Capote, that is—not Harry.

I’m taking this opportunity to follow Truman Capote’s genre busting creation of the “nonfiction novel” with nonnovel fiction–an interview with Capote himself. To that end we recently sat down and, I believe, both enjoyed our conversation. We met in a closed small tavern (I know the owner), called The Living Room where Mr. Capote sat on a club chair upholstered in peacock blue with me across a square table on a leather couch. Both of us drank sparkling water.

Mr. Capote: “Frankly, I was expecting the Ritz. Nothing this shabby.” Capote leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and raised his small hand to his chin.

Me: “I wanted a place where we could talk without being interrupted, Mr. Capote. Plus, I don’t know the owner of the Ritz.”

Mr. Capote: “Just call me Tru. It’s always so interesting to discover who one knows and doesn’t. And I do so much enjoy interruptions. It gives me a chance to observe. And of course, it would mean people haven’t forgotten me.”

 ME: “There’s no chance of anyone who reads forgetting you. Anyone who ever saw you on television either.”

Capote’s hand dropped to his lap, as he leaned forward with a half smile.

Mr. Capote: “I was famous, wasn’t I?”

ME: “Very much so. In fact, so much so that many people believed it was your driving motivation to write.”

Capote chuckled and shook his head.

 Mr. Capote: “I began writing out of loneliness and desperation. I’d been abandoned by my parents and was quite…different than anyone else–so I wrote. And wrote, and wrote. When my mother returned and brought me to New York, nothing really changed inside. Writing was all I wanted to do. To me, the greatest pleasure in writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make. And that music kept me sane. It’s all I ever wanted to do until Perry…”

Capote’s voice dropped to a whisper and his eyes began to rapidly blink.

Me: “Before we go there I want to ask about your statement that the music of words kept you sane. I wonder whether your first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms took it a step further. An opportunity to accept yourself, your upbringing, your sexuality?”

Capote’s eyes kept blinking but he reached for his glass, took a sip and continued to lean forward.

Mr. Capote: “I’ve said many times that the central theme of Other Voices, Other Rooms was my search for who was essentially an imaginary person, that is, my father.”

Capote ran the back of his hand over his forehead.

Mr. Capote: “You do know it debuted at number nine on The New York Times Best Seller list and remained on the list for more than two months!”

Me: “I do. It also seems that the novel helped you come to terms with your homosexuality.”

Mr. Capote: “No, no, no. (Tru vigorously shook his head, almost spilling the water from the glass in his hand) Old news, darling. Frankly, I simply used that theme to make the book titillating. Looking down and back, perhaps it was my first stab at nonfiction novel.  Although I must say, Other Voices, Other Rooms was an unconscious, altogether intuitive attempt to exorcise demons for I was not aware, except for a few incidents and descriptions, of its being to any serious degree autobiographical. Rereading it now, I find such self-deception unpardonable. I did know, however, exactly what I was doing when Harold Halma took my picture for the back cover. I wasn’t completely oblivious.”

Capote put his glass down and laughed delightedly.

Me: “Since you brought up the term “nonfiction novel,” maybe we ought to begin talking about In Cold Blood?”

Mr. Capote: “Not yet, please. It’s been a while since my last interview and I must say I’m enjoying it more than I thought. Also, it would be wrong to simply bypass Breakfast At Tiffany’s.”

Me: “You’re right, Mr. Capote. Though it’s still difficult for me to shake George Peppard’s image as Paul Varjak.

Mr. Capote: “A gorgeous man, Peppard, too bad he spent so much time in the closet. Still, keep in mind I didn’t cast him for the movie. That was out of my control.”

Me: “Of course…”

Before I finished my sentence Capote placed his glass back on the table and sat at the edge of his chair.

Mr. Capote: “As badly miscast as he was, Peppard didn’t annoy me. Tiffany did. They never really appreciated the way I put them on the map. I think they simply gave me some sort of bauble.”

Me: “Do you remember what it was?”

Capote wiggled back in his chair.

Mr. Capote: “I don’t care to try.”

Me: “Not a problem. You know, of course, that after Norman Mailer read Breakfast he said, “Truman Capote I do not know well, but I like him. He is tart as a grand aunt, but in his way is a ballsy little guy, and he is the most perfect writer of my generation, he writes the best sentences word for word, rhythm upon rhythm. I would not have changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffanys which will become a small classic.””

Mr. Capote: “Small indeed. Certainly less pages than Mailer could ever write. And his remark that I’m a ballsy little guy and the most perfect writer of that generation was simply another way to insult me and my sexuality. I know George…”

Me: “George?”

Capote stared at me with rock hard eyes.

Mr. Capote: “Plimpton. George Plimpton. I might have been dead when he had the gall to say it, but I’m not blind or deaf. In an interview, he said I was at the top of the ‘second’ tier of writers and named Norman as being in the top. Now who do you imagine Norman really thought was the most ‘perfect’ writer of his generation?”

Capote raised an eyebrow but his stare remained cold as steel. But I couldn’t help myself and burst out laughing. Eventually Capote joined in as both of us contemplated Mailer’s massive ego.

Me: “Point taken.”

I glanced at the clock.

Me: “This has taken longer than I had anticipated but I’d hate to end now. Would you mind staying longer or maybe meet at another time to finish?”

Mr. Capote: “Oh dear man, I’d be happy to stay. I really don’t get out much anymore.  But there is a condition.”

Me: “Yes?”

Mr. Capote: “I simply need something, uhh, better to drink. Remember, I do live in a dry town.”

See next week’s post for the conclusion of my interview with Truman Capote. Thanks.

Gore Vidal on Truman Capote’s death: “A wise career move.”



1. lack of proportion or equality
2. an instance of disparity or inequality


1. to cause to become exaggerated or unequal

English Collins Dictionary – English Definition & Thesaurus

It is with a heavy heart that I once again feel compelled to write about the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. Heavy because as I lay fingers to keyboard, The New York Times is reporting: After a meeting with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli Army was “continuing to hit Hamas hard and is ready to expand the operation into Gaza.”

Heavy because my gut tells me that if Israel does invade Gaza, we are going to see a mass of civilians—women and children included, of course–defined as “collateral damage.” We’ve been here before.

In no way do I condone the missiles Hamas has been firing. I believe it’s legitimate for Israel to stop them, no matter who fired the first shot. My sadness has to do with how the Israeli government is choosing to stop them.

Newspapers have reported about the “pinpoint” bombing that killed a high ranking Hamas official, and even with this “pinpoint” strike, there were a couple of dozen Palestinian civilian casualties as well as three Israeli deaths. The last Israeli invasion of Gaza “left thirteen Israelis and more than one thousand Palestinians dead, hundreds among them civilians” (THE BOSTON GLOBE 11/17/12). Does anyone else see a problem with this picture?

My heart is heavy because comparing the body counts underscores my political opinions. I believe the ongoing disproportionate amount of deaths between Palestinians and Israelis leaves little room for Israeli apologists.

This disproportion is not new. In April 2011 I wrote a post calling for a regime change in Israel (http://zacharykleinonline.com/2011/04/ second entry down) I listed the following facts:

Since September 29th, 2000 to the present, 124 Israeli children have been killed. The number of Palestinian children killed during the same time period–1,452.
Since September 29th, 2000 to the present, 1,084 Israeli adults have been killed. The number of Palestinian adults during the same period–6,430.
Since September 29th, 2000 to the present, 9,226 Israelis have been injured. The number of Palestinians injured during the same period–45,041.
The current number of Israeli political prisoners or detainees is 1. The current number of Palestinian political prisoners or detainees is 5,935.
Since 1967 the number of Israeli homes that have been demolished for settlement reasons is 0.
Since 1967 the number of Palestinian homes demolished for settlement reasons—24,813.
Of the 40 towns in Israel with the highest unemployment rates, 36 are Arab towns.
According to the Central Bank of Israel statistics for 2003, salary averages for Arab workers in Israel (emphasis mine) were 29 percent lower than for Jewish workers.
U.S. government aid to Israel in 2009 was 8.2 million dollars of military aid per day.
U.S. government aid to Palestinians in 2009–0 dollars.
(These numbers and their primary sources can be found at http://www.ifamericansknew.org.)

That was then and perhaps the numbers are somewhat different now. However changed they might be, the disproportion will not if or when Israel invades Gaza again. This disproportion cannot be seen as defense regardless of Palestinian missile attacks. This is offense and the notion that the best defense is offense crumples in the face of dead and maimed children.

A whole lot of people have raked me for my ongoing support of the Palestinian people. Been called an anti-Semitic Jew (was also called a “self-loathing” Jew after my third Matt Jacob Novel No Saving Grace), one-sided, and blind to the acts of terror committed by Palestinians. The problem with all that is I’m not anti-Semitic or even one-sided. And I’m certainly not blind or silent about any acts of terror whatever the justification–real or imagined.

What I am is terribly, terribly sad. It rips my insides to watch a people to whom I belong, who were savaged into near extinction during World War Two, slowly but surely dehumanize another people. It tears me up to watch Israel become an apartheid state. It breaks my heart to even imagine how close Israel is creeping toward committing genocide. These are not the feelings of an anti-Semitic Jew; they are the emotions of someone watching his people change from the oppressed to the oppressor.

I used to believe in a two-state solution. Believed that had the 1967 boundaries been accepted along with internationalization of Jerusalem, peace would have been possible. I believed that had Israel legitimately dealt with Fatah or the PLO that preceded them, Hamas wouldn’t have had steady legs to stand on.

Now I believe it’s too, too late. The disproportion too, too great. Which is why my heart is heavy today for the Palestinian people, the ugly transformation that’s grabbed hold of Israel, and mostly for those who have died and those who will. Disproportionally.

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, however, if faced with courage, need not be lived again. ~ Maya Angelou


I’m hoping to use this post to create a regular, but intermittent, feature about writing that starts an ongoing discussion between me and any other writers/creative types–published or not–who want to jump in. (I’ve given myself permission to write whatever interests me every week which is why this won’t be a serial series but, if the response opens the door to writing issues, I’ll of course follow up.) Nothing would please me more than a back-and-forth so we can learn from each other. If you have anything you might want to say, suggest, or share, please do. Writing has always been termed “solitary,” and it is. But that doesn’t preclude confabbing about what we’ve discovered during all those secluded hours, which has the potential to enrich us all.

There are a million things to say about writing, but good writing always starts with the same two things: time and effort.

You have no idea how often people would come up to me when I did book tours for my Matt Jacob novels and say, “I have a great story, but I just don’t have time to sit down and write it.” Worse, some would suggest that they tell me their story and perhaps I could write it. I usually nodded sympathetically or politely demurred but, at the same time, thought fuggetaboutit. Wasn’t gonna happen. Not only was I not going to write their story, I knew they weren’t either.

The first thing any aspiring writer needs is a good chair and the guts to keep his or her ass stuck to it. That doesn’t mean all day, every day. But it does mean carving out a regular time to focus and think and dream. A regular time to write. This is true for pros as well as neophytes. From where my ass is parked, it’s the only way to actually learn the craft and keep it sharp. Though, if other people found other ways, I’d dearly love to hear about it.

Gotta read too; it’s the key to understanding what kind of book you want to write. Although reading a variety of types of books can only enrich and help, it makes sense to eventually focus on the ways different authors work in the type of writing you’re interested in.

From an early age, I loved mysteries. Started with The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, which, of course, evolved as I grew older. And while I enjoyed what is often termed “literary” fiction, Updike’s Rabbit, Malamud’s depressing take on the world, the comedic genius of Heller’s Catch 22, for example, I kept returning to mysteries, honing in on the “hard-boiled” version of detective fiction.

So, when I decided to leave counseling to try my hand at writing, I already knew what I wanted to do. I understood the parameters of detective fiction well enough to try to push its boundaries, while still maintaining the basic form. Kinda like grammar; you have to know the rules well to break them artfully. When I began writing, I also stopped reading all mysteries because I was terrified of unconsciously plagiarizing. And, I’ve held to it. Do any of you out there do this too? And for the same reason?

A good example of someone who works differently than I do is a musician friend who asked me for feedback on his manuscript. After my usual caveat of “Sure, but I have to be free to tell you what I really think without any bullshit,” I read the work. It was a fictionalized memoir that, frankly, wasn’t all that good. Its underlying premise could have made it truly interesting, but the tradecraft was weak and I thought he had missed the forest for the trees.

I line edited, noting where I thought he hit or missed the mark, where characters weren’t drawn well or their voices distinct enough. We set up a time to meet and I was pretty nervous about it. Basically, I was suggesting going back to the drawing board.

We met for hours and, much to my relief, he was eager for feedback and undaunted by the task ahead. After this meeting, he began voraciously reading many different types of memoirs while he began his rewrite–something I wouldn’t have done but no two people are the same. A few more extensive revisions over the next couple of years and the book is now in the hands of an agent. I don’t know if it will sell, but I do know the quality of his story and work is outstanding.

I started to tell his story as an example of someone who felt comfortable reading in his genre or area of writing, while trying to do it himself. But my buddy’s experience actually confirms both points I’m really making in this post. You have to commit to the project. Despite working full time, he put in the energy and effort on a regular schedule and accomplished his goal. Of course he wants it to sell (as do I), but at the least, he has completed something he is proud of and should be. Plus, he has subsequently gone on to write other stories (which his agent also accepted). He has turned himself into a wonderful writer by understanding and accepting the hard, time-consuming work it takes to create something special.

Writing starts with this commitment–and hopefully, our discussions where people relate their own experiences will too. Then, in upcoming weeks, I’ll talk in detail about various aspects of my personal approach to writing books, hoping others will chime in at those posts as well as now. Please don’t leave me talking to myself.

Meanwhile another dedicated, talented artist needs some help: A good friend of mine, Jim Ohm, an independent film maker who embodies all the qualities I mentioned above and many more, is raising money for his new film Pretend. I’ve read the script, think it’s really, really, good, and hope each of you visit his site (http://www.indiegogo.com/pretendthefilm?c=home&a=1733151) and listen to what he says about the film. Well worth the time.

Do not wait for the last judgment. It takes place every day.
Albert Camus


First, I want to thank Rawrahs for covering last week and writing a damn interesting essay in a manner only he could do.  Much appreciated.  And of course, thanks for the nice things you wrote about Sue and me.

A whole lot has happened since my last post so I’m going to land on a few of the things that caught my attention and actually stayed in my head.

First, of course, was Sandy, which crushed New York and New Jersey and wreaked havoc for a swatch of about a thousand miles.  I hope none of you who read this have suffered serious losses, but my heart is with you if you have.  My friend Bruce Turkel, who I’ve mentioned before, posted a list of places to donate for any of you want to pitch in. http://turkeltalks.com/?utm_source=Listrak&utm_medium=Email&utm_term=http%3a%2f%2fwww.TurkelTalks.com&utm_campaign=How+You+Can+Help+The+Victims+of+Hurricane+Sandy.

What struck me other than Sandy’s devastating impact were the acts of kindness displayed throughout the storm.  We are a nation strongly divided along fundamental issues that play out politically, but New Jersey Governor James “Chris” Christie said, and I paraphrase, “We don’t need no steenkin’ politics here.  We got an emergency!”  The caring and assistance folks have given each other, friend or stranger, speaks to something significant about our people.

Also, the Federal Government showed that it had learned from past mistakes and or incompetence (see Katrina) which re-enforces my notion that government is capable of change and has the potential for helping those in need.  People who want to castrate government really need to turn this horror into a learning experience.  Without the federal government working hand in hand with states, many more lives would have been lost or ruined with little or no chance of recovery.

And finally, it actually seems as if climate change is back on the table.

On a much more joyous note, last Sunday brought me together with many friends and family who helped celebrate Sue’s and my marriage.  It was a great night, at a great place, with great people.  Thank you.  I know the out-of-towners were staring Sandy in the face and I just want you to know how much we appreciate your chancing it.  And how much we appreciated the loving emails, letters, and Facebook comments.  It all turned the night into our finest.

On the campaign front, is it too much to ask that politicians’ ads be fact-checked before they’re aired?  After all, it takes about three minutes for people on the Internet to put out the truth after the ads have been seen.  Why can’t both state and federal election commissions do it first?  If we can’t keep astronomical money out of our politics (two billion dollars and counting, thanks Citizens United), can we at least try to control the outright lying?

I ain’t gonna hold my breath.

Despite all that’s been going on, there was still a bit of time to turn my attention to popular culture. (I Want My MTV!!!)

Tonight is the last night of Anthony Bourdain’s television show, No Reservations, on the Travel Channel.  Bourdain first made a splash with his bestselling book Kitchen Confidential, a back scene look at how restaurants–and especially their kitchens–operate.  A chef himself, Bourdain chronicled little known aspects–the sociology if you will–of the business with a keen eye and superior writing.

He brought those same skills to nine seasons of traveling around the world to famous and little known countries.  Ostensibly, his show was about the different foods in the countries or areas he visited.  It was–but also about far more.  Bourdain’s spotlight on each region extended way beyond food, digging in to the different cultures and the reasons behind them.  It was always a breath of television fresh air to listen to his script given his talent as a writer.  No Reservations will be missed.

And speaking about television fresh air, I still can’t say enough about Showtime’s Homeland, based upon the Israeli series Hatufim (English translation: Prisoners of War). I’ve written about this show before, but the second season maintains and perhaps surpasses the last.  This isn’t blood and guts tv with violence seeping out of every scene. This is an hour where the story and character interactions keep your ass on the edge of your seat with its twists, turns, and tension.  Claire Danes is simply terrific in her role as a driven, obsessed C.I.A. agent and Damian Lewis right there as a returned prisoner of war after eight years of captivity.  No surprise to me that the show, Danes, and Lewis all won Emmys because they sure as hell deserved them.  If you have Showtime and On Demand, you can watch the beginning of the series until the present.  Absolutely worth the time.

Finally, I’d like to again thank everyone for all their wonderful comments about Sue and our marriage.  We felt the love.  And I got the girl!!

“We are continually faced with great opportunities which are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.” Margaret Mead