Author talks stories, Showtime

Each year, the English department’s Visiting Writers Series (VWS) brings different authors to read for students and provide insights into the wonderful world of the written word.

This year is no exception, as the VWS brings Jonathan Ames, award-winning author of such novels as “Wake Up, Sir!” and “The Extra Man,” to the College. He will be reading today, yes today, at 3 p.m. in the Library Auditorium. In preparation for the reading, he volunteered his time to answer some questions about his career, awards and a Showtime pilot.

Audrey Levine: How did you begin your career as an author and what do you enjoy about it?

Jonathan Ames: My first novel, “I Pass Like Night,” was published in 1989. It was an expanded version of my senior creative thesis at Princeton (University) – I graduated in 1987. What I like about being an author is that I am my own boss. I’m not a well-paid employee, but I set my own hours. Also, I enjoy my job because I get to entertain people. It’s a way to contribute, to be of service in the world.

AL: How does it feel to be a Guggenheim Fellowship winner?

JA: I was thrilled when I won the Guggenheim. It meant that my work was being taken seriously and I received some money, which is always helpful.

AL: How will you be involved in turning two of your books into movies and how do you feel about this opportunity?

JA: I’ve written the screenplay adaptations for two of my novels, “Wake Up, Sir!” and “The Extra Man.” I don’t know if they’ll be made into movies – these things are always a longshot. I hope it happens, primarily because if the movies are made, more people will read the books.

AL: Where do you get your ideas for your books? What do you enjoy about these ideas?

JA: I’m not sure where ideas come from exactly. Mostly I’m inspired by other books and want to write something similar to what I’ve enjoyed.

AL: Can you tell me about the TV pilot for Showtime?

JA: I wrote a TV pilot based on my comedic memoir “What’s Not to Love?” We shot the pilot last fall and I played myself. I was trying to achieve my version of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Unfortunately, the show won’t become a series, but the pilot will air on Showtime in 2006, though I’m not sure when.

AL: Does the book feel more real or easier to write if you write about real-life concerns and emotions, such as in “Wake Up, Sir!”? Why or why not?

JA: “Wake Up, Sir!” is fiction and I made everything up, but you can’t make up human emotions, so, like all writers, I draw on what I’ve seen and experienced in my life.

AL: What are your plans for future stories?

JA: Not really sure. Waiting for ideas to come to me. I have a vague idea for a novel, but I haven’t started it.

AL: Do you often speak to college students and do you enjoy it? Why or why not?

JA: This semester I’m teaching at two universities, the New School and Columbia (University), so in that sense I speak to lots of college students, and in the past I’ve given readings about half-a-dozen times at different colleges, and I always enjoy it. It pleases me to meet young people who are interested in books.

– For more information on Jonathan Ames, visit his Web site at

– See page 21 for an excerpt of “Wake Up, Sir!” by Jonathan Ames.