How did you become a writer?
My father is a writer, so I set out not to be one. For a while in college, I had some vague idea that I might be a lawyer. That lasted until I walked out of the LSATs. I was 21, and by then knew just enough to think I should apprentice as a newspaper reporter. It was a pretty good idea, actually. Being a reporter should give you an ability to observe well, and a lot of good material from which to work.
That said, I remember Richard Price telling me that writing wasn’t something you choose, so much as it chooses you. In my case, I suspect it’s also a genetic affliction. My father writes about polio (he lost the use of his legs in 1944, when he was 11), the Bronx (where he grew up) and the idea of masculinity.
I write about fame, New York (well, not so much anymore), the idea of masculinity (every sportswriter does, whether he – or she – realizes it or not), and – great surprise – fathers and sons.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
My father made sure I knew sentence structure and grammar. But it runs deeper than mere instruction. There are certain beats to his sentences, cadences that find their way into my copy without me consciously knowing – even for the essay pieces I write for television.
I had a professor at Columbia J-School, Robin Reisig. She was always xeroxing and handing out great pieces of journalism – New York journalism, mostly, Breslin, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, as I recall – and explaining exactly why they were great. She wasn’t always organized, but she had the most keen and precise sense of journalistic anatomy, from word choices to sentence structure to paragraphs. I’m ever in her debt.
Pete Hamill was a wonderful, generous teacher. I turned a newspaper column into a first novel under his watch. He showed me how every step of the way, though he should be held harmless for the final product.
Other influences: Richard Price; Pete Dexter, whose collection of newspaper columns, Paper Trails, should be required reading anywhere any kind of writing is taught; and Nick Tosches, whose biography of Dean Martin gave me an idea of how I might write about Joe Namath.
When and where do you write?
Mostly, when I absolutely need to. I used to write late into the night. Now I find my head most clear early in the morning. I write in my office at home, unless I’m on the road.
What are you working on now?
The last couple of years I’ve written mostly essay pieces for television. I write about football for the NFL Network, and boxing for Showtime. As it happens, though, I think I finally found a subject today, something for a big, fat biography. Or, at least, I envision it as such. And as it remains in the envisioning stages, it’s not something I can share.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Every day, in some form or another. And I only know of one cure – the deadline.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Never underestimate the value of sheer physical endurance.
Mark Kriegel is the author of critically acclaimed New York Times bestsellers, Namath: A Biography, about Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath, and Pistol: the Life of Pete Maravich. His 2012 book, The Good Son: The Life of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini – about a boxer’s relationship with his father, and a man who died at his hands in the ring – was made into a documentary by the same name.