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Posts Tagged ‘process’

Words in Light, and Other News

April 18, 2016 | by

Jenny Holzer, Xenon for the Peggy Guggenheim (detail), featuring Henri Cole’s poem “Blur” projected on the Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Granda, Venice, Italy, 2003.

What Kind of Name Is That?

February 8, 2016 | by

How to name your fictional characters.

Characters in need of names.

To me the most embarrassing part of writing fiction, aside from telling people about it, is naming your characters. Of course, even “real” names are made up, but in life our names are things we can alter only with a great deal of paperwork; in fiction, writers can line up names and identities as they please, dropping or trading them on a whim. Contriving a name for a contrived person seems terribly precious to me, akin to naming a doll. You want your characters to have names that aren’t too convenient but still memorable and meaningful, which isn’t easy. I spent about a year with a manuscript populated by memorable characters like [[ROOMMATE]] and ???????’s dad, swapping dozens of potential monikers in pursuit of the perfectly natural, unforced, graceful name. After rupturing a few blood vessels that way, I tried to figure out what other writers were doing.

The question of what names mean, what they’re for, has been around in the West since at least 500 B.C., when the Pythagoreans developed a few rules of onomancy to divine human traits from things like the number of vowels in one’s name. (Even numbers signaled an imperfection in the left side of the body.) One of the earliest discussions about naming comes from Plato’s dialogue “Cratylus,” in which Socrates oversees a debate about whether a name is “an instrument of teaching and distinguishing natures” or whether it’s just a matter of “convention and agreement.” More recently, psychoanalysts like Wilhelm Stekel and Carl Jung posited that the “compulsion of the name” not only reflects but determines one’s future: that we’re all engaged, from birth, in a nominative determinism. (Anyone quick to dismiss this as Freudian bunk should look at the abundance of Shaquilles now entering professional sports.) Read More »

One More for James Salter

June 29, 2015 | by

Photo: Lan Rys

We’re concluding our week of James Salter remembrances with this interview by Kate Peterson from 2010. She recalls the experience fondly:

Among writers, James Salter was my first hero. Maybe it’s outmoded in 2015 to call someone your hero, but then, if any recent American writer took the idea of heroism seriously, it was Salter. I found his story collection Last Night ten years ago on my own, by chance—no friend or teacher had recommended it, and no social media list of must-reads existed then, at least on my radar. As discoveries go, it was a deliciously private one. The authority of his sentences and paragraphs came from their music, but not only from that. His descriptions seemed to draw power from what had been relinquished. I was dazzled, puzzled. Discipleship is fueled, in part, by mystery; at least mine was.

We met for this interview at the University of Minnesota in October 2010. I turned on my tape recorder and flipped to a fresh sheet of notebook paper, but before I could ask my first question, Salter asked one of his own: Bob Dylan had played near here, hadn’t he? I said he had. Did I know his songs? Not well, I admitted. He asked, could I sing any? Though I crossed Fourth Street every day, I confessed I couldn’t; I had been raised on show tunes. Like Rodgers and Hammerstein? Yes, I said. And so, before I knew what was happening, I was singing James Salter a few bars of “Oklahoma.”

That evening, Salter read from what became All That Is, his last novel. Then the working title was To Live It Again. It’s a promise at once retrospective and infinitive, and one, Salter often argued, that only books could honor.

To learn more about Salter, read his 1993 Art of Fiction interview or one of his stories from the magazine: “Sundays” (1966), “Am Strande von Tanger” (1968), “Via Negativa” (1972), and “Bangkok” (2003) are available in full online.

Tell me about your new novel.

I’ve been working on it for some years. I’d had the idea for a long time, but I was unconsciously waiting for a line from Christopher Hitchens. He wrote somewhere that “No life is complete that has not known poverty, love, and war.” That struck me, and I began with that.

I haven’t followed it through. Poverty doesn’t play much of a part. Betrayal does, and it’s a book that has a little more plot than other books of mine. It’s about an editor, a book editor, it’s the story of his life. Read More »

Leanne Shapton

February 16, 2012 | by

It’s no secret how much I admire Leanne Shapton. The former art director of The New York Times’ Op-Ed page is also the author of several books, including Was She Pretty? and Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry. She’s also a contributor to The Paris Review. Open any of the last four issues to glimpse her beautiful illustrations of Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich. Or buy issue 196, whose cover she painted. I visited her studio space north of Manhattan last spring. I can still remember her dog, Bunny, running to greet me. Leanne served tea and sweets, and we talked long after I turned off my tape recorder.

I wake up, walk the dog, or let the dog out. I’ll pretty much start working right off the top, depending on what I need to do, on deadlines.

I was talking to Sheila Heti about how and where we work. Sometimes I feel I get a lot done waiting for something else, with my shoes and coat on, with the car running. I don’t have a set routine. I can work for hours at a time, but I get a lot of stuff done in these weird starts and stops, which makes it a little bit harder to track. I have so many backs of envelopes with notes written on them in my pockets or stuffed into the side door of a car. I also use my Blackberry to write myself notes. Last night, I wrote myself an e-mail that said, “Tough girls with dark pink skin, England air, etc.” Now it’s sort of coming back to me, but when I woke up and read it, I was like, “What? What did I drink?” Lots happens in these little spaces between work and eating and sleeping. Sheila said she had this image of me standing up—you know how you stand up and eat when you’re really hungry? Well I stand up and work. It’s not a Hemingway thing, it’s more like I have to get this done, because the elevator is coming up. Some thing happens then. And that’s when I work.

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An Interview with James Salter

April 11, 2011 | by

Photograph by Lan Rys.

Our Spring Revel is tomorrow, April 12. In anticipation of the event, The Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating James Salter, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. Here is Salter himself, discussing his new novel and reflecting on his work as a writer and a teacher.

 

Tell me about your new novel.

I’ve been working on it for some years. I’d had the idea for a long time, but I was unconsciously waiting for a line from Christopher Hitchens. He wrote somewhere that “No life is complete that has not known poverty, love, and war.” That struck me, and I began with that.

I haven’t followed it through. Poverty doesn’t play much of a part. Betrayal does, and it’s a book that has a little more plot than other books of mine. It’s about an editor, a book editor, it’s the story of his life.

In your Paris Review interview with Edward Hirsch, you describe this image of your friend Robert Phelps going through his books, taking down the ones that didn’t measure up and leaving them in the hall. Reading your work, one gets the sense that there is a similar process at work—that everything unnecessary or plain has been taken away.

Yes, that’s probably a fault of the writing.

How so?

I think I’d like to write a little less intensely.

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