The Whitney Pastorek Interview

June 14, 2002

Today is the day to hit the road, Jack. Not you, Jack Zulkey, but somebody else.

A few things...

1.) I am going to the Crosstown Classic this afternoon. Go Sox! I can leave this up all weekend because it is a weekend series.

2.) Some of you apparently felt so bad at your lack of "American Idol" input that you sent me some pity emails. Almost enough to warrant an "American Idol" day on Monday. Send me some more, even if you know nothing about "American Idol" and just want to make something up. Or, if you just want to say, "That judge Simon is a jerk!" That's obvious, but I'd put it up anyway.

3.) Just because you are going to the Housing Works Project in New York on June 24 doesn't mean that you can't go to the Americana Project as well. It's hosted by Pindeldyboz editors Jeff Boison and Whitney Pastorek.

4.) What a segue! Here is an interview with Ms. Pastorek herself!

The Whitney Pastorek Interview: Ever-So-Slightly Less Than Twenty Questions

You've conquered television by appearing on VH1, and came at us through the radio on NPR. How else are we going to receive the total sensory Pastorek experience?
In Spring of 2003, I'll be opening a series of full-service salons and day spas.

As Senior Editor at Pindeldyboz, what do you look for in submissions?
I actually posted this over on the Typing People thread a while back. It seems like as good an answer as any:

Things that will immediately turn me off to a story, no matter how good it might be:
- misspellings
- bad grammar (unintentional)
- not knowing the difference between it's and its and you're and your and there and their and they're
- if I get 5 submissions from you all at once
- if your cover letter is longer than your story
- if anything is in a phunny phont

One thing that you should never write about, unless you can do it really really well:
- starting to have sex with a woman only to discover she's a man

One thing you SHOULD try and do:
- Write something that has to be told. Not just a story-- I went here, I did that, I went home-- but something that takes me out of the ordinary everyday banalities and into a heightened place, either emotionally, fictionally, or linguistically.

How do you differentiate Pindeldyboz, the site and the print edition, from other literary entitites?
We really try not to put a box around ourselves. I mean, Jeff and I started Pindeldyboz basically so that our talented friends could have an outlet for their work, and we are incredibly surprised at the way it's taken off, from website to classier-looking website to print edition to our upcoming poetry collection. I think we remain amazingly free of expectations, and ready to cash it in at any time. The minute we stop having fun, in other words, we're done.

What are the best and worst parts of being an editor?
The best part, without question, is getting to read the work of billions of writers, who span the spectrum from kill-me-now boring to oh-my-god-why-are-you-sending-this-to-us-instead-of-the-Paris-Review brilliant. It's always great to open an envelope and find this genius thing inside of it from a total stranger. It's also sometimes great to open an envelope and find a submission from someone serving time in a federal maximum-security facility. Note I said how GREAT that is. Dearest inmates, send more. We here at Pindeldyboz love convicted felons and do not judge. At least not where you might hear us.

Worst part? I don't do as much writing of my own anymore. No time. And I think I'm way more paranoid about what I DO come up with at this point, because it's like, oh, there she is, the big self-important editor who rejects prisoners and grad students alike, but SHE'S turning out total CRAP every time she puts pen to paper. Let's get her! And then they come stand outside my apartment with pitchforks and torches.

Explain to those not in the know why cellists are the coolest string players, possibly only bested by bassists.
Cellists are the coolest string players because, um… dude, there's no way for me to answer that question without offending like, 50% of my family. Can I just say that cellos make a purdy sound and leave it at that?

You play soccer. Do you tear off your shirt every time you score a goal?
Sadly, no. I play goalie. So there's not a lot of goal scoring in my world. I roll on the ground and slide tackle overly ambitious strikers and suffer from persistent turf burn.

You're also a presence in the theater world, as a writer, director and actor. Based on your perspective, what makes for a good director?
Actually, it's a kind of similar to my last rule of good submissions, see above. I like reality, with all its nuts and bolts, but I also don't go to the theater (or the movies, or watch TV) to see my bleakly pathetic existence mirrored down to the last cigarette. I need an opportunity to suspend my disbelief, if only for a second, and I need some sort of immediacy to be driving what you're showing me, otherwise: why are you showing it to me?

However, in order to really succeed as a director, I think more than anything you need constant, overriding, painful, ugly, white-knuckle ambition. Which I don't have. I'd rather go straight to the bar, you know?

What's your favorite show that you've directed? What's the best show that you've seen of late?
Favorite show, that's easy: "The Mystery of Irma Vep," by Charles Ludlam, founder of the now-defunct Ridiculous Theater Company. You can do yourself a favor by picking up his collected works. Irma Vep is a six-character play designed for two actors, who play men, women, werewolves, vampires, or sometimes all four at once. It's camp at its most highbrow, and it's impossible to do it exactly right. We came close.

Best show I've seen of late. Gotta split that into two categories, I think, based on budget:

Best Big Budget Play: Elaine Stritch's "At Liberty", her autobiographical one-woman show. Sadly, our modern audience probably knows Elaine best for her role as Winona Ryder's crazy grandma in "August in New York" (come to think of it, maybe not), but for the past half-century, she's defined what it means to be a showstopper, and she's one of the last ones left. Check out D.A. Pennebaker's documentary about the making of the original cast album for Steven Sondheim's "Company", and you'll see what I mean.

Best Play Done By Friends Of Mine In A Theater With A 7-Foot Ceiling: Rinne Groff's new play, "Jimmy Carter Was a Democrat.". Amazing work by my dear friend Rinne about air traffic controllers going on strike in 1981 at the same time as the hostage crisis was ending, with a kick ass lead performance by Steven Rattazzi, who could read menus aloud and still be worth my $15.

What's the difference between a wine, a beer, and a hard liquor hangover, in your mind?
Hard liquor hangover: it's tough to find the way out of your single-wide trailer on the side of the Arkansas highway, but you know the door has to be close by, because your stray dog, Buster, seems to be clawing at your skull to get out.

Wine hangover: your sister kindly informs you that, no, you didn't miss much while passed out for three hours in the bathroom of a British Airways flight from London to New York; no, she's not sure who put those British Airways pajamas on you; and yes, that was in fact Fred Durst who you threw up on.

Beer hangover: around here, that's affectionately known as "Tuesday."

If you were to be a groupie, which musicians/bands would you, uh, groupify?
At the risk of seeming unprofessional, but not really caring, because if there's a chance in hell of him reading this and finding it flattering and sweeping me away from my wretched empty existence: Jack White, of the White Stripes, is the only man for me.

If somebody were to start hanging out on the Atlantic Monthly Post and Riposte "typing, typing, typing: the dave eggers refugee thread" what should they know are some of the unofficial guidelines?
Goddamn it, why does everyone think there are guidelines? Just fucking post, people. No guidelines. Just 10 or so people with too much time on their hands. I have no idea why that's so intimidating.

Why is it so great to be Polish?
Kielbasa, kielbasa, kielbasa. Actually, I don't know. Not as close as I'd like to that side of my family. Much more acquainted with the Austrians over on my mom's side. And the answer there is still: kielbasa.

Lindsay Robertson describes you, perhaps in not so many words, as, like, "the most fun person ever." How do you live up to this billing?
Maybe if you go into it with really low expectations, I come off well. Maybe Lindsay's setting her standards too low. That's just the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

Tell us about your "Survivor" application.
I think where I went wrong that first time was the way I just sat in my apartment and blabbered on. My new plan is to take the camera on the subway at around 8am some Monday morning, and film me walking through the quiet, sleepy cars singing showtunes at the top of my lungs. How much more dangerous can you really get than screaming songs from "Annie" at hungover commuters?

How do you think female writers can assert themselves in what seems to be a male-dominated field without resorting to exploiting their feminism, or, in other words, catering to the Rosie O'Donnell/Oprah/Barbara Kingsolver set?
That's a really hard question. I get at least one email a week addressed to a MR. Pastorek, and it gets really frustrating. What is this assumption that, in order to have a strong opinion or a cutting sense of humor or a craft with words or a brain for editing, one must be male?

I think sometimes I go out of my way unnecessarily to tackle stereotypes and break them down. I'm not a typical female person, honestly: I like boy things, I have boy hobbies, I listen to boy music, I wear boy clothes. It's only logical, then, that I should have a bit of asexuality about my writing. So for me, it's relatively easy to just speak from my perspective on the world, sitting happily upon my fence of unladylike apathy.

For someone else? I would say, write the story that you want to tell, that matters to you… and fuck 'em. Write well, and it shouldn't matter if you're a girl, a guy, or a monkey with a typewriter.

But perhaps a shorter, easier way to resolve it: there's a pretty obvious difference between "Bridget Jones' Diary" and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." I think if you can nail down what that is, you'll be fine.

Of all your different skills, hobbies and talents, if you had to give them all up except for becoming a master at one, what would it be?
Rock star. I want to be a rock star.

Who are some of your favorite female writers, whether famous or not?
Tina Fey. Jennifer Egan. Jane Austen. Carolyn Keene. Caryl Churchill. Sophie Treadwell. The women of Pindeldyboz: past, present, and future.

More girls should love baseball, don't you think? Why?
My god, have you ever looked, really LOOKED at the back of those ballplayers' thighs when they're in their stance at the plate? There is a muscle back there that, when it's bulging just right, is about the hottest damn thing I've ever seen.

Plus: it's good for the soul. Don't hate it just because you've been preconditioned by this patriarchal society to do so. Give it a chance. Find a minor league team and go to a couple games and smell the grass and eat some greasy food and lounge in the sun and spill beer on your feet and yell stupid nonsensical things at the other team, like, "All y'all's is bitches!!!" It's the best way I can conceive of to spend four hours of your time, and one of the only constants in all of life. It is there only to be loved. It wants nothing from you but your love in return.

How does it feel being the 11th person interviewed for
If you interviewed Zuniga before me, I'm pulling the plug on this thing.