Spotlight on Queens writers: Gordon Haber, author of Uggs for Gaza: And Other Stories
Newtown Literary is pleased to spotlight Queens writer Gordon Haber. We interviewed him about his new short story collection, Uggs for Gaza: And Other Stories, and his responses are below.
Tell us about Uggs for Gaza: And Other Stories. What is it about?
It's a collection of very funny stories about men in various stages of distress. I'm exploring very basic issues of love and money with humor. Also there’s a lot of travel in these stories — they're set in New York, LA, France, London, Warsaw, Kyoto, and Korea.
Tell us about the process of writing Uggs for Gaza: And Other Stories.
The stories grow out of curiosity. For instance, the title story came to me when my wife and a friend and I were joking around, trying to name the stupidest possible non-profits. One of them was "Uggs for Gaza". It was just a dumb joke. But then I started wondering: how might someone actually be motivated to send Uggs to Gaza? Is it even possible?
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Isaac Bashevis Singer said that the primary purpose of a writer is to entertain. Whenever I say "entertain" people assume I am talking about tap dancing or juggling. What I mean is that I am looking to create a sense of diversion and absorption in the reader, the feeling that they are interested in the characters, maybe learning something about the world — Updike referred to short stories a kind of "news" — and that moment when the story ends and it reverberates in the brain like a gong.
What else have you written?
My nonfiction is mostly about religion. I'm really interested in the cultural expressions of religion. For example I reviewed the TV adaptation of The Handmaid'sTale and last year I did a piece on the this really great TV show called The Path. Currently I am shopping a novel about the end of the world called WHEN THE MESSIAH COMES BILLIONS WILL DIE.
How does/did being a Queens writer influence your writing?
I liked living in L.A., because I could just get my writing done and not be confronted all the time by more successful writer-slash-journalists, because everyone there writes screenplays. Queens is like that, in a way. In Brooklyn there are 10,000 middle-aged Jewish male fiction writers; in Queens there's like 20. There’s not this pressure to be organic and artisanal and literary every waking moment.
What other writers have influenced or inspired you?
I went through a period when I read and re-read Kingsley Amis to figure out how he could evince real pathos while being screamingly funny. Then I had an Alice Munro period where I tried to figure out how her stories could be so expansive and yet economical and yet so free with structure. I'm inspired by Penelope Fitzgerald. She was a brilliant writer and a literary late bloomer.
When you're not writing, what's your favorite thing to do?
Hang out with my wife (the writer Brooke Berman) and our son. Play guitar.
Tell us something about you that has nothing to do with your book.
This one time when I was 16 my friends and I cut school and went to Greenwich Village. My friends wanted to check out a clothing store on Bleecker Street. Inside the store, there were all these circular racks of clothes, and I remember thinking, Why isn't there anyone here? Suddenly this guy comes out of the back wearing sunglasses and a leather newsie hat and he points a .38 at my face, I guess because I was the only boy. He says, "Everybody into the back." We had walked into a robbery. He made us go into the tiny bathroom where there was a guy with a mullet in a wifebeater (this was the '80s) and he was gagged and hogtied. A middle-aged woman was banging a broomstick on the ceiling and yelling in Spanish. I grabbed the broomstick and told her to wait until the robbers cleared out. So she yelled at me in Spanish. Someone had the presence of mind to untie the tied-up guy, who had an expression of abject humiliation on his face. We waited until we couldn’t hear the robbers anymore and we broke the bathroom lock. My friends and I didn’t wait for the cops because we didn’t want to get in trouble for cutting school. The other day my son pointed his Nerf gun at me, and I said, "Don’t do that," and he flinched, and I felt terrible, because I had shouted at him.
What should I have asked that I didn't?