Dave Eggers: You Ask The Questions

Was anything that you wrote in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius not quite true? And who will you vote for in the US elections?

As a college senior, Dave Eggers lost both of his parents to cancer in five weeks, and inherited his eight-year-old brother Toph. He went on to write his memoirs in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which was a Pulitzer prize finalist in 2001. He then wrote You Shall Know Our Velocity, and also founded the publishing company McSweeney's Books, whose magazine he edits. He lives in Brooklyn, NYC, with his brother.

Is it true that, like Will and Hand in You Shall Know Our Velocity, you, too, give your money away? And do you think you have helped to heal the world in the process?
Jake Tully, Manchester

I went on a trip very similar to the one described in that otherwise mostly fictional book. I went with a friend, and we did find it hard to give wads of cash to some people. Some were very appreciative, some very confused. Not sure we healed anyone, but the point was to make some kind of contact, and I do think some of the people benefited from being handed $500 or so.

Who will you vote for in the US presidential elections, and why?
Jim Gould, by e-mail

Kerry, because Bush is the most dangerous and blindingly extreme President we've had in the past 100 years. I think we're truly living in a nightmare of his making.

Own up to something in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius that wasn't quite true.
Karim Jones, London

I wrote a whole appendix a few years back that explained all the stuff I had to fudge to make the book sensical and under 1,200 pages. Mainly, much time compression had to be done. One definite fudge: were we singing a Journey song at the beginning of Chapter 2, driving along the coast on that particular day? I can't be sure. It might have been REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Styx, or even Foghat. How can we know? We will never know such things.

I understand that you are writing a book about Sudanese refugees. What drew you to the topic? And what should we be doing about Darfur?
Alison Quigley, Bexhill-on-Sea

On Sudan, the US has actually been far ahead of other nations. It seems like only a handful of African countries and the US are actively involved in brokering peace in Sudan. My interest in Sudan started when I read about the "Lost Boys" - the name that aid workers gave to the young survivors of a 1,000 mile trek to escape civil war in Sudan - and then I met Valentino Achak Deng, one of those boys, and the subject of my biography, through Mary Williams, the founder of the Lost Boys Foundation in Atlanta.

As for Darfur, what's needed is international pressure on the government in Khartoum - they have responded quickly to such pressure in the past, but given the US's overextension elsewhere, European help is needed. We need a peacekeeping force to protect the internally displaced people. And the government in Khartoum needs to be subject to sanctions - including an arms embargo, which, incredibly, isn't in place yet - and they should only be lifted when the militias are disarmed or recalled. Thus far, there have been no consequences to the government's actions. This has to change.

Where does non-fiction end and fiction begin?
Alexandra Elliott, London

I'm just now learning that distinction. I'll tell you in another few years.

What is the greatest threat facing the human race today?
Sasha Lubov, by e-mail

I believe that we're irrevocably messing up the environment to the point where our grandchildren will have to wear head-to-toe Mylar suits and goggles and will bathe in butter and lime or something. So that's one threat. The other, more immediately perilous danger: Capri pants for men.

Which writers would you love to commission for McSweeney's? And what would you do to get them?
Jan Noble, Newcastle

Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, Lorrie Moore, Donald Barthelme. The last guy is dead, but the others would be welcome. I'd build a shed for any of them. Years ago, we wanted Denis Johnson in McSweeney's, and promised to build him a shed in Idaho. He did give us a story, but we still owe him a shed.

Are you a religious man?
Charlotte Wood, London

Most of my siblings and I stopped believing when we were around 14. I'm somewhere between an atheist and an agnostic - I'd be an atheist if I could muster the energy.

Why do you think no one called the friends who allowed you to put their phone numbers in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius?
Dylan Morton, Birmingham

People did call, actually. A few of my friends got calls once a week for years. They found it entertaining, usually, but at this point, none of those numbers work any more. God bless the poor suckers who inherit those digits now!

Have you ever thought of going into children's fiction?
Amit Patel, by e-mail

I actually just co-wrote - with well-known scientist-manqués Dr & Mr Doris of Haggis-on-Whey - a few reference books for kids, called Giraffes? Giraffes! and Your Disgusting Head. They contain no factual information whatsoever.

Who is your favourite poet?
James Littleton, Dorset

My two new favourite poets - and I don't read that much poetry - would be Dean Young and David Berman. Both relatively young guys, both unpretentious and funny.

Will you ever write about your own life again?
James O'Shaughnessy, by e-mail

Not in any kind of long-form way, I don't think. I play a small part in the biography of Valentino Achak Deng, because we went back to Sudan in December and found his parents. He hadn't seen them in 17 years, when he fled from his village at the age of six or so. I couldn't figure out a way to cut me out of it, when we're sitting next to each other on the plane, his father's sacrificing a calf in my honour, etc. But other than that, I'll stick to fiction and biography, and fake reference books for strange children.

What's Toph up to these days?
Jane Slinger, Salisbury

He's a junior in college. He's tall and can kick my ass left and right in basketball and, basically, everything else.

Did A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius open up old wounds, or help you to move on?
Iain Smale, Bradford

Both, always both. Note to potential memoirists: writing a memoir will close wounds, open wounds, shut some doors and swing wide open others. It's always a messy business. I have a friend out here who actually changed her real-life name after writing her memoir. In general, I'm of the opinion that every time you dig, you might eventually find some kind of treasure, but before you do, you're bound to hit some power lines and worms and bones. Sometimes, it's best to drop the shovel and move along.

Would you have children of your own? And would you change your parenting style if you did?
Sarah Stanton, London

I would love to have kids, but would want a very sturdy cage.

Dave Eggers' collection of short stories, 'How We Are Hungry', is published in the US by McSweeney's Books on 30 November, and by Hamish Hamilton in the UK in March 2005