The 60-second interview: Jay McInerney, novelist and Town & Country wine columnist

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Jay McInerney. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
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CAPITAL: In addition to your career as a novelist, you've built a steady gig as a wine writer, and recently joined Town & Country as its wine columnist from The Wall Street Journal, where you had written about the industry since 2010. What's the greatest trade hazard of the profession?

MCINERNEY: In my case the greatest hazard of wine writing might be getting distracted from my career as a novelist, but I think the two tasks require different muscles and I tend to do the wine writing when the fiction isn’t flowing. For the kind of wine critic who comprehensively tastes dozens of wines a day, the biggest hazard is to your teeth. Acid and tannin can be brutal on the enamel. I seldom do those marathon tastings. I focus more on the stories of the people who make the wine.

CAPITAL: Who drinks more: reporters or novelists? And what's the best bottle of wine on a working reporter's budget?

MCINERNEY: That’s a tough one. I think I’d call it a draw. There’s lot of good budget wines but Guigal’s Côtes du Rhônes, both red and the white, are consistently good for about 12 bucks.

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CAPITAL: Thanks to the internet and cable, there's been an observable increase in Americans who consider themselves literate in fine food and wine in recent years. Does that make writing about it more easy or difficult?

MCINERNEY: It’s true—I first started writing about wine because I found so little good wine writing out there. That’s no longer true. There is a flood of information and a fair amount of very good food and wine writing. The competition is tougher.

CAPITAL: Your debut novel, Bright Lights, Big City, will turn 30 later this year. You're still out on the town in Manhattan on occasion. How does the current crop of millennial editorial types stack up against the generation your book chronicled? What's been the biggest observable change?

MCINERNEY: Night life was more anarchic, less commercial in the early ‘80s. There was no bottle service, and the only paparazzo was Patrick McMullan, who shot pictures with his Instamatic. The great thing back then was that night life was affordable. You could usually talk your way out of paying the cover charge and drinks were pretty cheap. On the other hand I didn’t see many other editorial assistants or fact checkers at the Mudd Club and Area. One thing never changes: book launches and cocktail parties are important sources of free food and alcohol for underpaid editorial laborers.

CAPITAL: You've now got a monthly column and various other nonfiction projects on your plate, while your next novel is due out in 2015. When you're writing magazine articles, does your writing process differ from when you're writing fiction?

MCINERNEY: Writing fiction is harder because of the absolute freedom of creating character and story, because of the myriad decisions involved in writing a single page. Writing non-fiction, it’s a relief to have a prescribed subject, to get outside of your own head and learn something new about the world. I enjoy interviewing people. Writing fiction is a little like interviewing yourself.