Ian Frazier, who has been a staff writer for The New Yorker for many years, is the author most recently of the novel The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days. His numerous other books include On the Rez, Travels in Siberia, Great Plains, and Family. He is married to the novelist Jacqueline "Jay" Carey.
Q: How did you come up with the character of the Cursing Mommy, who first appeared in some of your New Yorker columns, and do you know actual women who remind you of her?
A: The Cursing Mommy started as a joke in our family. Our daughter had some very well-brought-up friends when we lived in Montana, and they were in the back seat when Jay, my wife, was driving them somewhere. In traffic another driver cut Jay off, and she expressed herself forcefully, and one of the little girls whispered to my daughter, "Cora, your Mommy cursed!" When I was growing up there was a mom in our neighborhood who cursed eloquently-- her name was Mrs. Erskine-- and to this day my brother can do a beautiful imitation of her, though she is long departed. Jay wants me to make clear that the Cursing Mommy is based more on me than on anyone else. I'm the person in our family who tends to fly off the handle.
Q: Was it difficult to write in a female voice, and did you ever consider writing from the perspective of a "Cursing Daddy"?
A: I found writing in the CM's voice very easy. That's why I decided to write a whole book based on her. I never considered doing a Cursing Daddy. A dad who curses is less funny, somehow. The dads in my book tend to weep helplessly.
Q: Your books span a wide variety of subjects and themes, from fiction to humorous essays to well-reported non-fiction. Is there a genre you prefer?
A: I prefer any book that yields good results. That changes with circumstances. I love to write humorous fiction when I feel it's working well. I have to say that humor can be a lot of fun to write-- but in any piece of writing, the person who's supposed to be getting the most out of it and having the fun is the reader, not the writer.
Q: You have written for The New Yorker since 1974. How has the magazine changed over the years, and how has your own writing been influenced by the years you've spent there?
A: The New Yorker does not have the pages it had when I started out so its writers have less space. Brevity and conciseness are more important now. There's less emphasis on the writer as a self, I think. I feel less inclined to emote than I did when I was in my twenties and thirties. The New Yorker has been a wonderful teacher for me. There are always good writers appearing in it-- new and old. I am always seeing work in the magazine that I can learn from.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: These days I'm working on New Yorker articles and on a book about the closing of the Stella D'oro bakery in the Bronx. The book is based on a New Yorker article that appeared last year.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: My daughter, Cora, is now grown up, and she has become a writer, and one of the new New Yorker contributors that I'm learning from. I think her humor piece in the magazine just last week is one of the best it has published in recent memory. I'm very proud of her.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb