But being on Morning Edition gave me an audience of over twelve million people.
Rumpus: Did you ever say anything embarrassing to another writer?
Sedaris: Well, I was the type of person who was the question-asker. And so, I remember asking him how he liked Syracuse. There is rarely a time when I just have had enough.
But to be a writer you have learn what it takes to captivate a reader in order to make them turn the page. I need humor and I need it on the page to keep the reader going.
Rumpus: I’ve seen you live many times and I recognize some of the material from your performances in this book.
How it felt to think of something to say to someone you admired so much.
And then it would be my turn and then the author would just sign the book and slide it back. I would say things like, “I liked your last book.” And then walk away thinking, Oh, I hope he doesn’t think I didn’t read his current book!
Rumpus: I’m very impressed by all the time you spend in IHOP. I’d go when no one else was there and sit for an hour or so and write. So, a lot of that time in the IHOP reading was spent becoming a writer. There are folk artists out there who live in the woods, who’ve never been taught, or to a museum who can create artwork that will move you. You have to read to learn what it is that makes people turn the page. Sedaris: What I mean by the difference is that, when you are writing yourself in an essay or a story, you are a character. You need to give the reader a reason to turn the page. Rumpus: I did notice how the darker moments and the lighter complemented one another. Sedaris: I’m working on a piece right now for the New Yorker and it is very serious. I put in some stories from a friend, and they work in there.
Later, when I got a typewriter, I’d sit at IHOP and read. But there is a reason there is no such thing as a folk writer. I recently listened to one about Joan Crawford and she has this line where she says something like, No one picks up the phone to listen to someone complain. No one reads to hear someone complain about the weather or how poorly their children are behaving. As a writer you have to invite someone to turn the page. Rumpus: One of the parts of the book I loved was when you write about imagining yourself being interviewed by Terry Gross. You told her in 2013 that the person in your journals is different from your persona in your writing. But humor is necessary—it allows the reader to come up for air before dunking them under again.
I sometimes take out sentences, which are perfectly fine on paper, just because they don’t flow when I say them out loud. Rumpus: One of the most amazing things about reading your diary was realizing how sudden fame seemed to come. But what happened was that I was suddenly put in front of an audience.
You had a poignant entry about feeling like a failure then, boom, you’re on NPR and, a few entries later, have a book deal. Before I had done readings in Chicago at the Lower Links and maybe seven hundred people would show up and not to hear me, but just for the show, which had other readers.