Interview with A. J. Jacobs

I am on a roll with author interviews this week!

I first encountered A. J. Jacobs on Amazon. I was buying a lot of books on Judaism, and Amazon’s magical algorithm said, “We heard you like the Bible and Jews. Here’s a book on the Bible by a Jew.” The Year of Living Biblically had something about it that appealed to me. Despite the fact that I’m religious, I’m also irreverent. I mean, I am the daughter of a professional comedian; nothing is ever so sacred that humor can’t be found in it.

So, being poor, I put the book on my wishlist, and my mother-in-law bought it for me for my birthday. It was indeed right up my alley–humorous in a self-depreciating, but not laughing at other people behind their backs, sort of way.

A month or so ago I picked up My Life as an Experiment and enjoyed it almost as much (it is hard to top the Biblical beard, after all).

Then, a few days ago, I got a wild hair, looked A. J. up on his website, and asked if he would be willing to do an interview for my blog. To my complete surprise, he e-mailed me back the next day and said he’d be happy to. He even volunteered to answer the questions himself, rather than outsource them to his Indian assistant (although I said that would be okay with me).

So, without further ado, the interview:

1. At what point in your life did you say, “I want to be a writer?” At what point did you actually feel like you *were* a writer?

I graduated college with no marketable skills. I was a philosophy major, and there were very few Fortune 500 companies hiring in-house philosophers. So I ended up trying freelance writing. And I liked it enough that I decided I would try to stick with it.

This makes me feel better about being a history major. See, liberal arts majors can find food!

2. You wrote articles for magazines before you published your first book. Were you terribly excited when you inked your first book deal, or did it just seem like the natural and logical next-step in your career? Was your first book experience everything you expected it to be?

My first book was, indeed, terribly exciting. And it wasn’t even a real book. It was a novelty book, one of those things they sell by the cash register at bookstores. It was called The Two Kings and it was a total of 800 words. It was about the eerie similarities between Jesus and Elvis.

3. You have a theme to your books: human guinea pig. Where did that idea come from? And do you have plans to write something different? A novel, perhaps?

I started doing it as a journalist. When I worked at Entertainment Weekly, I looked exactly like a B-list actor named Noah Taylor. So my editors sent me to the Oscars to see what it’s like to be a movie star. (Answer: It’s awesome). After that, I just kept going.

There’s a complete account of the Noah Taylor incident in the book My Life as an Experiment.

4. For you, what’s the hardest part of the writing and/or publishing process?

That would be the writing part. I love the research part and even the marketing part. But sitting in front of a computer alone and cranking out the words? That I find painful. A writer friend of mine once compared writing to having the stomach flu. You feel terrible and queasy until you vomit it all up, then you feel better. I relate to that.

5. In your opinion, at what point can you legitimately make a Wikipedia entry for yourself and/or your books? Or should you wait for someone to start one for you, then go in and edit it?

Great question. I have a wikipedia entry that some strangers made for me. It’s full of errors, but I’ve been told it’s a no-no to edit your own page, so I don’t know how to fix it.

6. Insert professional plug for your new book here. (Show us how it’s done.)

My latest book is called DROP DEAD HEALTHY, about my two-year quest to become as healthy as humanly possible. I revamped my diet, exercise, stress level, sex life, you name. If you don’t buy it, you will probably die!

Now, lest anyone think that Mr. Jacobs is egotistical (he’s been accused of that before) for throwing all those links into this interview, let me just say, I put all of those links in there. Part of it is a nod to my days of being a history major and having to footnote everything. The other part is rather self-serving: Google’s search algorithm likes links. Oh, and you should buy some of his books; they’re good.

Actually, I think the best advice he can give writers is this:

…As a writer, I have to accept the lack of control. Publishing a book is like having a child. You can do everything right — feed him, clothe him, show him Baby Kierkegaard videos — but a bully at kindergarten can still make him eat clumps of dirt. You have to come to terms with that. And you have to appreciate that your child is able to run around the playground at all, and is even having fun on the jungle gym when not being pummeled.