Jonathan Ames is great! He's a writer unlike anyone else we've read. His novels, I Pass Like Night, The Extra Man, and Wake Up Sir! are hugely entertaining tales, littered with all too human foibles and failings. They're exceedingly contemporary novels about men who along with their other problems, it seems to me, are just a little out of time. Check them out, you'll laugh out loud. Or you know, you can probably get your money back.
I first heard of Jonathan Ames when he was doing a book tour in the UK. I was sitting outside Homebase, in a car park in Warwick, waiting in my dads car while he picked up some screws, and I was listening to Radio 4. Ames came on, complaining about how his publisher had him stuck in a hotel on the edge of Soho, perhaps under the misapprehension that he was a character from his novel, I Pass Like Night, and not the author of it.
I loved that book so much, reading it was like hearing Anarchy in the UK for the first time, like that. But when I contacted him, rather than readying a second novel, he was working as a cabbie in New Jersey. It was an age before another book appeared.
His Wikipedia biography describes him as being the sex columnist at the New York Press for a number of years, those columns are collected in two non-fiction books, What's Not to Love? The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer and My Less Than Secret Life. Again, both great easy reads. (Marty - when are you going to return my copies?).
As a contributor to Cabinet Magazine, he had their readers submit photos of phallic buildings. The results can be seen here: Phallic Building Contest
He has edited a collection of Transsexual Memoirs, 'Sexual Metamorphosis...'due in April, and that's where our recent conversation with him began...
Q : Sexual Metamorphosis : An Anthology of Transsexual Memoirs, the new book, is due out on February 8th, I think, thereabouts. What is it and how did it come about?
Jonathan Ames: The pub date is actually April 12th, according to the publisher. What is it? Well, the subtitle sums it up. It's a collection of excerpts from about 15 memoirs written by transsexuals, dating back to a 1930's memoir to a memoir published in 2004. Mostly the excerpts are from memoirs written by male-to-female transsexuals, but there are three from female-to-male transsexuals. How this came about: I was sent a memoir, The Woman I Was Not Born to Be by Aleshia Brevard, to blurb; after reading the book and thinking about it, I realized there was a whole subset to memoirs/autobiographies - - those written by transsexuals and that it could be an interesting organizing principle for an anthology. A few years later it's now coming out.
Q : Are there any plans a-foot for a new Jonathan Ames, proper book?
Jonathan Ames: A new collection of my essays will be published this Fall. I'm not sure yet of the title. They are essays I wrote for various magazines, online magazines, etc.
Q : Loved the staff room bra episode from The Extra Man. I mean, it could
happen to you?
Jonathan Ames: I guess it could, but it didn't. That was wholly imagined. Came to me for some reason while I was on the subway and I wrote it down in my little pad, a sort of eureka moment - - this will be the opening of my novel.
(Central protagonist Louis Ives, A teacher at a Princeton-area school, is in the staff room when he notices the bra strap of the PE teacher sticking out of her bag while she's teaching elsewhere... )
Q : I saw mention that The Extra Man was moving forward with an entity called Killer films. There's nothing on their website about anything at all. Is there anything happening there?
Jonathan Ames: Killer Films did have the rights to the book for five years, but now I have the rights back and I'm working on my own screenplay adaptation of the book.
Q : I guess I love so many passages and stories from your books. The
trip to view the castle in Heidelberg, to cure sexual obsession, as I
recall, but then to find yourself, hours later staring at the
waitresses ass... I have a friend who says he can't wait to be old so
the Denny's waitresses will think he's just a cute, dirty old guy when
he pats them on the behind while they're taking his order.
Jonathan Ames: I'm not sure I see the question here, but it's a funny little bit of writing. I don't think I was going to look at the Heidelberg Castle to cure myself, rather I thought I should be doing touristic things like that rather than be having sexual thoughts about waitresses. But your interpretation could be correct in its own way. That passage you're referring to is from the last chapter of What's Not to Love?, I think . . .
Q : The other night I dreamt that Bill Clinton and I were sharing cream
cakes, and he was so insistent that I got mine. Very nice about it.
Didn't you have an encounter with Bill Clinton. Was that you? Driving?
We're interested in all types celeb encounters, even if you are one?
Jonathan Ames: Got mine? Get mine? I've had two encounters with Bill Clinton. Once in Martha's Vineyard, he waved at me. I was the only person at the side of the road waving (my girlfriend at the time chose not to wave) and he waved back. And then a few days after September 11th, I was staggering around Manhattan, and President Clinton was going around hugging people and I was standing there and he shook my hand and I said, "Mr. President, what should we do?" And he very kindly held my hand in both of his and told me to not lose faith in our country and to do whatever I could to support the people cleaning up Ground Zero. It was an incredible encounter.
Q : Showtime. What's Not To Love? Did the pilot make it? How was it? Are
some of your renowned cohorts on screen? Will it be a series? (The other
night I was at my friend, Walt Disney's place and while I think you
could be the Larry David of the next decade, a disruptive force, Walt
sees you as a latter day Harvey Pekar... In ten years from now someone
slightly younger and better looking will be playing you in your
Jonathan Ames: We shot the pilot. It's not going to series, though. It may be screened at some point, though. It was a great experience and it came out quite good. So I'm pleased: I got to act in a tv pilot which I wrote . . . so that's pretty good.
Q : I've read something about your performance work. Any chance bringing
the show west? I believe that you did a reading out here last year. The
performances seem almost as significant as the books? An important part
of the Ames oeuvre (for want of a far better term). Is there any way to
describe what the audience is in for.
Jonathan Ames: I tell stories in a comedic way, with some pathos thrown in. It's kind of like what Spalding Gray used to do, except my stories tend to be shorter, 10 minutes or so, whereas he would usually spin one long winding tale . . . In an extended performance what I do is tell three or four ten minute stories. The stories are not memorized; I simply know them because they're from my life. I'm not sure when I'll be performing out West ...
Q : Ever had to depart the stage early?
Jonathan Ames: No, not that I can think of. Though I've had a few bad performances and have done my best to soldier to the end and get off . . .
Q : So, Sports. Courtside with Spike Lee any time soon?
Jonathan Ames: No, I don't think I'll ever sit next to Spike Lee courtside, but who knows. I'd like to. I'd like to be that close to an NBA game . . .
Q : Michael Jackson. Innocent or guilty?
Jonathan Ames: I hope innocent. I'm naive.
Jonathan Ames' books are available from Amazon.com. Buy them, they will make you happy!
And of course, visit Jonathan Ames' very entertaining website at www.jonathanames.com.
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Lamontpaul portrait by John Kilduff painted during an episode of John's TV Show, Let's Paint TV
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