A new interview is up at TMN this morning – Robert Birnbaum talking to David Mitchell. Here’s an excerpt:
DM: In a way, dominant novelists are actually political—politicians.
RB: Give me an example.
DM: I wasn’t clear enough. I mean, novelists are in the business of creating fictional narratives. Politicians also are in the business of creating narratives and then convincing the largest group of people that these narratives—not the other guy’s—are true.
RB: The difference, I think, is that the novelist strives for coherence and plausibility in storytelling. Politicians and political zealots and other hucksters construct a series of informational bits and images—a montage that may not or does not depend on a logical sequence to be convincing.
DM: Quite true.
RB: You wouldn’t normally mistake them as functioning narratives, except perhaps as the internal ramblings of an insane mind.
DM: [laughs] The story has to work when you read it—if you take them week by week by week they don’t have to be consistent over a long period of time.
Thanks to the fine folks at Longfellow Books, I got a copy of the forthcoming Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, by David Lipsky. Lipsky’s a writer with Rolling Stone magazine, and the two of them spent four days together during DFW’s book tour supporting Infinite Jest. I started it yesterday; mixed opinion so far. I’m not sure how much of that ambivalence comes from the odd presentation – it’s looking like a 300+ page interview transcript. Lipsky’s contributions are a sometimes confusing mix of question, comment, observation, and aside. DFW’s portions are interesting – but I think I’ll save writing about that for another time, after I’ve gotten further in.
Part two (with a link to part one) of an interview with Laird Hunt (author most recently of Ray of the Star) is available now at Hobart’s website.
I’m pleased to see that Joseph Coulson’s excellent Of Song and Water is being released in paperback by Archipelago Books. I liked this book a lot – here’s my interview with Mr. Coulson, and here’s my review of the book at The Quarterly Conversation. We also recently ran a review of it at Identity Theory.
From a recent interview with Michael Kimball:
Evenson: I try to stay focused on the dynamics of the writing itself, to think a lot about the hydraulics of the sentences and the rhythms and sounds. When I do that, I think it allows for things to be sorted out on a more visceral and unconscious level, one in which they still can end up surprising me. I do end up thinking ahead a little bit-I don’t think you can completely help doing that-but it’s less a kind of thinking my way down one narrative path and more an attempt to keep several different possibilities at once simultaneously in the air until the last possible moment. When I do that, often what happens is that I end up suddenly reaching a possibility I hadn’t been juggling, even if it quickly starts to feel necessary or inevitable, as if it were the only really satisfying solution.
Kimball: Since you mentioned the last section of THE OPEN CURTAIN, I have to ask: How did you figure out that ending?
Evenson: The ending of THE OPEN CURTAIN only came about after I’d written four or five other possible final sections, in part or in full. There were probably at least 400-500 pages that I threw out, partly because I had too much of a conscious idea of what I thought the novel should do. One version ended up moving the characters into the polygamist Mormon colonies in Mexico (all that is left of that was distilled into a story called “Moran’s Mexico”). Another ended with the characters trapped in a room in which the walls were covered with teeth (an idea that makes a brief appearance in my story “The Body Politic”). Another ended with one of the characters trapped in a subterranean passage (something I’d done before in other stories). All of them had their strengths; any of them were good enough, but none of them felt right. I almost abandoned the novel, and then-partly due to something sparking with things I’d been reading, partly due with the realization that the book needed to go to a New York that was not New York-stumbled onto the formal structure of repetition that starts that final section. As soon as I did that, I knew it was what I’d been trying to reach. But it took years of agony and frustration to get there.
Kimball: I admire the discipline. How did you know that none of the other endings were right and the one that we all read was right?
Evenson: I don’t know if it’s something that should be admired. I think if I’d approached the book a little differently or been a little more trusting of the novel as a form, I wouldn’t have had so many failed attempts at the ending. I went into the book thinking of each part as a novella, since that seemed more manageable to me. That worked great for the first two sections, but when I got to the third, suddenly I realized that it had to work not only as a novella but also as a way of concluding the work as a whole. I wrote several perfectly good novellas, but they didn’t do enough for the book as a whole. After writing the final section that I ended up with, I went back and reread the first two parts and could see how things had been set up subconsciously for just that ending. The other endings felt forced and incomplete; this one, despite its strangeness, seemed to develop organically from what I’d written before.
Kimball also has a new interview with Robert Lopez, whose Part of this World and Kamby Bologno Mean River I recommend.
You asked if I thought my fiction had changed anything in the culture and the answer is no. Sure, there’s been some scandal, but people are scandalized all the time; it’s a way of life for them. It doesn’t mean a thing. If you ask if I want my fiction to change anything in te culture, the answer is still no. What I want is to possess my readers while they are reading my book – if I can, to possess them in ways that other writers don’t. Then let them return, just as they were, to a world where everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt, and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise, to have set loose in them the consciousness that’s otherwise conditioned and hemmed in by all that isn’t fiction. This is something that every child, smitten by books, understands immediately, though it’s not at all a childish idea about the importance of reading.
— Philip Roth, from The Paris Review Interviews, Volume IV
From an interview with Donald Westlake, author of the Parker series of crime novels:
Question: Other than Richard Stark, you have also published books under the names Samuel Holt, Tucker Coe, and Curt Clark, as well as under your given name of Donald Westlake. Why all the pennames?
Westlake: When you’re first in love, you want to do it all the time. I loved writing, and I was just pushing out too much stuff for a rational marketplace to contend with. I first started putting pen names on short stories because magazines wouldn’t publish the same byline twice in the same magazine.
With the novels, Westlake had a contract to do a book a year for Random House, so if I added a second publisher I would need a second name. By the time Tucker Coe came along, both Westlake and Stark had some reputation of their own, and an emotionally-grieving disgraced ex-cop, an open wound, didn’t belong to either of them.
Some years later, I had reached that point known by a lot of writers: What if I were starting now? In this changed market, would I succeed? So I tested the waters the same way Stephen King did with his Richard Bachman novels: throw it out there under cover of darkness, and see what happens. That’s where Samuel Holt came from. (King told me once that, when his agent said they absolutely needed the pen name now because they were printing the cover, he was reading a Richard Stark and listening to Bachman-Turner Overdrive. It really is all incestuous.)