One of My Most Embarrassing Moments at Writer's Digest

The first author I ever interviewed for Writer’s Digest was Richard Russo.

It stands as the only major author interview I’ve conducted in-person. Russo was serendipitously stopping in Cincinnati for a book signing at Joseph-Beth, just a couple weeks after he won the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls.

I prepared extensively and studiously. Aside from reading his books, I also read all previous interviews I could find.

On the day of the interview, when I left Writer’s Digest offices to meet him at his downtown hotel, I was nearly out of gas, and had to stop to refill.

It was then that I locked my keys in the car.

And it was pouring rain outside.

And I was wearing a linen suit.

I abandoned the car at the pump, and ran a half mile back to the office so a coworker could drive me to interview Russo. All of my notes, my digital recorder, and his books were still locked in my car.

And so I arrived at The Cincinnatian (the poshest hotel in the city) looking like a drowned rat.

God knows what Russo must’ve thought when he saw me, but he was one of the most human, kind, and joyful authors I ever recall meeting.

I managed through the interview based on memory, and scribbled his answers as fast as I could manage on a small notepad.

The interview was featured in the February 2003 issue of Writer’s Digest, and is now included in the newest edition of The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, just released this month.


Distraction is exactly what Russo goes after in his writing environment. He prefers to write in diners or busy places, where his mind can wander and make connections. “You can end up where you didn’t mean to go, but it’s probably more interesting than where you meant to go in the first place.”

You can say that again.

I have several other pieces in the handbook, including:

  • Novelists Need Platforms, Too
  • The Future Role of Agents
  • Straight Expectations on Self-Publishing

Plus: Russo himself has a contributed piece, “Location, Location, Location: Depicting Character Through Place.”

Go check out the book!

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4 thoughts on “One of My Most Embarrassing Moments at Writer's Digest

  1. Elissa Malcohn

    Here’s what I see in that experience:
    1. Dogged perseverance against the odds.
    2. Grace under pressure.
    3. Excellent preparation, which let you rely on the notes in your head.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Russo saw that, too.
    In other words: Well done!

  2. Theresa Milstein

    No matter how much you plan, you can’t prepare for everything. Poor you. Since I have naturally curly hair that’s almost exactly like yours when I don’t straighten it, all I could think was, Oh no! Not the hair!

  3. Jessie Mac

    Sweet warm story. Almost like a few scenes in a movie.

    I’m surprised you remembered his answers by memory. That’s something I wouldn’t be able to do. I would have attacked the receptionist for paper through sheer desperation.