Building a Writer with William Styron

William Styron

William Styron

INTERVIEWER

If you had to build a sort of composite writer, what attributes would you give him?

STYRON

I don’t know exactly, but first would be a background in reading. A writer must have read an enormous amount by the time he begins to write. I remember when I first wanted to be a writer, at the age of eighteen, just immersing myself in books—marauding forays I made at the Duke University library. I read everything I could get my hands on. I read promiscuously: I read poetry; I read drama; I read novel after novel. I read until I realized I was causing damage to my eyes. It was a kind of runaway lust.

The second thing is that you must love language. You must adore language—cherish it, and play with it and love what it does. You have to have a vocabulary. So many writers who disappoint me don’t have a vocabulary—they don’t seem to have much feeling for words.

Those are two of the most important things for a writer. The rest is passion and vision; and it’s important, I think, to have a theme. Melville said, probably in a grandiose way, To write a mighty book you must have a mighty theme. I do think there is something to that. You need not have a grandiose theme but you must have an important theme. You must be trying to write about important things, although a truly fine writer will deal with seemingly unimportant matters and make them transcendentally important.

From Wikipedia:

William Clark Styron, Jr. (June 11, 1925 – November 1, 2006) was an American novelist and essayist who won major literary awards for his work.

For much of his career, Styron was best known for his novels, including:

  • Lie Down in Darkness (1951), his acclaimed first novel, published at age 26;
  • The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), narrated by Nat Turner, the leader of an 1831 Virginia slave revolt;
  • Sophie’s Choice (1979), a story “told through the eyes of a young aspiring writer from the South, about a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz and her brilliant but troubled Jewish lover in postwar Brooklyn”.

Styron’s influence deepened and his readership expanded with the publication of Darkness Visible in 1990. This memoir, originally intended as a magazine article, chronicled the author’s descent into depression and his near-fatal night of “despair beyond despair”.

 

Literally Mugged with David Mitchell

David Mitchell

David Mitchell

INTERVIEWER

Some writers talk about getting into a zone, where things come in a rush.

MITCHELL

Writers can sound rather mystical when they talk about these things. Words like inspiration and creativity I’m really rather suspicious of, though I can’t talk about my work for more than thirty seconds without deploying them myself. Sometimes I think that creativity is a matter of seeing, or stumbling over, unobvious similarities between things—like composing a fresh metaphor, but on a more complex scale. One night in Hiroshima it occurred to me that the moon behind a certain cloud formation looked very like a painkiller dissolving in a glass of water. I didn’t work toward that simile, it was simply there: I was mugged, as it were, by the similarity between these two very different things. Literary composition can be a similar process. The writer’s real world and the writer’s fictional world are compared, and these comparisons turned into text. But other times literary composition can be a plain old slog, and nothing to do with zones or inspiration. It’s world making and the peopling of those worlds, complete with time lines and heartache.

From Wikipedia:

David Stephen Mitchell (born 12 January 1969) is an English novelist. He has written five novels, two of which, number9dream (2001) and Cloud Atlas (2004), were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has lived in Italy, Japan and Ireland.

 

Brutal Juxtapositions with Michel Houellebecq

 Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq

INTERVIEWER

What about your style? You have a habit of making brutal, often amusing
juxtapositions, as in “On the day of my son’s suicide, I made a tomato omelet.”

HOUELLEBECQ

That’s not really what I call style. It’s just the way I perceive the world. I have a kind of nervousness that leads to rapid juxtapositions. It’s not so different from punk rock. You scream but you modulate a little. There have been graduate studies of my style.

From Wikipedia:

Michel Houellebecq (French: [miʃɛl wɛlbɛk]; born Michel Thomas on 26 February 1956), is a controversial and award-winning French author, filmmaker and poet. Having written poetry and a biography of the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, he published his first novel, Extension du domaine de la lutte, in 1994. Les Particules élémentaires followed in 1998, and Plateforme in 2001. After a publicity tour for this book led to his being taken to court for inciting racial hatred, he moved to Ireland to write for several yearsand now resides in Spain.

 

The Sophisticated Idea of Discourse: Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany

INTERVIEWER

At Temple University, where you currently teach, you place a lot of importance on the individual sentence.

DELANY

Yes. It goes back to the notion that what happens in the mind of the reader when the reader moves his or her eye from word to word on the page—that’s what a story actually is. What the language calls up in your mind can also make you think in a rich and vivid manner. How it makes you think about what it evokes, including its place in the world—that’s particularly important. And how it makes you think about it must be supported by certain discourses. If those discursive models are rich enough, they inculcate the sophisticated idea of discourse itself that I’m striving for. For forty years, that has been and remains my project.

Frequently, those discursive models are in conflict with simpler discourses. When that happens, for some people it will be as interesting and as exciting as a good chess game. Others will not pay that much attention to the discursive conflicts. For them it’s not so interesting. But, as I did, listening to the students after my MIT lecture and reading what some of them went on to write me about the experience, I have the impression that a certain number were hungry for the kind of experience they had there and took from it something I can recognize as what I’d wanted to give. It’s not a message, but an experience of seeing the world and the topics it comprises at a certain level of complexity, of potentiality, of relationship—a complexity and relationship that intricately entails, even as it empowers, the pursuit of beauty and joy.

From Wikipedia:

Samuel Ray Delany, Jr. (pron.: /dəˈleɪni/; born April 1, 1942), also known as “Chip”, is an American author, professor and literary critic. His work includes a number of novels, many in the science fiction genre, as well as memoir, criticism, and essays on sexuality and society.

His science fiction novels include Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection (winners of the Nebula Award for 1966[and 1967 respectively), Nova, Dhalgren, and the Return to Nevèrÿon series. After winning four Nebula awards and two Hugo awards over the course of his career, Delany was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2002. Since January 2001 he has been a professor of English and Creative Writing at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he is Director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program.

Throw it Down with Shani Boianjiu

Shani Boianjiu

Shani Boianjiu


INTERVIEWER: What’s your writing process? Do you throw it down, or do lots of edits and rewrites?

SHANI BOIANJIU: The short and politically incorrect version is that I kinda throw it down. This is a terrible way to write, but the truth is I only write when I am truly inspired. I let a situation or a scene or a character sit in my head for weeks or months or years, and I only write them down when I feel like if I didn’t write them down my head will (metaphorically) explode. I write everything I have in my head from start to finish, no matter how much I want to quit in the middle or if I have a place to be or something to do. That’s the excruciating part. Then I put that piece of writing away. Later I come back to it and do all the necessary edits. Some pieces take a lot of editing and need dramatic changes, and some don’t need much at all. It takes time and experience and patience for me to figure out how to best edit, but I enjoy putting in that time. I also have loyal readers who I send my writing to when it is in raw stages, just to get the perspective of another pair of eyes. But either way for me editing is the calm, non-painful part.

From Wikipedia:

Shani Boianjiu (born 1987) is an Israeli author and former soldier in the IDF. Her first novel, The People of Forever Are Not Afraid was released in 2012 and is based on her experiences as a soldier in the IDF. Boianjiu was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Kfar Vradim, a village in the Western Galilee. After her military service, which she spent training combat soldiers in the use of weapons, she attended Harvard. She has been recognized by the National Book Foundation as one of their “5 Under 35” authors, based on a recommendation from the writer Nicole Krauss.

 

Unique or Idiosyncratic?: A Quick Q&A with Ben Fountain

Ben Fountain

Ben Fountain

INTERVIEWER: How important is it for a writer to be unique or idiosyncratic?

BEN FOUNTAIN: I think idiosyncrasy is a writer having a particular style. But what we’re really talking about is the way the writer sees the world and is able to embody an approximation of that vision in language. So it’s going to happen on its own. It’s not like you sit down and say, “I really like this style, so I want to be this kind of writer, like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Lyrical realism.” If you’re working at it genuinely over the years, it’s almost like a radio signal. You start tuning it in, and you fine-tune it, and you get closer and closer to the sound that’s in your ear and the vision that’s in your eye. Norman Mailer said that every book he wrote had a different style, and part of the challenge was finding the language and the idiom appropriate to the subject. As far as my own work, I don’t think this a lot in theoretical terms while I’m actually writing. I’m just trying to get it right, line by line. Whatever comes out, comes out.

From Wikipedia:

Ben Fountain (b. Chapel Hill, North Carolina) is an American fiction writer currently living in Dallas, Texas.

He is the author of Brief Encounters With Che Guevara, a collection of short stories. He has won numerous awards and inclusion of his work in New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best (2006).

Fountain’s latest novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, was released in early May 2012. The Oscar-winning screenwriter of Slumdog Millionaire, Simon Beaufoy, is adapting the novel into a screenplay a new Film4 project in collaboration with The Ink Factory, a U.S. production company. As yet, no director is attached.

 

Uniqueness of Vision: An Interview with Carol Rifka Brunt

Carol Rifka Brunt

Carol Rifka Brunt

What is the best advice you have been given to prepare for the road to publication?
Because I’ve been a bit of an outsider–not part of the MFA culture–I don’t think I received much advice at all. Maybe ‘be patient.’ That includes not sending out prematurely, make sure you’ve edited and re-edited and then let the work sit for as long as you need to. The patience thing extends to the waiting period once you’ve submitted. And even once the book has sold there’s that 18-month wait.
What are you working on now?

I’m working on a lot of e-interviews and articles! When I’m not doing that I’m working on several short stories, an essay and the first draft of a novel. The new novel is very much in the playful, exploratory phase.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write the story only you can write. The only commodity an artist or writer has to offer is their uniqueness of vision. It’s also the thing readers seem to respond to most strongly. And give yourself time. There’s no rush. Some of the best things in Tell the Wolves came to me three years into the process. The subconscious is mysterious. It’s always working, but will only give up its secrets if you give it enough time.

Is there something you didn’t expect during this entire process?

Success! Every day I’m astounded at the amount of love I’ve had for this novel. I remember saying early on, “I doubt it will sell. I think editors might like it but say that it’s not sellable.” To see people buying the book and connecting with the characters that I came to love so much is so unexpected and touching.

Carol Rifka Brunt:

Her writing has been published in literary journals like The North American Review and The Sun. I’ve also published articles in places like Family Fun and Valley Kids. In 2006, I was one of three fiction writers selected for the New Writing Partnership’s New Writing Ventures award. In 2007, I was awarded a generous Arts Council grant to write my first novel. That novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, was published by Dial Press (US) and Macmillan (UK) in June 2012. I’m currently working on short stories, essays and the beginnings of a new novel.