Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?
Joanna Rakoff Oy, this is kind of a long story, but I'll try to compress. Years and years ago, when I was struggling to make a living as a freelance journalist--and also struggling to write a now-shelved novel--I had coffee with the veteran Times reporter Ralph Blumenthal and asked him for advice. Somehow, our conversation turned to my work experience, and I explained that my first job had involved answering Salinger's fan mail. "You need to write about that," he said. "You need to be writing personal essays. Anyone can write straight journalism. You have a distinct voice and style, and *that's* what's going to get you work." A year or two later, I took his advice and wrote a long essay for a magazine about answering the fan mail, and working for Salinger's agent, in general, for the Agency--as I call it in MY SALINGER YEAR--was a strange and archaic place, with its own odd culture and ideas about the world. (If you've read the book, you know: No computers, no voice mail, no overhead lights.) That essay got a lot of attention and I was approached by agents and editors about turning it into a book, but I said "no," as I was, by that time, deep into the novel that would turn out to be A FORTUNATE AGE, and I didn't want to take a break from it. Some years later, when Salinger died, I wrote another essay on the subject, which became a radio documentary for the BBC, and I was again approached about writing a book on the subject. Again, I said no, repeatedly, as I was working on my new novel, "Collective Memory," and didn't want to stop. But also: I didn't see myself as a memoirist. I don't write all that much about myself. Finally, my agent, to whom I owe my life, sat me down and said, "I think these editors are right. I think you should do this. It's time to tell this story." And I submitted. Needless to say, she was utterly correct.