“And no wireless”
From The Days of Yore:
Days of Yore: Where did you live during your early New York years?
Julie Otsuka: I have always lived in this neighborhood [Morningside Heights]. I’ve always had my own place, I don’t think I could do roommates. I moved to New York in 1987, and it was a lot easier back then.
But this area would have been very different from the way it is now.
So different. The crack years…this whole neighborhood has changed a lot. I have always loved it, and I think that’s why I’ve stayed in this neighborhood.
Another reason I don’t leave is because of this café.
Well, it’s almost like a good luck charm at this point. You can’t leave now.
I’ve never really found another place like it. I mean, do you know of any other place like this? Wherever I travel, I’m looking for places where I can work, but I’ve never found a place like this. It’s special.
It has to do with its permissive attitude. You can really sit here all day with your endless cup of coffee. No one would ever pressure you to buy more or ask you to leave.
You can sit for hours. And there’s no music. And no wireless. But I don’t bring my laptop, anyway.
You write longhand?
I do write longhand. And then I go home and type up what I’ve written and print it out so I’ll have the latest version of whatever I’m working on. I’m very slow.
Why do you write by hand?
I think it’s a generational thing. I like the way it feels and it’s what I’ve always done.
If I have to do something quick, I’ll do it on the computer. But I’m so slow. I write word by word, sentence by sentence. The speed of which I write matches the speed of my brain.
Have your work habits changed over time? Well, you’re still here, in this café, of course.
[Laughs.] My work habits are pretty much the same and the way that I compose is pretty much the same. I mean, occasionally I will compose on the computer and I do a lot of research at home on the computer, but I prefer to come here to do my actual writing.
Speaking of research, is that something you have always done for your writing?
No, when I started Columbia I didn’t think of myself as being a serious writer. I was writing funny stories set in New York in the present that were pretty autobiographical, so I didn’t have to do any research. Even when I started my first novel I didn’t think I would need to do a lot of research, but then I realized that there was a lot I didn’t know. So then I went back and started doing a lot of research and for this last book [The Buddha in the Attic] I did a ton. I had to learn so much about these different worlds.
Do you enjoy doing research?
I do. The stories that I ran across doing research were just infinitely more interesting than anything I could’ve come up with.