Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lydia Davis on Anger, Workshops and Mentors

A few quotes from a recent Rumpus interview with the great Lydia Davis (italics mine)...

Rumpus: There are certain words that come up again and again in your work: “anger” and “disturbance,” and to some extent “upset” and “annoyance.” Many times the narrators and characters are walking around with loads of anger. From the story “Story”: “Finally I sit down and write in my notebook that when he calls me either he will then come to me, or he will not and I will be angry, and so I will have either him or my own anger, and this might be all right, since anger is always a great comfort…” I’ve found that in life anger is one of the most common yet hidden emotions. What is it about anger that makes you reference it so? How would you define it? Would you consider it central to your work?

Davis: I would hope that I wouldn’t have to say anger was central to my work—that sounds so sad. I suppose people are more likely to turn to writing when they’re filled with a negative emotion than with a positive one, so the stories might be disproportionately negative—angry, sad, upset, etc. There is simply less of a need to “frame” or “distance” a positive emotion. I read somewhere that anger is always a secondary emotion; i.e. the primary one might be fear, or frustration. I found that very interesting. Now, I look beyond the anger to see what the primary emotion might be.


Rumpus: A few writer friends have expressed how they would prefer to have a mentor rather than go through a creative writing program. How important is a mentor for a writer trying to find their way? Did you have one?

Davis: I would be wary of both the writing workshop and the mentor. Each is useful in small doses, but each can have too great an influence—dangerous. I would suggest working mainly on one’s own, with, as I said, occasional doses of mentorship and/or writing group situations. A friend with the same sensibility who gives useful feedback is also good—or several for different kinds of work.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why I Respect My Cell Phone

From Don DeLillo's short story "Baader-Meinhof," published in The New Yorker in 2002:

His cell phone rang. He dug it out of his body and spoke briefly, then sat with the thing in his hand, looking thoughtful.

"I should remember to turn it off. But I think, If I turn it off, what will I miss? Something so incredible."

"The call that changes everything."

"Something so incredible. The total life-altering call. That's why I respect my cell phone."

(You have to be a New Yorker subscriber to read the story online, but The Guardian has it for free here.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Your Own Quiet Corner

(Wrote this up a while back but forgot to post...)

Some interesting comments from a Big Other post that quoted an interview with Amy Hempel:

Interviewer: As a writing teacher, and in the interest of all the aspiring writers reading this, what’s the most common mistake young, fresh writers make?

Amy Hempel: This is the young writer mistake question: Wanting to publish more than wanting to write well.

The post was titled "Amy Hempel's Answer -- What's Yours?"

Steve Himmer chimed in with this comment:

"To some degree, I think the constant hum of the online lit community exacerbates that pressure [to publish], and the rapidity with which stories go from written to submitted to published online. I’m not getting all Andrew Keen here and blaming the web, but for me at least the constant awareness via Facebook and Twitter and email of who’s publishing what and where and how often makes it harder to find the calm, quiet corner where my writing actually needs to get done. Obviously, it’s up to me – not the web – to tune that noise out and do the work.

"So maybe my advice to young (and old) writers would be — along with what Hempel said — to get offline more often and trust in the possibilities of your own quiet corner."

For me, finding that quiet corner has been a challenge. Yes, there is family, job, house, commute, my Vaudeville act, etc.

But part of the challenge also involves what Steve is talking about. In the past I've tried to take a break from FB, blogs, keeping up with what other writers are doing, and so on; yet I've found it very difficult to detach.

The constant hum is, well, constant. And I get caught up in it more than I should.

I like Steve's advice to get offline and trust in the possibilities of your own quiet corner. Now it's a matter of actually taking it...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Getting the Words Right

Some stories take longer than others.

I recently (well, fairly recently) "finished" two stories that I'd been working on for probably more than 10 years (though "working on" isn't really accurate; years went by without touching them). One story found a home; the other is still an orphan.

The former was recently published in kill author. It takes place on a plane. In May I flew to New York. I hadn't thought about the story in a long time, but as I settled in for the long flight, it came to mind. I had a few ideas, jotted down some lines. More important, I finally figured out the beginning and ending, both of which had always eluded me. Nothing ever felt right. And the entire story never felt done. Something was wrong. Something was missing.

Here's a well-known quote from a Paris Review interview with Ernest Hemingway:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Getting the words right. So simple and yet not so simple.

I've started and finished many other stories while these two other stories were "in progress."

As a writer, sometimes you have to be patient. The story takes a while to be told. And that's okay. And I've found that the ones that take the longest are also usually the most satisfying.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Story: "Flight: SFO to LAX"

The new issue of >kill author is now live, and it includes my story "Flight: SFO to LAX."

Other contributors include Lauren Becker, Sheldon Lee Compton, Elaine Chiew, Frank Hinton and many, many others. It's chock-full of literary goodness.

One of the things that I like about >kill author is how they dedicate each issue to an author. This particular issue is dedicated to Nabokov. I like that.


This, from Doug Dorst, sounds familiar:

"My [writing] warm-up technique appears to be to waste several hours on the web, waste several more telling myself I’m a fraud, and finally, if I’m lucky, telling myself, oh, hell, just type some words already."

You can read the rest of the interview over at The Rumpus.

I got a chance to know Doug a bit while we were both living in San Francisco. He's a very nice guy. He was once a Jeopardy champion. He also has great taste in music. (We kept bumping into each other at shows.)

Doug has a new collection of stories out, called The Surf Guru, which was enthusiastically reviewed by Robin Romm in The New York Times.

And since I'm in a linking kind of mood: check out the collection's title story. Highly, highly recommended.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Photos from Vermin on the Mount Reading

Saturday's reading was a major success -- more than 100 people showed up, and the readers delivered the goods.

Thanks to everyone who came.

Here are a few (poor quality) pictures:

The uber-cool poster...

I had a little lighting malfunction issue...

Me again...

Aaron Burch read a very good, very painful story about hemorrhoids...

Amelia Gray read this amazing story...