Joan Schenkar.

“Because I have the smallest apartment/office in New York (it’s 16 square metres, but I live my writer’s life mostly in Paris), the angles of my photo executions are surreal: you can’t step back to get a nice horizontal view in my Manhattan headquarters or you’ll fall down the stairs. Nonetheless, everything is fairly clear — including the sacramental quality of every object on my desks as well as the tightly-packed storage problems of a Greenwich Village writer.
The fact that I separate the writing I do by hand (very little these days, alas) and the writing I do on my computer with different desks has more to do with my back problem (that’s what the red leather Backsaver chair and the adjustable computer desk are for) than with a split personality.”

Joan Schenkar has been called “America’s most original female contemporary playwright.” TRULY WILDE, her biography of Oscar’s interesting niece Dolly Wilde, was hailed as “a revelation, the great story of a life and of the creation of modern culture.” THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH has already been acclaimed as the “definitive” Highsmith biography.

JOAN SCHENKAR lives and writes in Paris and Greenwich Village.

FROM YOUR DESKS: It took you eight years to research Patricia Highsmith. How do you work…morning, noon, night?
JOAN SCHENKAR: That’s right, I work morning, noon and night. On a book of this size, scope and dimension, that’s how you have to work. I also work — probably hardest — when I’m sleeping.
Instinct is always the best guide for a writer.
FYD: How rewarding was it to see your book as a New York Times 100 Notable Books of the 2010?
JS: It was as satisfying as seeing the book reviewed on the front cover of the New York Times Book Review. It’s always wonderful to be acknowledged and understood by the paper of record. But as I’ve said before — and I don’t mind repeating myself — if you believe the good reviews, you have to believe the bad ones. So, mostly, I just try to believe myself.
FYD: Like Highsmith, do you journal or keep a diary?
JS: In a manner of speaking, but I wouldn’t use the word “journal” as a verb. I keep writer’s notebooks — ideas and images for possible projects — and, like Highsmith, I always use the same kind of notebook. You can see all 23 or so of them in their little plastic bags in the book case on top of my “pen desk.” My current notebook is on the “computer desk,” next to my MacBook Pro. After reading Highsmith’s intensely intimate diaries, I’m relieved not to have kept records of my own life.
FYD: How did you sift through her journals and writings? Was there a method to the madness?
JS: There had to be a method — and a very serious one — because her archives measured 150 linear feet long and I had to read every word in them. Nonetheless, I was rather willful about it and did what I felt like at the time I felt it. Instinct is always the best guide for a writer.
FYD: Did you retrace her steps, perhaps in the way people might retrace those of Stieg Larrson on the Dragon tours. If there was a Highsmith New York or Paris tour; where would you take us?
JS: Of course I put myself in every place, in every country where she lived or left significant emotional or physical traces. It’s the only way to “feel” a life. For a very specific tour, click on this link (The Haunts of Miss Highsmith) tour of Greenwich Village (complete with map), published in the NY Times.
After reading Highsmith’s intensely intimate diaries, I’m relieved not to have kept records of my own life.
FYD: What lesser known Highsmith short stories are worth reading?
JS: You can read my editorial choices for lesser known short stories and two wonderful novels in the just-published Highsmith collection (by Norton) Patricia Highsmith: Selected Novels and Short Stories.
FYD: Did Highsmith and Hitchcock ever meet? Were they fond of one another?
JS: She actually refused to meet Hitchcock. And she stayed away from the filming of Strangers On a Train. “Fond” is never a word I’d use in association with either Miss Highsmith or Mr. Hitchcock. 
FYD: What is next for you?
JS: It’s a secret for now, but it won’t be for long. I can tell you, somewhat mysteriously, that it will be something old and something very new. 
Joan’s paperback, Picador edition of The Talented Miss Highsmith comes out Tuesday, January 4, 2011. (Images 1/2: Joan Schenkar’s desk. Image 3: Joan Schenkar. Image 4: The Talented Miss Highsmith Image 5: Illustration by Lutz Widmaier, based on a photograph by F. J. Goodman. Image 6: Rolf Tietgens photograph of Patricia Highsmith at 21 Image 7: Map by Baden Copeland, Blake Wilson and Sylvia Rupani-Smith/The New York Times. Image 8: Picador edition of The Talented Miss Highsmith)

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