Marissa Bell Toffoli

Interview With Writer Larry Doyle

In books, fiction, film, writing on July 20, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Larry Doyle

Larry Doyle. Photo by Marissa Bell Toffoli (2010).

An introduction to the author of Go Mutants! and I Love You, Beth CooperGo Mutants! (Ecco) is the latest novel from Larry Doyle, a former writer and producer for The Simpsons.
Quick Facts on Larry Doyle

  • Doyle’s website
  • Home: Baltimore, Maryland
  • Comfort food: wine
  • Top authors: Thomas Pynchon, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Nathanael West
  • Current reads: Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists
  • Recommended reads: The Dog of the South by Charles Portis, The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman by Bruce Robinson
  • Favorite movie: It’s a Wonderful Life

What are you working on?

I’m certainly working on this book tour for Go Mutants!—tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, and writing little essays. I’m in the middle of writing the screenplay for this book.

I also have a new book and various movie projects that I’m always trying to sell. If I panic, I’ll try to write another screenplay. If I don’t panic, I’ll try to write my next book, which is more rewarding but the payoff is much slower.

Who do you picture as the ideal audience for your work?

Preferably somebody with $23. I don’t try to write for an audience. I write what I’m interested in, and with luck, people will like it. The alternative is to write what they want you to write, and that will never be any good.

Where and when do you prefer to write?

I have an office in my house. I get up in the morning, go get coffee, and then work the rest of the day. Like most people, I get to the office and then do everything I can not to actually work. I pretty much keep regular office hours, unless I’m really far behind.

It’s been said writers can work from any place, where would you most want to live and write?

My wife says that I wouldn’t really want to live there, but I would like to live in a forest reserve next to a pond, about a mile from a Starbucks. That would be ideal for me. I wouldn’t mind living in—even though I didn’t grow up this way, most people want to live the way they grew up—in a mountain range-y place where I could hike and get my exercise that way, see deer and all that.

What do you listen to when you work?

I go through different stages. I wrote the most recent book listening primarily to the Wish You Were Here CD by Pink Floyd. I wrote the first book listening primarily to Radiohead’s Amnesiac and Kid A, Portishead, and the Cocteau Twins. I listen to a lot of Americana, too.

Do you have a personal philosophy for how and why you write?

I think that whatever reasons I had when I was twenty or thirty were all very purpose-driven; I had specific ideas about what I wanted to do. Now, I write partially because it’s my job and I need to get a certain amount of writing done to keep us in our house, but there’s no longer a coherent philosophy behind it other than what I find interesting. The current book also has a lot of political satire in it if people read it deeply. I feel like you need a serious underpinning.

Are there any writers who strongly influenced your work?

When I was young, the first humor writer I read was Woody Allen, and then I wrote a lot of bad Woody Allen stuff. I read Donald Barthelme, and wrote a lot of bad Donald Barthelme stuff. Robert Benchley, James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Kurt Anderson, Michael O’Donoghue, and Mark Twain. Eventually, hopefully, you get to a point where you’re imitating so many different people at the same time that it just looks like you. Hopefully, now people can read a piece and identify it as something I might have written, but it’s filled with stolen bits from all those different writers.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

The only advice I can give to writers is to write. One of the biggest mistakes writers make is that they don’t write; and often times they sit around and talk about what the various barriers are to their success when they haven’t tried. If you have this idea that success is something that should just be granted to you, it’s not going to happen.

I tell screenwriters, there’s only one thing I can think of that you can do. You go to Hollywood and get someone coffee for four or five years. I’m not saying that as a joke—you go there and you’re a writer and you write, and you get them coffee. The trick to it is: you have to be really good at getting the coffee. You can’t be a writer who is only getting the coffee until you sell your screenplay. It’s an apprenticeship business. When you give your boss your screenplay someday, he’s going to say, ‘You know, that Larry, he’s been really good at getting the coffee all this time. I feel like I owe it to him to read his script.’ As opposed to, ‘That Marissa, she wants to be a screenwriter, and she always gets my lunch order wrong, and she asks me to do a favor? Well, fuck her.’

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?

The best advice, which I didn’t particularly take, was from my mother, who said, “You should go to medical school and become a doctor. You can always write books after you become a doctor, but you can’t become a doctor after you’ve written books.” Her basic advice was to learn a trade. I actually left graduate school and skipped over to journalism, which wasn’t much of a business.

About Larry Doyle

Larry Doyle was born on planet Earth. His novel I Love You, Beth Cooper won the 2008 Thurber Prize for American Humor. Doyle also wrote the adaptation for the film, which came out in 2009. Doyle works in show biz and writes funny things for the New Yorker whenever they will let him.

(Interview first published on Suite101.com in July 2010.)

[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Larry Doyle.” Words With Writers (2010),  https://wordswithwriters.com/2010/07/20/larry-doyle.]

Go Mutants!

Go Mutants! by Larry Doyle (Ecco, 2010).

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