The audience who wants to live through the pandemic again is probably not a large one, but the audience who wants to live through the pandemic as experienced by the hero (and his wife, Peaches) of Christopher Buckley’s latest book deserves to be huge. Has Anyone Seen My Toes? is Buckley at his madcap best, deserving of a place on your bookshelf right next to P. G. Wodehouse. Buckley, of course, would laugh at that notion, but self-effacement is very much part of his charm.

JIM KELLY: Aside from writing Has Anyone Seen My Toes?, how and where did you ride out the pandemic? I assume you did not become grossly obese like the lead character in your novel.

CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY: In coastal, Low-Country South Carolina, a splendid bolt-hole in which to “shelter in place.” I point out, meanwhile, that South Carolina can boast—if that’s the mot juste—that it’s home to all six species of North American venomous snakes. These little rascals awake from their hibernations around late March, early April. I call it “the Great Slithering.” Now is the time to watch where you’re stepping. You might want to rethink the flip-flops. This is also the season of woke alligators. These leftovers from the Cretaceous period put the “hazard” in “water hazard” on the golf courses. Did I mention the sharks? They abound. One handsome six-footer recently burst through the water a yard from shore like a submarine-launched cruise missile, giving nearby bathers a “moment to remember.”

Buckley holds a 4.8-pound largemouth bass in Camden, South Carolina. “I would describe the fight of landing it in the boat as ‘manly, indeed, Homeric,’” he says. “Being a ‘world-class humanitarian,’ I magnanimously released the monster back into the swamp. I am composing a ballad about the event.”

To the second part of your question, I supped freely and deeply whilst social distancing. But the prospect of doing a book tour for Has Anyone Seen My Toes? while looking like Bubba the Hutt was sobering. I’m down 40 pounds over the last five weeks. What a thrill, doing up one’s shoelaces without hyperventilating!

J.K.: Your book is so pitch-perfect about sending up life in a fictional southern coastal town called Pimento without ever being mean about it. Not many humorists can pull that off. Is there any secret sauce to accomplishing this feat?

C.B.: They’re lovely folks, South Carolinians, except when they’re firing on Fort Sumter. They’re much nicer than us Yankees. They call you “darlin’” and “precious” and actually mean it. But I find it’s best to avoid political conversation.

J.K.: Has Anyone Seen My Toes? also hilariously captures the travails of a frustrated screenwriter, especially with his script for Heimlich’s Maneuver, about a German plot to kill F.D.R. Is any of the absurdity of writing for Hollywood drawn from real life?

C.B.: As with political conversation in South Carolina, I avoid the siren call of Hollywood. I had the very good fortune of having a novel of mine adapted to the screen by the immensely talented Jason Reitman. (Buckley’s 1994 novel, Thank You for Smoking, became a 2005 film starring Aaron Eckhart and Katie Holmes.) One of my favorite jokes, which makes an appearance in Has Anyone Seen My Toes?, is: “How many Hollywood development executives does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “Does it have to be a light bulb?”

Aaron Eckhart in a scene from the 2005 film Thank You for Smoking, based on the book by Buckley.

J.K.: I have been a fan of yours ever since Steaming to Bamboola (1982), a true account of your time on a tramp freighter. It also cured me of any romantic notions of setting off on a tramp freighter. If you could find the time today, would you do it one more time? And would you want any of your children to have done it?

C.B.: Kind of you to say. Working my way around the world on a tramp freighter was one of the great adventures of my life. But as you imply, it’s not for everyone. Fifty years later, I still have dreams—vivid ones—about being at the helm of a 520-foot-long freighter, steering through 60-foot waves in a Force 12 gale in the South Atlantic. I’m not sure I’d wish that on any child of mine, but I came out of the experience more mature than I was going in. (Which may not be saying much, really.)

The only reference to Trump by William F. Buckley Jr. I’m aware of was a fleeting one about his “manifest vulgarity.”

J.K.: You worked as a speechwriter for George H. W. Bush, and from that experience wrote the wonderful novel The White House Mess (1986). What is the biggest misconception that you think people have about Bush?

C.B.: George Bush 41 is looking better and better every day. I loved him as a second father. He was such a splendid soul. At a time when so many Republicans and “conservatives” have sold their souls to stay in office, I reflect that Mr. Bush knew that when he raised taxes, athwart his “Read my lips” vow, he was signing his own political death warrant. But he did it because he believed it was the right thing to do. What a quaint notion that seems today.

J.K.: In 2004, you received the Thurber Prize (named after the legendary New Yorker humorist) for No Way to Treat a First Lady (2003), your satirical novel on the Clintons. With passage of time, do you view them, and especially her, any differently than you did then?

C.B.: I worked up a fair amount of satirical froth about them at the time. Funny thing, the passage of time. I voted for Mrs. Clinton in 2016. I respect her. I respect Mr. Clinton, too. It baffles me that three million more people voted for Mrs. Clinton in 2016, and yet we got Trump. The Electoral College seems more and more bizarre to me, along with much else these days.

George Bush 41 is looking better and better every day.

J.K.: Here comes the Paris Review question! How do you organize your writing, any special tricks you use to keep yourself in your writing chair, and are there two or three writers you especially admire?

C.B.: Go on, say it: “Do you write in the nude?” Only in the middle of the night, when seized with urgent inspiration. (Rare.)

Special tricks? Re-write, re-write, re-write. Has Anyone Seen My Toes? is my 20th book. I report with dismay that they don’t get any easier. This could be a good sign. Or a sign of diminishing ability.

The, alas, late P. J. O’Rourke. The, alas, late Christopher Hitchens. The, alas, late Tom Wolfe. Non-alas-late-wise: George Will, Mark Leibovich, Colson Whitehead, David von Drehle, Anne Applebaum.

Buckley and his father attend the Costume Institute Gala in New York, 1991.

J.K.: If your dad was alive today, what do you think he would make of Mr. Trump? Did he or your mom ever encounter him on the New York social scene?

C.B.: The only reference to Trump by W. F. B. Jr. I’m aware of was a fleeting one about his “manifest vulgarity.” My parents and he didn’t move in similar circles. Much as I miss Pup, I’m glad he’s not here to witness what’s become of the Republican right. If Mum were still here, I know exactly what she’d say: “These people ought to be caged.

To hear Christopher Buckley reveal more about his story, listen to him on AIR MAIL’s Morning Meeting podcast

Has Anyone Seen My Toes?, by Christopher Buckley, will be published by Simon & Schuster on September 6

Jim Kelly is the Books Editor for Air Mail