Presidential Trivia

What's your latest book?

Presidential Trivia: The Feats, Fates, Families, Foibles, and Firsts of Our American Presidents."

Why did you write it?

"The fun for me is knocking on the door of my biblical threescore year and ten, to write a history book after writing more than 30 language books because I was nibbling around the edges and finally fell into the facts about the presidents. And in my own case, as the father of the two most famous poker players in the world, I'm a pattern seeker, which is what they do. And I just knew it was time to do something else. I'd written so much about language. And seeing the patterns -- the one about the vice presidents, and no president was an only child -- it was just great fun. To do it at this stage, I just felt synapses and axons and dendrites and ganglia just sprouting in my skull. So, it's been a great experience."

Could you summarize the book?

"Obviously this is the most powerful office on earth and has been occupied by the greatest variety of humanity. Rich, poor, experienced politicians, inexperienced, handsome, ugly, educated PhDs, virtually no school at all. I'd grown up in the era of Roosevelt, and I was interested in their lives. I'll revise this when the new president comes in."

Do you have a favorite passage?

"I think my favorite is the thing about the vice presidents, that only three became president after serving two natural terms as vice president."

Why should someone read this?

"To learn more about the presidents, to learn about their humanity -- I think it's a very humanizing book. I think one of my main goals is that people know more about our presidents; it's important in our society."

Tell me about your writing habits.

"I am a nonfiction writer. I think for the fictionalist, the man or woman sits in a room with his or her characters and setting. I sit in a room with the reader because I'm thinking about my audience, and I sit with you. I just felt this was an incredible topic, and it had much more than I thought.

"I write because learning is a lifelong adventure for me. I write to learn. Eldridge Cleaver said, 'I write to untangle the snarled web of my mind.'

"I never get writer's block, ever. I can write any time of day -- most writers have schedules and mine tends to be early on. I hit the ground punning, and my writing room is right outside the bedroom. I wake up, eat, and start writing. But I can write anytime of day. A lot of writers have to be in a very private space -- they stay in bed, some of them. The phone is ringing, people are ordering books; I do all of that and I don't get distracted. Because it's for your children; your books are your children and you serve them. For a lot of writers, they write the book and that's the end of it. In my case, it's less than half of it."

Why do you sell your own books?

"A writer doesn't make a living writing books; a writer makes a living selling them. And I write to be read. I have to support my writing habit, so this is what I do."

Does your writing affect your relationships?

"I am very lucky in that I am a very fast writer. And if I need to, I can put in a 12-hour day. When there is no distance between who you are and what you do, it's never work. So, it's not exhausting. When you love what you do, you don't work. What a place to be what I am, in San Diego."

Name: Richard Lederer

Age: 69

Occupation: Author/Linguist

Neighborhood: San Diego

Where Interviewed: Book signing, Coronado public library

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