A little over a year ago, Tom Perrotta was surprised to discover he had written enough new short stories for about half of a collection. Although HE DEBUTED IN 1994 WITH “Bad Haircut,” A SERIES of linked stories, he has since focused PRIMARILY on novels. Somehow, between writing six of them — including the bestsellers “Election” and “Little Children,” both adapted for the screen — he managed to finish half a dozen works of short fiction, including “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face,” the inaugural selection for the Boston Book Festival’s One City One Story program.
During the past year, when he wasn’t busy turning his 2011 novel, “The Leftovers,” into a pilot for HBO, Perrotta managed to complete his collection, “Nine Inches,” due from St. Martin’s in September. Perrotta finds writing short stories an anxiety-inducing process, one he mitigates with routine, exercise, and peppermint tea.
PEN AND INK: My only writerly affectation is that I have a fountain pen and bottled ink . . . If you write a lot, you just throw out a lot of pens and it seems wasteful . . . I [also] think I like the ritual — the little syringe, the actual ink.
WARM-UP: I try to start every morning by writing longhand whatever chapter I’m working on. That might take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half. Then I’ll put it up on the screen. Hopefully, in the course of doing so, I’ve spent a lot of time with the material, and it will create a momentum that pushes me forward.
BLINDERS: The room [in which I write] is really sunny and beautiful, but I end up having to close the blinds because the light is too much . . . The room is small — it’s not a closet — but the way I keep the blinds down makes it start to feel like a little bit of a sensory deprivation chamber. I think the view is a bit distracting. We’ve had a lot of deer in the past year, and we have raccoons and even coyotes out there. We’re just a little bit above Belmont Center, but there’s a yard and it’s near an Audubon reserve, so there’s a lot of suburban wildlife. Raccoons are great, but we also get a lot of turkeys, which I find revolting.
CUP OF TEA: I need to have something to drink, and I used to drink coffee all day long. Maybe two or three years ago, I noticed it was starting to interfere with my sleep. Now, I’ve become this habitual consumer of peppermint tea, which is the lamest thing imaginable. Cheever drank Scotch, and I drink peppermint tea. It’s a regular part of my day to reach for that tea mug, forget it’s been sitting there, and discover it’s a tepid, verging on cool, three-hour-old cup of tea. That’s the flavor of my day.
WORKOUT: I have to finish my workday with some form of exercise . . . Today, I’ll probably go for a bike ride. The process [of writing] involves being a little bit cooped up and a little bit motionless, so this definitely is a release. I feel like [exercise is] still part of the writing day. I’m concentrating on the ride, but part of my mind is still spinning [with] things that I haven’t been able to solve during the day . . . I’ll even occasionally get ideas.
FAVORITE DISTRACTION: [My biggest distraction] has to be the Internet. I know it’s cliché. I don’t know what I’m waiting for — maybe an e-mail that says I don’t have to write any more.