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Posts Tagged ‘the art of fiction’

Ornery Little Critters

February 1, 2016 | by

S. J. Perelman, ca. 1957.

From a letter sent by S. J. Perelman to Betsy Drake, dated May 12, 1952. Perelman, one of the most popular humorists of his time, was born on this day in 1904; he died in 1979. Donald Barthelme called him “the first true American surrealist.”I classify myself as a writer of what the French call feuilletons—that is, a writer of little leaves. They’re comic essays of a particular type,” Perelman told The Paris Review in 1963. Here he advises Drake on the miseries of screenwriting. “The mere mention of Hollywood induces a condition in me like breakbone fever. It was a hideous and untenable place when I dwelt there, populated with few exceptions by Yahoos, and now that it has become the chief citadel of television, it’s unspeakable,” he told the ReviewRead More »

The Gayety of Vision

January 25, 2016 | by

Karen Blixen in Copenhagen, 1957.

INTERVIEWER

What is your favorite fruit?

DINESEN

Strawberries.

INTERVIEWER

Do you like monkeys?

DINESEN

Yes, I love them in art: In pictures, in stories, in porcelain, but in life they somehow look so sad. They make me nervous. I like lions and gazelles.

—Isak Dinesen, the Art of Fiction No. 14, 1956

When Isak Dinesen gave her 1956 Art of Fiction interview, she was into her seventies. It’s one of the strangest entries in the Review’s Writers at Work series. While the focus is, naturally, on Dinesen’s work as an author, the artist, also known as Baroness Karen Christentze Blixen-Finecke, addresses her career as a painter, too: Read More »

Now Online: Our Interviews with Elena Ferrante, Hilary Mantel, and Lydia Davis

June 3, 2015 | by

Before we commence with the dog and pony show for our brand spanking new Summer issue, you should know that the three interviews from our Spring issue are now available in full online.

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A page from the first draft of The Story of the Lost Child.

These include the first-ever in-person interview with Elena Ferrante, who discusses her Neopolitan Novels, her reticence as a public figure, and her approach to her readership:

I publish to be read. It’s the only thing that interests me about publication. So I employ all the strategies I know to capture the reader’s attention, stimulate curiosity, make the page as dense as possible and as easy as possible to turn. But once I have the reader’s attention I feel it is my right to pull it in whichever direction I choose. I don’t think the reader should be indulged as a consumer, because he isn’t one. Literature that indulges the tastes of the reader is a degraded literature. My goal is to disappoint the usual expectations and inspire new ones.

Hilary Mantel cr Alwan Ezzidin copy copy

Photo: Alwan Ezzidin

And Mona Simpson’s interview with Hilary Mantel, who talks about her Cromwell books, the difference between historians and novelists, and the difference between the early and contemporary stages of her career:

When I began writing I had a perfect belief that, although I might not know how to do many things, I did know how to write a novel. Other ­people might have disputed that, looking at my efforts, and no one was in a hurry to endorse my confidence, but I did know within myself that I could write a novel. The reason was I’d read so many that the pattern was internalized. I’ve always been an intensely ambitious individual and whatever I was going to do, I was not going to let go until I got where I thought I ought to be. It’s a question of, What will you sacrifice? What other things will you let go, to clear the space for your book? What develops later is something rather different, as you proceed from book to book, every book throwing up different demands, needing different techniques.

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Davis in Paris, 1972.

Plus, in the Art of Fiction No. 227, Lydia Davis explores her approach to the short story, and to translations, and reflects on the influence her family life had on her process:

We also left each other notes when there was a family conflict. I guess it was my mother’s idea that we should put it in writing, or that we should ­articulate it, because I can see our different handwriting going back and ­forth over this problem, whatever it was. I thought it was kind of a terrible thing that we did that in my family. Because it made writing ... oh, the text became full of emotion. I still have some of the notes that my mother left for me. In fact, we did a little dialogue … I suppose that was part of the family training—Let’s try to figure this out. Here’s how I feel, you tell me how you feel. It is a way to work out some emotional situations, and certainly that went on in our house. It’s just that when I come across those long messages from my mother it fills me with sadness. 

For the latest in our Writers at Work series, subscribe to The Paris Review now—and be sure to check out what’s coming next in our Summer issue, which includes interviews on the Art of Translation with Peter Cole plus Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Pulling a Rabbit Out of a Glass Hat

February 11, 2015 | by

Richard Price and the evolving role of pseudonyms.

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From the cover of The Whites.

Richard Price’s new novel, The Whites, isn’t by Richard Price, except that it is. It’s by Harry Brandt, Price’s pseudonym, but it’s also not really by Brandt—Price’s name is on the cover, too, and so Price is Brandt, obviously, and it follows then that Brandt is Price, and thus, uh …

Let’s start over.

Richard Price’s new novel, The Whites, is by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt. It says so right there on the cover. Big deal, you might say; another author slumming it in genre fiction by creating a false identity for himself. But by publishing both his name and his pseudonym on the cover, Price has parted with centuries of pseudonymous convention. He hasn’t just pulled back the curtain. He’s brought up the house lights and waved to the audience. And he did it all, according to the New York Times, because he got sort of annoyed. Read More »

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Robert Stone, 1937–2015

January 12, 2015 | by

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From our Winter 1985 issue: “A Robert Stone manuscript page, from his most recent novel, Children of Light; an indication of how barren the word processor has made examples of a work-in-progress.”

“I like big novels,” Robert Stone said in his 1985 Art of Fiction interview. “I really admire the grand slam.” Stone died last weekend in Florida, at seventy-seven. He leaves behind more than a few grand slams—broad, despairing, powerful books full of searchers, outsiders, and misfits. His work exudes what Jessica Hagedorn calls “exquisite paranoia and apocalyptic dread.”

Of course, descriptions like that can make his novels sound too potent—and one of the surprising things about Stone, it must be said, is how little he’s read these days. I hope that will change. As M. H. Miller wrote of him in 2013,

He’s a best-selling author whose work has been heaped with critical praise, but because of the long interims between books, he is more heard of than read by a certain generation of readers. Updike had Rabbit, Roth had Zuckerman, Norman Mailer had Gary Gilmore, even Joan Didion, whose novels are the least interesting thing about her, had Maria Wyeth. Among Mr. Stone’s books there is no clear standout, no obvious introduction. His work is best taken in tandem, like one long narrative where you age with the characters.

He’s right: among readers my age, Stone’s work has had that enviable air of mystery to it. He was always that major writer lurking in the distance. His books didn’t seem approachable, not because they were long or “difficult” but because, as the New York Times put it, they “resonate with philosophical concerns, the thin divides between life and death, good and evil, God and godlessness.” These were tomes about war and God and postwar tumult, and, uh, we definitely wanted to get to them, yes, but—maybe later? Read More »

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Purity of Essence: One Question for Nell Zink

December 8, 2014 | by

Nell Zink-6-Fred Filkorn

Photo: Fred Filkorn

Nell Zink’s novel The Wallcreeper came out in October and was listed last week among the 100 Notable Books of 2014 by the New York Times. Jonathan Franzen—who had earlier tried to interest publishers in Zink’s first novel, Sailing Towards the Sunset by Avner Shats—wrote, “Her work insistently raises the possibility that the world is larger and stranger than the world you think you know.”

The Wallcreeper is the coming-of-age story of Tiffany, a young woman who marries a man she hardly knows and follows him to Switzerland. Zink’s compressed scenes and chapter-less form showcase her mastery of tonal register—think Diane Williams with a little less bathos—as the newlyweds’ shared interests in each other and birding quickly shift to other lovers and separate environmental causes. Meanwhile, the zingers and bon mots fly so fast and furiously that one often forgets that Tiffany is on the brink of poverty.

Zink, now fifty, has also published several pieces in n+1. She lives in Bad Belzig, Germany, where she worked most recently as a translator. As a writer living abroad, she does not seem fond of things like e-mail interviews, and understandably so. This exchange took place in August—part of a longer interview filled with some of the most riotous, pummeling insults I’ve ever absorbed—and Zink explained that the course of her experience as a writer has involved a great deal of travel, marked by an intense effort to insulate her creative life from the work required to make rent. Her second novel, Mislaid, is due out next year. She sold it, as she has said elsewhere, for “megabucks.” This may be half jest, but it hints nevertheless that her fortunes have shifted for the better since this summer, when she shared the following account of her personal history.

What kind of jobs have you had? Do you write full-time now, “living the dream”?

I was always a bit concerned about purity of essence. I never wanted a job that might affect the way I wrote or thought. I remember how in college I was very proud of having finagled a job in the English department, where I spent most of my time collating and stapling. I didn’t major in English, obviously, because I preferred being challenged in courses where I might get bad grades. Once, Gordon Lish came to speak there and warned us explicitly against going to work in publishing, because it forces you to read bad prose all day every day and spoils your style. After his talk, all the other student writers jumped up to beg him for jobs in publishing while I wandered off strengthened in my resolve to do manual labor. Read More »

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