18 January 2012
Sophie Hardach on Forced Marriages in France
23 January 2012

Interview with Arthur Phillips


Arthur Phillips was born in Minneapolis and educated at Harvard. He has been a child actor, a jazz musician, a speechwriter, and a five-time Jeopardy! champion.

His first novel, Prague, was named a New York Times Notable Book, and received The Los Angeles Times/Art Seidenbaum Award for best first novel. His second novel, The Egyptologist, was an international bestseller, and was on more than a dozen “Best of 2004” lists. Angelica, his third novel, made The Washington Post best fiction list of 2007 and led that paper to call him “One of the best writers in America.” The Song Is You was a New York Times Notable Book, on the Post‘s best of 2009 list, and inspired Kirkus to write, “Phillips still looks like the best American novelist to have emerged in the present decade.”

His fifth book, The Tragedy of Arthur, was published to critical acclaim, including being named a New York Times Notable Book. He lives in New York with his wife and two sons.

Where did The Tragedy of Arthur begin?

I have started novels from many of those places: a setting, a plot twist, a character.  But in this case, it started from what I can only call a dare.  I simply wondered one day, what would I have to learn to be able to write a Shakespeare play?  A peculiar thought, I’ll admit, but one that got under my skin in the most irritating way.  I was halfway through writing a different novel and most of the time I was itching to start work on this ill-defined forgery scheme…

Can you tell us about being a five-time Jeopardy champion?

Trivia has always stuck to me.  I know a very small amount about a lot of things, and a lot about… nothing.  Turns out that, plus quick thumb-muscle reflexes and a willingness to risk public humiliation makes for a successful gameshow career.  I was on in 1996, not long after my wife and I got married and she was beginning to despair about my earning potential.

What books are on your nightstand?

Last great book I completed: Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis. Currently reading Shakespeare and the Jews by James Shapiro, author of Contested Will and 1599.  Next up: the new Ron Rash novel The Cove.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

I don’t know about the best ever, but I read this today and liked it.  I’ll say it’s the best advice I’ve received today:

” Look at getting published the same way that career criminals look at getting arrested. Sure, there is validation in it. And people will know what you did, why, and how. But the crime is the fun part and getting away with it is even better.”–

What advice would you give to beginning writers?

Since we’re tapping into their wisdom today, I liked this, too:

“Getting rejected by magazines you don’t read or editors you don’t know isn’t real rejection. It is just unsuccessful adultery.”–

What are you looking forward to doing while you are in Paris?

I lived for two of my happiest years in Paris, writing my second novel here, so I am likely to indulge in some serious nostalgia, walking, gazing, sighing, recalling.  That and seeing old friends at old favorite restaurants.

What’s next?

I’ve been working on television scripts at the moment, trying to find my feet in a new medium.  Then…back to novels.


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