A Q&A Interview With Film and TV Critic Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson wears many hats, though he'd hate that cliche. He's a book critic for NP, TV critic at Slate.com and the film critic at Spin magazine. He also written for a host of other publications including The New York Times Book Review, Men's Vogue, Wired, and Entertainment Weekly.

Patterson, who calls Brooklyn home, is a wickedly funny and nimble writer who crafts sentences like this one about Jon and Kate Gosselin, the feuding couple at the center of "Jon & Kate Plus 8":

"She is a moaning 34-year-old harpy with highlights as wide as mountain-bike tires sporting an asymmetrical haircut suggestive of a wounded stork. He is a sullen 32-year-old layabout whose skate-punk sideburns and gelled forelocks signal boring bad news. And, on the show, both struggle to act half their age."

Or read his take on "The X Factor:"

People like to talk about how reality TV attracts exhibitionists. This was literalized last night when a pervert at the Seattle audition dropped his pants, inspiring Paula Abdul to discreetly vomit. If we set him aside, the most memorable rejectees were the geriatric husband-and-wife team of Dan and Venita. They warbled off key through "Unchained Melody," wore clothes too transfixingly tacky to rate as vintage, and were mildly lobotomized in manner. If this were a tryout for a dinner-theater adaptation of a David Lynch film, they would have definitely gotten a callback.

Here's a Q&A with Patterson.

Q: Tell me a little about your background:

A: As a kid and teenager in Richmond, Virginia, I was a big reader -- Twain, Poe, Hemingway, Vonnegut, Salinger, Judy Blume, detective novels, out-of-town newspapers, Cheerios boxes, whatever. I got hooked on magazines by way of Tom Wolfe and Spy.

I went to college at Princeton, where I majored in English Lit and edited the campus weekly. After graduating, I lived in Santa Cruz, California, for a little while, working in a coffee shop and freelancing for the local alt-weekly. Those were the clips I used when I applied for a magazines jobs in New York. I worked at Entertainment Weekly for seven years, where I started as an assistant and later became a book critic and staff writer, and I left EW on my 30th birthday to freelance and to fool around writing fiction. In 2006, I went to Slate, where I'm on contract, and subsequently picked up regular gigs reviewing movies for Spin and books for NPR.

Q: Where did you learn to write?

A: I think that all writers educate themselves through practice, practice, practice. It helps to have good instructors along the way (mine include nursery-school teachers to Toni Morrison) and to hunker down with the usual guidebooks (Strunk & White, William Zinsser, etc).

Q: What's a typical workday like for you?

A: I don't have a typical workday. Sometimes I write all day, sometimes I write for 90 minutes. Sometimes it's all reading and reporting and research. Some days I'm running around watching movies or recording podcasts or schmoozing with editors.

Then there's keeping up with the news, fending off publicists, replying to hate mail, and staring at the ceiling trying to come up with ideas.

Q: What do you most like/dislike about what you do?

A: May I quote Dorothy Parker? "I hate writing; I love having written."

Q: Is it hard being a freelancer?

A: You betcha. And success, though dependent on hard work, is also contingent upon pure luck to a ridiculous degree.

Q: Any advice to aspiring writers/critics?

A: Forget it; go to law school. But if you've got too much passion to resist becoming an arts journalist, then try to learn something about a broad range of history and culture--Shakespeare, horror flicks, fashion, philosophy, politics, everything. And don't worry about "developing your voice"; if you study your elders closely and try to write naturally, it'll develop itself.