One Question Interview: Overachiever Jon Katz

A.J. Liebling, in one of the greatest boasts in the history of journalism, proclaimed that he could write better than anyone who could write faster, and faster than anyone who could write better.

Liebling disciple Jon Katz doesn't quite fulfill that sentiment, but there's no denying that he sure can write fast. Three or four HotWired columns a week, a monthly column in Wired, various other freelance gigs, non-fiction books, novels - prolificacy impresses me every time.

Perhaps what makes Katz' production even more notable is the fact that he also manages to extend it to both HotWired's bulletin boards and email. While Katz can definitely go on (and on) about the virtues of interactivity, he backs up all the talk with action: the rate at which he responds to email is simply amazing,especially given the amount of it that he no doubt receives. Send him a missive, and he will usually reply within hours, in an in-depth manner.

When I recently sent him two questions and asked him to respond to one for this one-question interview, he did not disappoint: in less than an hour, he actually answered both. So here they are:

G. Beato: What's your secret to answering email so quickly and so thoroughly?

Jon Katz: I answer e-mail at three points in the day. When I start working in the morning, when I break for lunch (as in right now), and when I finish working at night. I try not to go online in between. I answer all the e-mail I get, but keep my responses brief. It isn't the forum for lengthy explanations of protracted debate, at least for me.

I confine most exchanges to two or three rounds, because after that, it starts to get too much. There are only two or three times when the e-mail has seemed overwhelming, then I save it for weekends. My biggest problem is that I've made so many friends online that keeping up with them is tricky. And this time of year is rough, cause so many college kids are asking questions for papers, projects and theses.

Overwhelmingly, my e-mail, even the critical kind, is polite, smart and/or funny. But the big thing is to not be online e-mailing all day. To confine it to disciplined, regular times of the day. Hope this helps.

G. Beato: Did you really place a copy of your book on Tom Paine's grave? If so, do you think the cemetery's groundskeepers enjoyed reading it?

Jon Katz: There is no cemetery at the Thomas Paine Historical Society, just a hole in the ground where his bones used to be by the road. So [the book] might still be there. I picture a puzzled New Rochelle sanitation worker tossing it into the bin, or maybe one of the rare tourists picking it up and tossing it in the trash. But if anybody picked it up and enjoyed it, good on them. I hope they'll e-mail me.

-- G. Beato

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