Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 08/29/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/29/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Paul Auster

AUTHOR TURNS AUTEUR

NOT EVERY NOVELIST FINDS HIMSELF directing a three-day film with a cast including Harvey Keitel, Roseanne Arnold, Lily Tomlin and Michael J. Fox. But then Paul Auster, 47, is a writer who spins tales of astounding scenarios—why shouldn't it happen to him?

While working with director Wayne (The Joy Luck Club) Wang on Smoke, a movie based on a "little Christmas story" Auster wrote in 1990, the celebrated group of actors started goofing around, toying with ideas that would become an improvisational short, Blue in the Face.

Set in a Brooklyn cigar store, the project, which Auster describes as "an off-the-wall comedy that makes no particular linear sense," was to be codirected by Auster and Wang, but when Wang found himself overcommitted, Auster took charge. "I just had to do it," he says of his directorial debut. "The starting pitcher hurt his arm, and I got called in to finish the game."

He didn't have to go far. Auster lives in Brooklyn's Park Slope—just a short walk from the set of Blue in the Face—with his wife, novelist Siri Hustvedt, 39, and their daughter, Sophie, 7. He labors in a small, dark studio on the ground floor of a nearby apartment building. "My writing day is pretty boring," he confesses. "After I drop Sophie off at school, I go into my little room and write for a few hours. By noon, when it's filled with cigarette smoke, I go out for a walk and eat lunch in the neighborhood; then I go back to work until around 4. It was probably good for me to get out of my room for six months or so while making Smoke," he adds. "I've been locked away for 20 years."

Is there more filmmaking in this versatile writer's future? "If something strikes my fancy, I might end up doing it," says Auster, who is now working on a novel that has been gathering dust, "but what I really want right now is to crawl back into my office."

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