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But don't the quarterly and the site take up a good deal of your time?
Oh God, no. Not even remotely. With the quarterly, it's three weeks of intense work. With the Web and I don't mean this to sound glib it's about a half hour a day, unless I'm writing something. I don't do much editing. If people send me stuff and it's good, I just put it up. If it isn't, I just send it back.
If McSweeney's doesn't take up that much time, what have you been doing since quitting Esquire?
Well, I quit to write a book. A semiautobiographical, nonfiction novel. I'm designing the book and have total control over all the packaging. I'm even inputting the corrections.
Are you reluctant to do the publicity that Simon & Schuster will ask of you?
I don't mind going out and meeting people who buy it. At Might we had parties every month or so and invited the local subscribers. But if I have to read, I'm not sure that would work out. I'm not such a great reader. Maybe we could have pool parties instead of readings.
Would you have bailed on Esquire even if you didn't get a book deal? It was clearly not your cup of tea.
I'm not sure how long I could've lasted there. Obviously, I think there are a lot of things wrong with most glossy magazines. It's an unfortunate clash between a crass, commercial enterprise and some wonderfully creative people who want to create art, or the closest thing to it under the circumstances. It's so rare for someone who writes passionately about something late at night in their apartment to ever really find the right reader.
Didn't the Web help those people out?
For so many years I was such a skeptic about the Web. But it's a truly beautiful medium. You can retain a level of purity that you can't achieve almost anywhere else. No distributors, no people to pay off, no grocery stores, or all the other stuff that goes on with large-circulation magazines all of which is so depressing that I can't even think about it.
Isn't the Web in danger of getting too commercial itself?
Maybe. Salon is trying to make it as a commercial enterprise. People criticize them for having too [many articles about] sex, and [for] the whole Henry Hyde thing. But I don't think there's a move they've made that I wouldn't have made in the same situation. They just have so many people to answer to, so many people have pumped money into it, so many employees that sort of thing doesn't intrigue me as much anymore.
Do you ever wish Might were still around?
I don't think things like that are supposed to last. If it were still around, I think I'd be really depressed and bored and lifeless. In my heart, I knew it would never be a way to pay the rent. Back in San Francisco, once Dave Moodie and I had done the mind-numbing graphic design work that paid the bills, we'd work until two or three in the morning on Might even if we didn't have to. It was like an endurance contest, and whoever left first was a kind of traitor. There was a lot of peer pressure. A few people dropped out. They said, "You guys are morons." And they were right.
How are things different now?
I do as much as I can do well. I've tried to lower people's expectations. We might not put something new up on the site every day; it might not always be humor. But this is why I'm home in my underwear. So I don't have to answer to this feeling of obligation, to deadlines or what the audience expects. I don't think that has any place in the artistic process. I try not to be contemptuous of readers, who I very much appreciate. But I have no interest in meeting expectations. I'd much rather confound them.