Winter Reading: Alexander Maksik


You can now read Alexander Maksik’s contribution to our Winter issue online. We spoke with the author about the strange world that is “Trim Palace.”
Tin House: What was the biggest obstacle in writing “Trim Palace”?

Alexander Maksik: In earlier drafts, I included a great deal more of Pete’s life – past and present. As is often the case at the beginning, I found that I was writing those scenes more as a way to discover Pete’s character than in direct service to the story. I find it’s the best way for me to start – don’t think, include everything. The problem is that I fall in love with sections (or sentences) that serve me, but not the reader. That was the case with “Trim Palace” and it took me years to excise what needed to be excised. I know it’s been said a thousand times, but it’s true: you’ve got to be ruthless.

TH: When you read this story in the future, what do you think you’ll associate with the period of writing it?

AM: Years when I was moving constantly, going anywhere people would take me. Years when  I was doing a lot of housesitting – a generous way to say freeloading. I love to work in other people’s homes. It allows me to pretend that there’s nothing in the world to worry about, but writing.

TH: Do you have any writing rituals?

AM: I start writing about the same time each morning. When it’s going well, I write a thousand words a day. When it isn’t, I just sit there. But I always sit there.

TH: The last sentence you underlined in a book?

AM: “This is a decidedly sinister assessment: how, one might well ask, is it possible to “overvalue” air and water? Perhaps a truer indication of mental illness (or, at least, psychospiritual disconnection) can be found in the far more common tendency to passively accept the abuse of the very systems that keep us alive.” -John Vaillant  from The Golden Spruce – one of the most moving and absorbing books I’ve read in a long time.

TH: What is the next story I should read?

AM: It’s a toss up between Madhuri Vijay’s “Lorry Raja” and “Suck It” by Merritt Tierce, who has a book coming out next year. Both of them are going to be stars.

Alexander Maksik is the author of the novels You Deserve Nothing and A Marker to Measure Drift. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Harper’s, Tin House, Harvard Review, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Salon and Narrative Magazine, among other publications, and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is the recipient of fellowships from the Truman Capote Literary Trust and The Corporation of Yaddo. He has taught at the University of Iowa, where he was the Provost’s Postgraduate Visiting Writer in Fiction.