Posts Tagged ‘process’
August 30, 2016 | by Irina Reyn and Emily Barton
Last month, after her reading at the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, New York, Irina Reyn sat down for an onstage conversation with the novelist Emily Barton. Reyn had read from her new novel, The Imperial Wife, in which two women—Catherine the Great in eighteenth-century Russia and Tanya in contemporary New York—negotiate marriage and ambition, on two very different registers. Barton’s third novel, The Book of Esther, was also published this summer. It imagines a nation of Turkic warrior Jews transposed from the Middle Ages to World War II–era Europe and follows one woman’s Joan of Arc–style quest to defend her people. Unsurprisingly, the conversation quickly became a lively discussion about the writing of both novels, gender and work, and the standing of women in the current political climate. —Ed. Read More »
August 15, 2016 | by Caitlin Love
Inspired by our famous Writers at Work interviews, “My First Time” is a series of short videos about how writers got their start. Created by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling, each video is a portrait of the artist as a beginner—and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.
Today, Akhil Sharma discusses his first novel, An Obedient Father, which he started when he was a student at Stanford: “I got [to school] about a month before classes started, and I didn’t know how to write or how to begin writing a book. And I thought, I’ll begin writing five pages a day and in two months I’ll be done with a novel. I didn’t know how to come up with plot, I didn’t know how to do anything ... Still I don’t know how you get through all those years of being lost.” Read More »
April 18, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Our advisory editor Hilton Als has an “emotional retrospective”—“One Man Show: Holly, Candy, Bobbie, and the Rest”—at the Artist’s Institute. Seph Rodney paid a visit: “The retrospective consists mainly of portraits, photographs found, taken, owned or commissioned by Als. He’s added colored light bulbs, placed next to the images to give the space a nightclub feel, with certain corners red and sultry, others yellow or blue, and some lime green. The institute’s town house with its hardwood floors, fireplace, and separate rooms is an apt place for this exhibition; the setting conveys a sense of intimacy with what are essentially Als’s ghosts. Walking the rooms you want to treat these unfamiliar memories—many of the characters depicted are only known to Als—with tenderness … The retrospective mirrors his critical writing: it’s deeply personal resonances refracted by his keen analytical attention so that intimate friends, historical moments, and his own self and experiences are progressively unpacked until the reader sees how they intersect and inform each other.”
- The artist Jenny Holzer has been projecting words onto buildings since 1991. Thus Henri Cole has seen several of his poems illuminated as “the touch of light against the surface of public spaces”: “Seeing my poems projected in this way, onto landscapes and buildings, I feel that the words leap out from a different zone, where they are observed as much as read. Language is more direct, open, unself-conscious, precise, and human. It doesn’t belong to me anymore but to the atmosphere, and this makes me happy. In Holzer’s installations, words—not images—strive to say something true, often about love, death, sex, war, or forgiveness.”
- Breaking: Hilary Mantel’s writing process reveals, emphatically, that this whole “novelist” thing is no mere pastime for her. “Some writers claim to extrude a book at an even rate like toothpaste from a tube, or to build a story like a wall, so many feet per day. They sit at their desk and knock off their word quota, then frisk into their leisured evening, preening themselves. This is so alien to me that it might be another trade entirely … The most frequent question writers are asked is some variant on, ‘Do you write every day, or do you just wait for inspiration to strike?’ I want to snarl, ‘Of course I write every day, what do you think I am, some kind of hobbyist?’ But I understand the question is really about the central mystery—what is inspiration? Eternal vigilance, in my opinion. Being on the watch for your material, day or night, asleep or awake.”
- An interview with Adonis, the Syrian poet in exile, finds him dismissing the idea that ISIS can write poems: “You cannot compare the bomb with the poem. You should not draw this comparison. Any ignorant bullet can change a regime, any despicable bullet can kill a great person, like Kennedy, for example. You cannot draw such a comparison because it is fundamentally wrong. Making poetry is like making air, like making perfume, like breathing. It cannot be measured by materialistic standards. This is why poetry despises war and is never related to it … poetry is a social phenomenon. When culture is a part of everyday life, everyone is a poet and everyone is a novelist. You now have thousands of novelists. But if you found five who are good to read, then you are in a good place. In America … there are thousands of novels; you will find five or six good ones, and the rest is garbage. The same goes for the Arabs. All Arabs are poets, but 95 percent of them are rubbish.”
- “The food of the true revolutionary,” Mao once said, “is the red pepper.” Which is great, unless you happen to be an aspiring revolutionary with a weak stomach. How, at any rate, did the pepper come to enlist itself as an agent of Maoism? “For years culinary detectives have been on the chili pepper’s trail, trying to figure out how a New World import became so firmly rooted in Sichuan, a landlocked province on the southwestern frontier of China … Food historians have pointed to the province’s hot and humid climate, the principles of Chinese medicine, the constraints of geography, and the exigencies of economics. Most recently neuropsychologists have uncovered a link between the chili pepper and risk-taking. The research is provocative because the Sichuan people have long been notorious for their rebellious spirit; some of the momentous events in modern Chinese political history can be traced back to Sichuan’s hot temper.”
February 8, 2016 | by Tony Tulathimutte
How to name your fictional characters.
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 »
June 29, 2015 | by Kate Petersen
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 »
February 16, 2012 | by Thessaly La Force
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.