A few words with the great Arthur Plotnik

Reading time: About 3 minutes

As an unrivaled devotee of Spunk and Bite, I was thrilled to learn Arthur Plotnik had written a new book. I became ecstatic when I learned I’d have the chance to interview him….

I am a triple-XL fan of Arthur Plotnik. So, when his new book, Better Than Great: A Plentitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives, crossed my desk recently, I devoured it in a single evening. It now sits beside my computer for daily reference. When offered the opportunity to interview him, I accepted, gleefully. Rather than introduce him further, I think I’ll just lot Plotnik speak for himself. But if you want to learn more, be sure to check his website.

What, specifically, sparked your interest in superlatives?

The interest has been long evolving, but one trigger was a yen to be more expressive in my everyday sentiments. I’m supposed to be a writer. How could I wish friends “a great birthday” or “an awesome trip,” or call my wife “amazing” in an anniversary card? As I struggled for fresh superlatives (“have a rapturous, festal, nirvanic New Year’s”), I was struck by the puniness of our common stock.

Your hypersonic book strikes me as an interesting cross between a cheerful guidebook and a rebellious thesaurus. Did you struggle with how to structure it?

“Hypersonic”? How about “superluminal”? But I’ll take “cheerful,” because the book does offer a counterbalance to the negativity choking the language. Not that I don’t relish an expressive malediction; but the more superlatives you discover for worthy things, the more aware you become of those things and their joy-giving qualities. In categorizing the types and objects of our praise I chose broad categories — Great, Sublime, Beautiful, Trendy, Cool, etc. — seas of terms rather than measuring cups to encourage inventive, freewheeling usage.

What type of writing do you best like to do? Do you prefer books, poetry or magazine articles?

Each has distinct mojo — pitfalls and rewards. I say, work at all three to develop writing muscle. Books allow for sustained expression on a theme, symphonic development, thrilling discovery along the way. Poetry offers the hard-won joy of distillation. Articles, with their demand for relevance, immediacy, and appeal, keep the writer’s feet on the ground. Ease of publication can affect our writing preferences, but fiction — hardest in that respect — stirs my soul in those old irresistible ways.

Can you briefly describe your writing day (how much time do you spend at it; where do you do it?)

My routine’s one interesting aspect is the Chicago neighborhood outside my study window: a robust horse-chestnut tree with its popcorn flower cones; alley trucks groaning with trash; six squealing little siblings across the street; and the clangorous workings of a plumbing supply company up the block. In a small, dedicated room with four reference-heavy bookcases, I write three to eight pokey hours daily, depending on deadlines, and take a day here and there to abuse a city golf course.

Which part of the writing process do you like best – the thinking about it, the actual writing or the self-editing? And why?

Self-editing, no question. Because I tend to edit and revise as I write — ignoring wise counsel — [including Daphne’s!], my drafts roll out in decent shape. So now comes the fun of buffing to a high shine. My background as an editor helps me spot problems, revise mercilessly, even kill my precious darlings when necessary. It’s labor-intensive, but nothing like the gut-spilling battle with a blank page.

What do you do to motivate yourself to sit at your computer to write when you really, really, don’t feel like writing?

I have the advantage of habit, having sat down to write since I was eight. I might start by revising yesterday’s work, getting the verbal juices flowing. But if zilch is happening I’ll go play some funky or moody jazz piano in my limited but self-energizing way. Or I’ll take a writing problem for a walk in the neighborhood, usually working it out in the fresh air. But frankly, if there are whole days when — barring special circumstances — you can’t write a few lines, you may be in the wrong business.

Can you name one other author you really like to read? What do you particularly like about his/her work?

The edgy British writer Will Self rarely lets me down. Right now I’m reading his four linked stories, Liver: A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes, and as you might guess it’s wildly original. His language dazzles and surprises. Intelligent, passionate, never sentimental. Plot and character so inventive they should be patented.

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