PW: What prompted you to write a novel dealing with abandonment [Any Place I Hang My Hat]?

It wasn't so much the abandonment, it was more about finding a place for yourself when you don't have that place with your own family.

A common theme in many of your novels is the desire of lower class individuals, such as Grandma Lil, to emulate the rich and move up the social ladder. Why?

Well, I certainly moved up the ladder myself. As Americans we feel free to identify ourselves as we please, freer than people in other democracies. But most people don't really climb that high and that far. They're stuck in a dream of elegance, like Grandma Lil, although she doesn't really understand what that means. Her imagination limits her, like people who just dream of gobs of money and winning the lottery.

In this book, one character seems to use another for his political advantage. Do you have a political agenda in this novel?

No, not at all. It's political in the sense that [those characters] deal with the politics of relationships. In terms of writing about politics, I had 18 lives before I became a novelist, and being a political speechwriter and a reporter was one of them. Most recently, I wrote a series of articles for Newsday covering the last presidential election, and that helped give me the confidence to write about [one of the characters in Any Place I Hang My Hat] as a political reporter.

When you write novels, do the characters begin to inhabit your world?

The further along in a novel I get, as the characters develop, I start spending more time in their universe, mostly because it's become so interesting to me. I can be watching the news, and unless there is something really terrible that's happened, I'll leave not having absorbed any of it because I'm in my character's world. What's great is that writing a novel is a socially approved way of sitting in a corner and fantasizing.

What about the book tour aspect of being an author?

One time I did a 25-city tour and it was awful. It gets exhausting when you go to different radio shows and you have four to six minutes to talk about the book and you end up feeling like a vaudeville act, saying the same things over and over again. I like some parts of the book tour. It's nice to do reading in front of an audience, and I like speaking to reporters.

You just moved from HarperCollins to Scribner. Why the change?

Mostly because I sensed my editor was going to retire and I knew the publisher, Susan Moldow, here at Scribner for years. I also heard Nan Graham was a terrific editor.

Are you thinking of your next novel yet?

I am. I always start with a strong feeling about the characters, but there has to be a plot. I've always liked a story where something happens. The 20th century moved away from plot to focus more on character and language, and I'm happy because I think there's a move back to telling a story. When I write I don't think about how I'm going to describe a meteorological event or a dark and stormy night. I think about the plot, and the characters and theme arise through the action.