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February 12, 2017 Interview

Maggie Estep interview

Jeremy Keighley

Maggie Estep interview photo

The night after my book launch at Power House Arena in Brooklyn, I slept over at my friend Logan’s house in Clinton Hill. In the morning as she dressed for work and I bemoaned stupid shit I’d said at my book launch, I checked my email from my cozy bed on the floor. Someone named Jeremy had been reading about Maggie Estep and found the essay I’d written of her unexpected passing. He asked me if I’d like to see an interview he did with her over email fifteen years ago. He scanned it and sent it to me. I got chills reading Maggie’s answers. The way she uses her CAPITALIZATION to make a point, her kindness and humor. I met Maggie in late November 2014 and she died on February 12th, 2014. One of my regrets is not interviewing her, not asking her more questions, not knowing enough about a person I loved. Jeremy scanned me the emails between he and Maggie as well as their interview. I decided to transcribe it. I hope you enjoy her bold answers as much as I do. The beginning is sort of confusing as Maggie is busy traveling between France and Brooklyn but he finally pins Maggie down in August 2002.

— Chloe Caldwell


Unpublished Interview with Maggie Estep by Jeremy Keighley
Transcribed by Chloe Caldwell


August 14, 2002

Maggie Estep: I’m about to go on VACATION actually (haven’t been on vacation in years) so I’m in a frenzy of packing and organizing but, briefly, I write because:

a)   If I don’t I want to kill myself because I serve no purpose whatsoever and

b)   I want to make my friends laugh.

My first book is 50% autobiographical but everything after that is a little less autobiographical—although my friends call me an ANECDOTE VAMPIRE. They can’t say ANYTHING around me unless they’re willing to let me turn it into fiction. I just write what I know: slightly depraved people, sex, horses, Bach, Coney Island, reformed strippers and drug addicts.


February 6, 2003

Jeremy: You said before that 50% is autobiographical and 50% fiction.

Maggie Estep: If I said that, I was referring to my first book, IDIOT, the fledgling novel. In later books the degree of autobiography lessens as my capacity for imagination grows stronger.


Jeremy: Does the fiction part take on a life of its own?

Maggie Estep: Oh yeah. These people (my characters) are crazy and really try to run the show. I can dictate a vague plot but how I arrive at the final point is usually not my doing, it’s THEM.


Jeremy: Do you believe that it should have happened or that it has a kind of truth?

Maggie Estep: Sure, even the "purely invented stuff' of course has a basis in reality. You have to at the very least have strong emotional identification with the material/characters before you can jump in. The easiest way is if their facts mirror your own but increasingly, I go away from that because it’s more fun.


Jeremy: lnspiration vs. perspiration. Is writing a case of being inspired or working very hard?

Maggie Estep: 80% alas is hard work. But you can't get to that unless you have the inspiration—or passion as I like to think of it—to begin with.


Jeremy: Do you write every day?

Maggie Estep: I’m a binge writer. I do SOME writing at least 6 days a week but the bulk of my novel writing is done in hardcore stretches of a few weeks. I usually go somewhere foreign (like sometimes rural Virginia, more recently Paris, anywhere where I don't have an imposed daily schedule and no one will call me on the phone) and I stay in one small quiet room and I get up early and just start pouring it out. I take a break at mid-day to read and eat and sometimes exercise, then I go back in for an afternoon session. I do this for about three weeks then I go home and am often able to maintain the momentum for a month or two. Then I start slacking off and being downtrodden by daily life and I don’t work as well and I only generate magazine articles or little stories or even just letters until the next time I go away.


Jeremy: Is it necessary to be selfish to be a successful writer?

Maggie Estep: Yes in that its sort of like being an athlete in training. You have to conserve your “juice" and this means not having too many social obligations, particularly not during the day and my whole life is structured in a way to keep INTERFERENCE at a minimum. On another level though, 'selfishness' implies an obliviousness to others which is out of the question. To write well I think I really have to get my head out of my own ass and pay attention to EVERYONE around me. lt's like that opening scene of one my favorite movies, WINGS OF DESIRE, where there's an angel flying around monitoring snatches of conversation and life. Not that I feel like an ANGEL but my ears (and hopefully my heart) are always open.


Jeremy: Does your performance help your writing? If so, how so?

Maggie Estep: More in the beginning. I learned a lot by reading my stuff in front of people early on. But spoken and written word are two distinct beasts, thus, stuff from novels doesn't always work very well read aloud to a noisy crowd. When I read these days, I have to edit shit way down and basically stick to reading funny or sexy passages of books otherwise the audience would fall asleep. But having done all that spoken word stuff early on really taught me to be economical and direct and that's certainly reflected in my books now.

Conversely, I won't name names but some of my peers from spoken word days just never made it out of that rut. They were so influenced by having to make an audience happy that they could never delve deeper into the craft and go to the next step. This is the biggest danger of performance.


Jeremy: Whats the hardest/easiest part of being a writer?

Maggie Estep: The hardest is earning a living. That and having your head talk to you pretty much every time you sit down to write. The head likes to insult me and tell me I suck and then I move past that and start working and eventually I realize I suck only marginally.


Jeremy: What is the best/ worst thing that anyone has ever said about your writing?

Maggie Estep: ln the very first review of HEX, the book coming out next month, some reviewer who didn't sign his/her name of the review described my characters as SUPERFICIAL GROTESQUERIES. Which is particularly funny since the characters he was referring to are based very strongly on some real life friends of mine. I had to call my friends up and tell them they'd been deemed


I don't really know what the nicest thing was except I'll always remember the last time I saw Allen Ginsberg alive, we read on the same bill one night and I read before him and when I came off the stage, he hugged me and said: That was beautiful, powerful work. That meant a lot.


image: Chloe Caldwell