Listen to this article
Born in Baltimore in 1974, Philipp Meyer worked as a bicycle mechanic before applying, aged 22, to read English at Cornell University. He later left his job at an investment bank for a place on a writing course. His debut novel, American Rust, was published in 2009 and in 2010 he was picked for the New Yorker’s ‘20 under 40’ list of the best young American novelists.
Which books are on your bedside table?
Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Mario Vargas Llosa’s Conversation in the Cathedral.
Can you remember the first novel you read?
The first I can remember was John Steinbeck’s The Pearl in second grade. I was reading and reading and I looked up and noticed all the other kids were doing something else; my teacher had left me to it.
What is your writing routine?
Seven days a week I wake up naturally at 6.30am-7am and switch on the coffee maker. I try to begin writing as close to a dreamlike state as I can get. At lunchtime, I crash, eat and take a break. I do another one or two hours in the afternoon and by 3pm I am spent.
Where do you write best?
I try not to be precious about it – what really matters is your mental state. You have to be able to access your subconscious from wherever you are.
What do you snack on while writing?
Something high protein and high fat that won’t stay with me for long. Your mind burns a lot of calories. Writing can feel like a physical workout.
Who are your literary influences?
All the big modernists – Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner, Hemingway. I feel fortunate to be coming of age, artistically, after these folks were writing.
Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
Gabriel García Márquez or Günter Grass.
What are you scared of?
Not that much, which sort of shows the size of my ego. Public praise is just as dangerous as public criticism and I think I’m worried that 10 or 20 years from now I could start to let voices other than mine influence me.
When were you happiest?
Probably during the years I was writing American Rust in graduate school. There was a bunch of us writing and we had the sense that we were on the verge of making it.
How do you relax?
My ideal is to write most of the day, then go running, find friends and socialise all evening; my mind recharges with human contact.
What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?
My parents have always been incredibly supportive. Even when I dropped out of high school, they said, “We trust you, we believe in you.” Four years after I left the bank, I was working in manual labour, feeling like I’d failed. I thought I’d apply to paramedic school and my mother told me I wasn’t going to do that; I was going to keep writing.
If you could own any painting, what would it be?
One of Rembrandt’s self-portraits.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Mountains, any big mountains. The Rockies, the Adirondacks …
‘The Son’ by Philipp Meyer is published by Simon & Schuster