finished Roots at that time.
TK: I understand he was also an interviewer for Playboy.
RM: He was and a very good one. I have a picture of the eighty writers who were there, and anybody who looked down on Playboy as an editorial enterprise would have to take a second look just considering who was in that picture.
TK: Who did you publish in Playboy?
RM: Sean O'Faolain, a dear old friend--I published him for years in Playboy; in fact, one year, I bought four of his stories for about twenty thousand dollars--that was probably his principal support for the year.
TK: I'm crazy about his "Silence of the Valley" and "The Trout" and "A Midsummer Night's Madness," one of his first published stories I think, which a lot of critics are down on, but which I think his best.
RM: Oh, yes, he once sent me a rewritten version of "Midsummer Night Madness" and I had to turn it down. Why redo something that was already done better?
TK: Who else did you publish?
RM: I serialized Nabokov's Ada, published young Michael Crichton as an unknown, published some LeCarre excerpts, Irwin Shaw, Arthur Koestler, Isaac B. Singer, some of Malamud's Fidelman stories.
TK: Did you do the one where Fidelman is working in a new form, the hole? And he digs a bunch of holes and goes around pondering them. The devil comes along and asks what he's doing, and he says, "I don't know. I think I got the form perfect, but I don't know," and the devil grabs his shovel, smacks him cross the head so he falls into the hole, and the devil says, "There, now you got form and content." A grave!
RM: Yes, I also published sections of John Irving's Garp for the first time, Joyce Carol Oates, both at Kenyon and Playboy. Anne Sexton. Nadine Gordimer. J.P. Donleavy.
TK: Any poetry?
RM: Yevtushenko, the only poet ever published in Playboy, mainly because he was the only poet Hefner ever heard of aside from Longfellow. One night we had Yevtushenko over to the Mansion. Hef had a big collection of art, Motherwell, post-impressionists, Claes Oldenburg sculptures, Larry Rivers. Yev had never seen this kind of stuff before. He took one look and said, "Terrible bictures!" All the most fashionable artists of the time. Anyway, we ended up in this room with Yevtushenko and his translator, Hef and myself, sitting on the floor talking till two or three in the morning. Hef liked Yev, who was young, blond, a snappy dresser in Madison Avenue clothes. Yev was looking around hoping to snag himself a bunny while Hef kept asking him questions about the future relations between the Soviet and China, stuff Yev did not want to talk about. He kept looking around and asking, "Are there no young ladies about?" And Hefner went out of the room for a moment, and Yev turned to me and said, "He iss a beasant!"
TK: What was it like to work with Hefner?
RM: I didn't have many dealings with him. He rarely came to the Playboy building and never interfered with the fiction. One time he came to an editorial meeting and asked me what fiction I had lined up, and said we had something by Kurt Vonnegut. Hef looked blankly at me and said, "Who?" and his secretary said, "Happy Birthday, Wanda June," by way of explanation, that being the title of a play by Vonnegut which had been all the rage on TV around that time, and Hef looked at her in utter confusion and said, "It's not my birthday."
TK: Were the Mansion goings-on as lavish as one is lead to believe?
RM: The Mansion was funny. Hef used to have these lavish Saturday night buffets there with lobster, hot dishes, and certain members of the editorial staff could show up and drink and help themselves to the buffet. Afterwards, there was often a movie which had not even been shown in the movies yet, sometimes a closed circuit prize fight. People would sit around and talk, and at some point, Hef would disappear.
TK: Was the place crawling with celebrities?
RM: Yes. Muhammad Ali was often around, a favorite of Hef's. Mick Jagger was there a lot, and Linda Lovelace. Hef liked women around him. You could always bring your date, but if you wanted to bring Saul Bellow, you had to get permission. Saul Bellow once asked me to get him invited to a party there, and I went to Hef's publicity director, a guy named Benny Dunn. Benny knew who Bellow was and got it cleared with Hef. So I brought Bellow, and we ate and watched the movie, and afterwards, Saul said he would really like to meet Hef, who was sitting about ten yards away with some of his cronies. I went to Benny, said, "Saul Bellow would like to meet Hugh Hefner," and Benny spoke to Hef, who didn't recognize the name, didn't want to take time to meet with another writer, so he just went off with Barbie Benton. Next day, Benny explained to him who Bellow was, and Saul got a note of apology from Hef, saying he had not been feeling well. But it was sheer ignorance. He was just lucky that he picked some smart people to work for him. Another example, he asked for a list of people to interview, and I put Yasir Arafat on, he was just beginning to be heard of. He crossed the name off. It was a unique situation for someone so ignorant and out of it to become a major publisher. Most people who get into it do so because they are au courant. Hef knew a lot about movies and photography, but not much else. He was rather reclusive also; for a long time there he would work all night and sleep all day, leave notes in people's typewriters. Barbie pretty well got him out of that, and he started going places on the Bunny Jet. He was very sensitive of what people thought about him. They did an article on the Mansion once that came back for rewriting forty or fifty times. Essentially he was a kind of a hick who got rich. His father was born in a sod hut out in Nebraska. But I can't say he was a bad guy. He was always on the side of the angels. His political convictions were liberal, pro-abortion, opposed to censorship, supported women's liberation. During the 1968 Chicago riots around the Democratic Convention, a cop mistook Hefner for a hippie and whacked him on the butt with his nightstick. I think that made Hef even more liberal. One ideological thing I did not like was the leniency on drugs--the interview with Timothy Leary and so forth. But generally he was on the side of the angels and I was always grateful to him for letting me publish a lot of good fiction writers and pay good rates. Generally we paid three thousand dollars for a story, a thousand for a short-short.
TK: How was it working in the offices?
RM: The research department was second to none. It was modeled on the one at the New Yorker. Also the copy-editing department was outstanding, run by a woman named Arlene Borliss. They used to catch some amazing things. There was a story by Freddy Forsythe once with a lot of errors, it was all wrong, so it was revised by the research department. They would send out letters, too, to check to smallest details. There were also some very literal-minded persons around there. Some of the secretarial staff used to have the routine task of sending out letters to people mentioned in articles. I recall once looking over a secretary's shoulder and seeing her typing a letter that started, "Dear Mr. Nietzche, your name has been mentioned in a recent article in Playboy..." and I said, "I think you're going to have a problem getting that letter delivered."
TK: From Playboy, you went on to Houghton Mifflin in Boston?
RM: Ah, yes, from the glitter of the Playboy world to the tweedy, pipe-smoking, old-leather atmosphere of the house that had published Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Winston Churchill. Actually, by that time Playboy had become a bit passé and Houghton Mifflin was becoming au courant as a publisher. I always wanted to go back to book editing. I had had a short period at Henry Holt and Company when I first started out. Spectorksky died and he had been my Rabbi, as they in Chicago, at Playboy, and I missed him a good deal. I was not fond of the new editor. My wife died, and that left a big gap in my life, my son went off to college, it was time for me to move, and I moved to Houghton Mifflin.
TK: You started there as Senior Editor and became Executive Editor? And you worked there from 1977 until you retired in 1989, another 12-13 year stint. At Houghton Mifflin, did you focus primarily on fiction?
RM: I had been a fiction editor the for quite some time and was anxious to do some good nonfiction, so I did some history and politics, sociology, even economics, which is not really my field. I had a number of good books and a lot of interesting things that came up in nonfiction. In fiction, I was Paul Theroux's editor, one of my best experiences--possibly the best book I published in fiction was Theroux's Mosquito Coast. Maybe a third to a half of the books I published were fiction, the rest nonfiction. Some of them were The Nine Nations of North America by a Washington Post editor, a very interesting concept about the break-up of the North American continent in this age. He was talking about power centers and cultural centers and found nine really influential ones, a new way of looking at North America, a brilliant book. Another was a landmark in its own field, the only book ever written on the National Security Agency, The Puzzle Palace. It got inside the agency as much as anybody ever has and said a lot of fascinating things about our intelligence, which I had an interest in from my CIC days in the War. I published books by people in cryptoanalysis, wartime intelligence, and so on. A scattering of other books, a number of titles in history and sociology. Houghton is an old-fashioned place where an editor is supposed to be a generalist, to be able to edit a book on brain physiology as well as a book on the Reagan era. So the range sort of satisfied me.
TK: As Senior and Executive Editor, what would your relationship to the book be? You wouldn't do nuts and bolts editing?
RM: I did. I loved that. Luckily, I never got promoted high enough that I didn't have anything more to do with books. I spent a lot of time line-editing and I wouldn't have stayed if I couldn't do that.
TK: I understand that you discovered Shoeless Joe by Kinsella.
RM: I was the editor on the book, but a lot of the credit has to go to my assistant editor, Larry Kessenich, who has since left publishing for psychiatry. He was a young man just working his way into becoming an editor. He was very high on Kinsella, so we invited Kinsella to send us his novel and it came in, partly finished, Larry worked with him on it for a long time, corresponded with him. Together we worked on it and got Bill to finish the book and it turned out to be a considerable success partly because our salesmen were crazy about it, most of them being baseball fans, so they pushed it hard, and suddenly this book by a rather unknown Canadian author became quite a success. Then we had the movie. In the book this kind of wacky main character, Iowa farm boy who builds this stadium out in the farmlands, has this second great idea to come east and kidnap J.D. Salinger because he's heard the Salinger is a recluse and wrote about baseball in his early years but is scared to go out of his house to go to Fenway Park to a Red Sox game. So he goes and appears in Salinger's driveway in his beat-up Volkswagon and when Salinger comes along he pulls a gun on him. Salinger thinks a nut has cornered him, gets into the Volkswagon, and they go down to the Fenway and watch a ballgame and when that's over, he lets Salinger go home. But after the book was published, we had a letter from Mr. Salinger's lawyer who said that Salinger is all for freedom of expression in books, but he does not want this to be in a movie. So the movie was changed. As you remember it was a black author, nothing like Salinger, played very well by James Earl Jones.
TK: In addition to all your editorial work, you have published two novels, a collection of short stories, many stories in magazines, and a book on Technique in Fiction as well as another nonfiction book. How did all of this fit together?
RM: Like most people, I was interested in writing short stories first and began publishing them a long time ago. The first one was published in a magazine called Perspective, edited by a fine poet called Mona Van Dyn. It probably ran six issues and then disappeared. Sometime in the forties that was. Then I published in a number of literary magazines and some big magazines, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and so on. I published my first novel when I was in North Carolina in 1952, The Disguises of Love, one of the first in a spate of academic novels at that time. Then I wrote some criticism, started to write the first book on Ford Maddox Ford, but abandoned it. Somehow I never wrote as much as I should have or wanted to. I collected the stories in 1957, I think it was, and that was published by MacDowell and Obolensky, a house formed by me dear old friend Dave MacDowell, that lasted for six or eight years. After that I had a long dry spell except for occasional stories and criticism, didn't do any books until 1989, the most recent novel I published, one I'd worked on when I was at Playboy, called A Secret History of Things to Come. In the meantime, I'd written Technique in Fiction and then another, a sort of psychiatric book on the family. I got together with a young psychiatrist writer I knew through Pam and we collaborated on a book called The Seven Basic Quarrels of Marriage, published in 1991 by Random House. That's my writing career.
TK: How did you fiction books do?
RM: The most successful was the last one--it sold about 70,000 copies. It was a book club selection, and that total hardback sales.
TK: That's a bestseller, isn't it?
RM: Well, part of that was book club sales and they're not counted in terms of best-sellers. Technique in Fiction has been in print for about twenty years or so and sold maybe thirty-forty thousand copies, but that's over a long period of time.
TK: And now you write mostly short stories.
RM: Yes, mostly. And I have a novel sort of in progress. The stories appear mostly in literary magazines. North American Review, Southern Review, Fiction, Virginia Quarterly--those are the four I've had this year. And one in Paris Review which won the John Train Humor Award a little while back. I have enough for another book, and in the course of time will get it together and see if I can send it out in this discouraging business. As you know, nobody wants a book of stories.
TK: In terms of the fiction you write, do you have some advice you would give to a young fiction writer starting out today?
RM: Yeah. Be a lot more persistent than I ever was. Work hard at it and don't let yourself be distracted by attractive nuisances such as editing, getting into some other line of business, taking fellowships, going abroad, and so on. I've had three different fellowships and spent a fair amount of time abroad. It's detrimental to writing. Stick to your last--God, I sound like my grandfather!