Archive for the 'Fictionaut Five' Category
The benefit of writing (or preferring to write) short stories is that oftentimes a character’s only showing the pointy top of his iceberg-like self, but knowing the giant mass beneath him is quite helpful and interesting to me, his creator. And sometimes he might say or do something that only alludes to that hidden business, and that seems like a very realistic trait of people in the real (as opposed to fictional) world. Then he seems as real as that guy at the grocery who yesterday lost his shit in the dairy aisle because he “cannot handle the cheese made of sheep milk, man!” apropos of absolutely nothing.
Here’s one trick: get really drunk or stoned and fall asleep weeping on your keyboard. When you wake up, magical elves will have come in the night and turned your bitter tears into words and paragraphs, just like they made shoes for that shoemaker.
Actually, that doesn’t work most of the time, but I keep trying it.
Checking in with Paris, France
All of my lifelong favorite novels contain characters who seem so vivid and complex and real, I remember each novel in terms of them — not the plot, not the stylistic devices, but the people in them. I can’t forget them, I continue to think and worry about them after I finish the book — they burst free of the novel and assume independent lives. I remember them as if they were people I’ve known well and will see again some day. They are their novels.
One exercise I’ve used in class to great effect is to have people map their home ground, or even just a place they remember well. Take 20 minutes to a half hour and draw out everything you can remember about your home when you were a child. Keep going into further detail, or do maps of every place you’ve ever lived, then start associating people with these places. Sooner or later, usually sooner, you’ll find your way into a story or poem.
Mobile phones are fiction hell. Not because they go off as I work – that’s fine; the distraction is often welcome. It’s the fact of them, that virtually everyone has one, that no one has to go searching for a working pay phone, that meetings don’t have to happen anymore – it’s taking the mobility out of contemporary stories. It’s a challenge. I’m glad I don’t write crime fiction – too much technology.
I spent close to forty years being an obsessive noticer of how people interact, a private theorist about human behavior and also a collector of the sorts of metaphors that occur in daily life, the way our lived lives seem to run parallel with a kind of naturally occurring symbolic scheme – and suddenly I knew how to convey all of this stored up information.
Get your work done. Richard Yates, Harry Crews, Barry Hannah, Raymond Carver: All of them had addictions of one form or another, but it didn’t stop them from working hard and fast.
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