Today is the debut of The Weekly Standard’s/Daily Caller’s Matt Labash’s first book, Fly Fishing With Darth Vader – And Other Adventures With Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys [Simon & Schuster]. His philosophy on reporting: “The best details always come when you think you already know everything.”
1. If this book were to become a film whom would you want to play you? Daniel Schorr. Because he’s 93, which I think is an accurate reflection of my old soul. If we can’t get him, then Nick Jonas, because the book could easily be re-imagined as a teen musical.
2. Where is your favorite place to write? Due to stacks of books and misplaced files, my home office is basically a dump/archaeological dig. I can’t even get into it without a Hazmat suit. So I no longer write there. I basically find some squatters corner in my house – most often the dining room table. But I might write anywhere that I can find quiet. Though it’s hard to find quiet. Especially with the voices. Who said that?
3. Have you ever gotten stereotypical writer’s block? That’s such a terrifying question, that it could jinx me to even answer it. So I won’t.
4. In writing the Detroit chapter you say, ‘It’s the only time I’ve ever felt like I was going to physically expire while writing a piece.’ Elaborate, please. Did you think you were having a heart attack? Also, you once ended up in the emergency room. Elaborate on that one, too. Actually, I had a writing-induced trip to the emergency room another time. I did a New Orleans trilogy during and after Katrina, over the course of a year and a half. The second installment came after spending a week in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Tough assignment, I know. But I was keeping very late nights and really trying to drill down on the wreckage and misfortune of friends of mine who live there, cutting across all strata of the city. I cared a lot about the piece. Maybe a little too much. About once every year or two, when I’m real fatigued, and my resistance is down – which usually happens when I’m coming off the road – I get this lip edema, some type of allergic swelling that’s triggered by stress. About half your lip grows to the size of a pregnant nightcrawler. Pop a few Benadryl and it goes down. This time, however, it didn’t go down. It just kept growing. I looked like one of those Amazon tribesmen with a plate in their lip. It was troubling, though my kids thought it was hilarious. I was on deadline, but I had to go to the emergency room before my throat started closing up. So while there, I had to keep knocking out interview tape on the laptop while laying on a gurney, or I’d never get done in time. (More on stress after the jump…)
5.How did Donald Trump get reporters like you to agree to go off record for the rest of the luxury flight? In the end, did you like him? What was his hair like up close? His hair is not to be believed. It has to be real. Nobody would buy a rug that bad. Up close, it looks like an abandoned bird’s nest. Or maybe apricot-flavored cotton candy. (More on Trump after the jump…)
6. Your new Daily Caller boss, Tucker Carlson, writes that former subjects still seek your advice. Is journalism a form of psychotherapy? Have you had a subject cry mid-interview and how do you deal with it? Oh, hell yes. Journalism is definitely like psychotherapy. When you successfully get into a subject’s head, you’re their priest, their best friend, their spouse, their bartender, their shrink. They end up telling you, a stranger, things they often don’t tell the people they know best. And you know why? Because you asked (More on journalism as psychotherapy after the jump…)
7. What, if anything, surprised you in the writing of this book? Hard to say, because I get surprised by something almost every story. In fact, I live for those surprises. That’s the best part. If I had to pick one, though, it’s probably that Mudcat is a woman trapped inside a man’s body. He didn’t say that, or anything. But he didn’t have to.
8. One gets the sense reading your book that each word is vigilantly chosen. Tell us about your writing process – do you ever throw out what you’ve done and start over? Do you ever think, ‘Damn, that is good.’? I don’t do drafts. I edit as I go along. So I’m always throwing stuff out. And then when I finish, I read and read and re-read. I do so at the computer about 10 or 15 times, all the way through, hammering things out here and there. Then when I have it pretty close, I print it out, and I read and read and read some more, while I pace. Because walking helps, for some reason. We live in our own heads too much. It’s good to make writing as physical as possible. Sometimes I read out loud, not because I need to sound out big thesaurus words, but because it’s easier to tell if you’re missing a beat or have an extra beat too many. Writing and music – same difference. It’s all about rhythm. And I look like an idiot doing this, quite frankly. During the Iraq War, I roomed with my colleague Steve Hayes, who couldn’t get enough of this process. He told everybody back home that ‘Labash loves to walk around the house reading his own stuff.’ That’s why I don’t speak to Hayes anymore.
9.You profess to despise Facebook and Twitter. You say the tweeters “can tweet until their tweeters fall off” – do you still have accounts in either? Is any of it good or is it all sh-t? Such naughty language, Betsy. Is that how the kids talk in their social networkings? You ask if I still have an account? That would suggest I ever did. The answer is no on both counts. And I’m not getting one, either. Almost all of my friends and colleagues are on both, of course, which doubles my resolve not to join them. My goal is to serve as a totem of their shame. (More on Facebook and Twitter after the jump…)
10. What’s next for Matt Labash? Lunch, I suppose. I try not to think too far ahead.