The Breads Interviews Jason Schwartzman
The first-time author hits us with some knowledge
This is the interview series from The Breads entitled “Cool People. Heck Yes!” where I interview people that I think are interesting (and hopefully you will too) about what they do (which makes them interesting) but also ask them whatever random shit I’m feeling at the moment to help paint a picture of who they are. As always, you can and should sign up for the newsletter here.
This week we have Jason Schwartzman. A mutual friend I knew from New York who I got to know much better when we both lived in Mexico City in 2019. He’s kind and brilliant and the best of the classic borderline-neurotic New Yorkers. His writing has appeared in the likes of X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, River Teeth, Narratively and a whole bunch more. He also has a book coming out in a few months (we’ll get into that later). He’s one of my favorite writers that I personally know and even up there with the one’s I don’t know! Over WhatsApp message we discussed what it’s like to become a published writer, living with a famous person’s name and that one Bar Mitzvah gift he got from Allan Houston.
Opening question as always: tell us who you are and what you do
Hey, I'm Jason Schwartzman. Not THAT Jason Schwartzman! I'm a writer and Senior Editor of True.Ink. My first book is coming out this May called NO ONE YOU KNOW: Strangers and the Stories We Tell.
Ok we'll come back to having a famous person name in a minute. But right now tell us what we need to know about this book.
I kept having these semi-magical encounters with strangers that always seemed to escalate or reveal something. That got me thinking about other people in my life from exes to friends to family, and a book emerged of all these highly crystallized interactions, revolving around the question of what it means to know someone.
First Book Yes?
So how did you go about getting a book deal? Aside from being a good writer, of course.
It was hard! I knew the book was a little experimental / unconventional so I targeted smaller presses. I researched ones that seemed to align with my style and submitted to a couple every few months for YEARS. It was a lot of rejection at first, and the process was just always running in the back of my mind. A lot of it is waiting so it's hard to focus on it. Then I started getting on longlists and being named a finalist and there was an agonizing period of near misses. Then after 3-4 yrs of this, 2 places accepted it in the same week! I went with Outpost19.
Damn the long road to glory. What is something you learned about people through this exploration?
1. Identity is highly fluid. It's wild watching how different someone can present themselves in different contexts. 2. Knowing someone is an incremental, unending process.
What is something you learned about yourself through this exploration?
That a lot of my ideas about myself are pretty contextual rather than these core truths. For example, I like to think that I'm pretty open, and it's easy for me to vulnerable, but in some ways, I'm really guarded.
Part of the idea of the book is that as I'm having these encounters with strangers, you're also beginning to form an impression of me, the author, and it hopefully represents the weird topsy, turvy continuum of knowing someone. There's always so much you don't know.
I see. Yeah I've known you for a while now. Don't know a damn thing about you.
That's actually the reason I wanted to do this interview (jk jk). Ok so there's all sorts of shit online talking to famous writers about their writing habits. Do you have any writing routines or practices that you swear by?
Tea or coffee is a must. I prefer Scrivener to Word. I tend to work best when something else is due and it feels like I'm jammed for time. Notebooks work really well for me and were crucial for the book. So much of it is detailing these little poetic moments so it was valuable to be able to document what happened almost right after. Otherwise a lot of the good detail gets lost
But you don't have any like "you must wake up at 5am and write for 2 hours" type of stuff going on? Or like hard and fast rules about routine? I feel like a lot of writers are big on that.
I find that to be an overblown point of interest. It almost seems like the idea underneath it is that there's some secret formula, a writer's blueprint, that leads directly to great copy. But there isn't that I know of! It can be useful to get ideas from other writers' routines, but ultimately you've got to just try a lot of things to see what works for you
Jah Feel, Jah Definitely Feel. I find stuff like that useful but not gospel. Do your own thing. Ok so what's your best Jason Schwartzman story? Is this your life?
During some of the peak Wes Anderson years, I definitely disappointed people, ranging from someone in a writer's workshop to the random sales dude who called and tried to get me to buy season tickets to the opera (lol). I think one point of triumph was when my cousin snuck me into a wrap party for some movie and I bumped into Mark Schwartzman, Jason's half-brother, and he couldn't believe I was also a Schwartzman, not a Schwartz. We toasted in Schwartzmanian salute.
Haha damn you shoulda sprung for the opera tix! Do you have a favorite toast?
I like combining ones from different languages in an ongoing celebratory babble: l'chaim, salud, prost...
Ooo nice. Ok you get three cuisines for the rest of your life. And only three. What are you rolling with?
Italian, Mexican, Chinese
haha food normcore
One of my favorite stories you’ve ever told me is the Allan Houston one. Please regale our readers with it because I think it’s so freaking funny.
My dad's cousin was the agent for Michael Doleac, a sweet-shooting backup center on the Knicks a while back. As a bar mitzvah gift, my dad's cousin asked Doleac to get a signed jersey from Allan Houston, who was one of my favorite players as a kid. It was very kind of him. But apparently, Houston, a devout Christian didn't know what a bar mitzvah was. Or he knew EXACTLY what it was and couldn't resist. Beneath his signature on the jersey was a note in permanent marker: Trust Jesus!
What's something extravagant you've always wanted to buy and would if money were not an issue (specificity is important here).
I've never had this thought before right now but it might be nice to get some traveling done in a catamaran
Why a catamaran?
I think they can go pretty fast and yet it offers more stability than a sailboat (says me who knows nothing about boats). I also like that it's kind of weird looking, like a manta ray
True they are the most ray-like of all boats. Catamaran > Yacht. Although can a catamaran be a yacht?
I hope not. A yacht has too many connotations of a rich and snobby life. Stick with a catamaran and you'll be fine.
Roger that. What were the last few books that you read?
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler / Luster by Raven Leilani / The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
Would you recommend them?
Yeah, all 3!
What's the dumbest thing you've ever done?
Ha! Hard to say. There's a wealth of material to review. Up there has got to be when I went to Paris on a trip during college and a person tapped on my shoulder, pointing out that there was a gold ring at my feet. I'd found a diamond ring once in a spring and I guess I wanted to believe I was like this amazing Bilbo hobbit figure who had a knack for finding treasures, so I picked it up and then paid the person a "finder's fee," EVEN as my friend was whispering in my ear that it was a scam. Still have the ring.
Damn the old ring trick
You wanted dumb, you got dumb!
How do you feel about roller coasters?
I like them but I can't handle the ones that turn you completely upside down. One day I'd like to go on a "log flume." I remember that from Rollercoaster Tycoon and always wanted to try it. "Flume" is also a funny word to say.
I've also enjoyed the word. Ok we're gonna end this shortly. Last question. Where do you want to retire to?
This is pure fantasy but it would be nice to have a chalet in one of those mountains by the Swiss / Italian border, and get some good skiing in.
Oooo nice. Ok tell us whatever you want.
Wait i want the death question!! I thought about it.
Ok fine. What's your ideal death? As in, perfect scenario, how do you want to go out. I'd be old, and on the way back from an extended road trip doing a last call with anyone I cared about (also proving that I'd finally mastered driving). Then along a scenic backroad, the car would break down in some wretched way, the transmission maybe, all four tires would blow out, the gas so close to zero Kramer + Newman would be proud. I'd have no phone service anyway and there wouldn't be any people, just birds and the birds would start flying and I'd be gone.
Your typical birds on the backroad ending. Nice. Finally this is a platform for you, so give me a bit about literally anything you want people to know about. It can be personal, it can be relevant to the politics of the world, it can be an argument for why you think we live in the Matrix. Anything you want.
I'd like to share a clip from this old NY tour guide named Speed Levitch. It's called The Grid Plan, and somehow in 2 minutes gets into deep psychology, urban planning, the weirdness of stranger interactions (in the spirit of my book), mothers, fathers, identity, etc. It's a wild ride and also has a humanizing message. Essential viewing.
If you enjoyed this interview with Jason you should pre-order his book here. You can also follow him on Twitter right here.
As always if you know some ballers who you think would be good for this series holler at me.
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