Jonathan Ames is a fiction writer, an avant-garde performer and a celebrity journalist who happens to be dating Fiona Apple. His new book The Double Life Is Twice as Good is a hodgepodge of stories, articles, diary entries and even a cartoon about the time he found a cockroach in his bathtub. The book's central narrative, an old-fashioned private-eye story with a film-noir-ish feel, has been turned into an HBO series that is set to debut in September and star Jason Schwartzman. TIME talked to Ames about writing, his new TV show and why he isn't nearly as important as a war correspondent.
TIME: Why did you put such an eclectic series of work together in the same book?
Ames: Why did I do this? It appealed to me, these different areas that I was writing about. There's no real reason. They don't go together aside from the fact that they come from the same time in my life. This is my record of what I've been writing for the last 2½ years.
In addition to your writing, you have also acted in plays and conducted one-man performances. What form of artistic expression is the hardest for you? Which one is your favorite?
When I perform, doing monologues and what have you, it's very ephemeral and very athletic. It has a different feeling. It's never really captured or recorded. That's kind of fun and thrilling. Writing is slightly more fixed in time, but it's the most difficult. In terms of a preference, they appeal to me in different ways. Performing is so social, and writing is so solitary you just don't know when someone will read it. I don't really have a preference. It's like comparing two different sports or two different kinds of food.
You write a lot about your sexual experiences and the women you've been with. Does that make it hard for you to meet women now?
Actually, women are often quite drawn to that sort of thing. A lot of women write me very nice notes about the sexual aspect of my writing, so I don't think that's a problem. Once I'm in the relationship with someone, then people don't really like what I write. That's why my next book is going to be called If You Know Me, Please Don't Read This.
Do you have a lot of problems with people reading what you write about them and getting upset?
Sometimes. One time a girl I'd been dating read something into a piece of fiction that really wasn't there. It has caused occasional problems, and if I do write about other people, I try not to be hurtful. Sometimes I try to mask their identity. This is part of the problem with making art and putting yourself out there.
Your fictional characters are often very similar to you. In the private-eye story "Bored to Death," the main character's name is actually yours. How many of these characters are really you?
When I was in college, I had the good fortune to have Joyce Carol Oates as my writing teacher. She told me that I could take an aspect of myself, and from that one bit of personality, I can create a character. This is what I have done, particularly in my novels. Of course one could say it's a form of egocentrism, but the way I tell stories is generally from the first-person point of view.
Tell me a little bit about your HBO show coming out in September.
It takes the basic premise of the short story, which is about a writer named Jonathan Ames who puts an ad on Craigslist and becomes a private detective. It stars Jason Schwartzman playing Jonathan Ames. I mean, he's not playing me, just a character with my name. And Ted Danson plays an older friend, a mentor in the publishing business. Jonathan does freelance work for him.
The book contains a few celebrity profiles, including one of Lenny Kravitz. Do you think that you really got to know him by hanging out with him at a club for a night? Did you worry that he was just humoring you?
I don't think I got to know Lenny Kravitz very well. I got my first impression, and that's what I tried to put down. I spent more time with Marilyn Manson, and he might have been more vulnerable. We had more time, and I feel like I got to know him a bit more. He and I actually kind of hit it off. We've communicated since then. But I can't say that I got to know either of them very well. It's very difficult to be interviewed and show who you are.
You write about an amateur boxing match in which you participated. You had your nose broken and your jaw knocked out of line. Would you ever box again?
I would like to box again. It's very thrilling. I'm not the sort to jump out of a plane or skydive, but in boxing, you're really putting yourself on the edge, especially for a safe, middle-class person like myself. I wish I was the kind of writer who would go to a war zone and write about something that's meaningful and important to people, but that's not my area of coverage. Everything I do is very frivolous, of course and very clownish but if I can write about it and give a few people some laughs, then it's worthwhile.