I call Steve (who blasted his nemesis Mark Sarvas, a fellow Jew, on Salon.com on Yom Kippur, Oct 13, 2005) Friday afternoon, July 21, 2006.
Steve: "My parents were psychiatrists. I don't think I wanted to do that. I've got lousy memory when it comes to my childhood. My earliest memory [about work] was that I'd work for a newspaper. I did that after college for almost a decade."
Then Almond got an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "The MFA is the artificial welfare state for people who are passionate about writing and reading. There aren't many environments where people are word-drunk.
"People used to make a living at writing before MFAs were around, but then there were venues where you could make a living as a short story writer. The culture was a reading culture.
"There's more great writing than ever. There are just fewer readers."
Luke: "What was it like writing a novel with Julianna Baggott?"
Steve: "It was a thrill at the beginning. Then it got complicated and rancorous. That's what happens when you have two fragile narcissistic characters sharing a byline and a fictional world. We went at it fiercely. That was good for the book, to knock each other around. It wasn't pleasant. It was exhausting. The emotional veracity of those letters was predicated on Julianna and I putting each other through the wringer."
Luke: "Are you and Julianna a couple?"
Steve: "No. She's been married a dozen years. I just got married [to Erin, a writer from California]. But the writing of the novel was intense. We were in an intense relationship for six months. Would we want to write another book together? I can only guess that she would say no.
"My wife is a fan of Julianna's. I'm sure Julianna's husband heard a lot of 'That f---ing Steve Almond' comments. My wife heard a lot of 'Juliana's driving me crazy.' We each had someone in our corner to tell us to be less sensitive, that what matters is the book, to rub us down with salts and then send us back out into the middle of the ring to beat on each other more."
Luke: "How involved are you in Jewish life?"
Steve: "I write this crazy Jewish sex column. My wife tells me she's converting to Judaism. I've never believed in God. I'm deeply compelled by Jewish history. I identify culturally. My mom would use Yiddish words. They sneak their way into my work. I'm proud of the moral and intellectual tradition of Judaism.
"A lot of the great writers -- Philip Roth, Saul Bellow -- they have a Judaic perspective on life, an anguished apprehension of the suffering people go through in trying to love those around them.
"The Old Testament is the best writing on earth. It has the best stories.
"When I walk into a room, I'm drawn to the Jews. I usually recognize them. We have an attitudinal link to one another. It's the home team."
We talk about the internet.
Steve: "Any literary website has a certain amount of interviews, reviews and serious consideration of what interviews means. That's great. Then there's the other half -- the Fox News part -- malicious, gossipy, aggrieved, envious."
Steve: "Boston College had a lousy record on gay rights and other things. Then I found out they were inviting Condoleeza Rice and I just thought it was a f---ing cynical thing to do. To cash in on her fame and make sure you get lots of donations and send the message to students that it is OK to lie as long as you get power."