“Workshop is productive in insisting that you look at your flaws and hold your work to a high standard,” Thomas said in an email interview, “but I think it serves its purpose and then you have to move on.”
Time spent alone writing the novel provided a different kind of instruction. “I learned not to look away at the moment when I should be paying the most attention,” he said. “The closer I got to the heart of a scene, to the really difficult material to write, the emotionally challenging stuff or the exchange in which the conflict is made most explicit, the more I’d look for a way out of writing it. This was out of fear, obviously, because you don’t want to run up against your limitations in craft, intelligence or heart. It’s much easier to duck the really vital material, but it kills what you’re writing to do so, kills it instantly.”
Thomas said all his time in classrooms taught him that people “enjoy rising to the high expectations placed on them” by genuinely caring teachers. “A conversation that dwells only in what hasn’t been accomplished and doesn’t try to see what is fighting toward the surface for breath is an impoverished conversation indeed.”
"I think it’s impossible to write a book on the basis simply of willpower and the desire to produce a book. There has to be some kind of deal made with the passive side of the process—the imagination, the unconscious, the muse, the inspiration. And so when I say ‘contract,’ I mean that in order for it to be rich and surprising to the author…there has to be a contract: ‘Give me this material which I haven’t got access to just through my will and intelligence and I will give you anything you ask.’ And the original contract was: ‘Your life.’"
—from an interview at KCRW’s Bookworm series.
"There’s nothing like writing a satire on literary prizes to provoke a cascade of short-listing. It’s the highest hit rate I’ve had since I began my career as a writer."
—Edward St. Aubyn on his novel “Lost for Words,” on KCRW.
"Strange to him were the large, organized intramural activities of the American schools as contrasted with the more personal and intimate amusements of the English student. ‘But there are many changes there now. The communal meals at college make an immense difference. Food and warmth enter into everything. No fires, you know. The great change is that the students do no entertaining. Of course, formerly they were entertaining all the time. Yes… tea parties, at which no wine was served,’he added."
—E.M. Forster on American colleges, from “Sitting With E.M. Forster While He Had His Portrait Sketched," in The New Republic, 1947.
"…watching A Hard Day’s Night…anyone with eyes and ears should be able to grasp that what we’re seeing is anything but hysteria. The blur of screaming fans at the beginning of the movie, chasing the Beatles as they attempt to board a train in Liverpool to take them south to London, and the screaming fans we come face-to-face with in the concert sequence that ends the film, are the movie’s visible, beating heart — the literal manifestation of the awe and adoration that Richard Lester and his cinematographer Gilbert Taylor lavish on the Beatles."
—Charles Taylor, “Eight Arms to Hold You,” in The Los Angeles Review of Books.
"Essays that reveal their true nature as they progress have to strike a balance between misdirection and staying the course. The art lies in the writer’s ability to establish the reader’s trust as she feels her way towards the heart of her story. She must find a balance between anticipation and suspense, between questions and answers."
—Geeta Kothari, at The Kenyon Review’s “Why We Chose It.”
"A good outside reader is someone who holds you to a higher standard, someone who wants more from you than you might really be capable of, who sees the book on your terms, but raises the bar for you by showing you what might be possible in your revisions."
"The point is that literature is conditional, that there is always another way a narrative can go. It is the writer’s job, then, to make choices — or better yet, to ask questions, questions that don’t (that cannot) resolve in the same way twice."
—David Ulin reviewing Stuart Dybek’s two new story collections, “Ecstatic Cahoots: Fifty Short Stories” and “Paper Lantern: Love Stories,” in the LA Times.
"I worry about repetition quite a bit. In fact, repetition is the thing that kills any of the stories I’ve started and not finished: I bore myself because I feel like I’ve already written what I’m trying to write. So I start again. Some of my process is what I would call torqueing: taking the familiar stuff and turning it around until it doesn’t seem like something I’ve already explored and figured out. Changing a gender, changing a location, changing a relationship. Those things result in the unexpected discoveries, and that can rescue me from being bored with myself."
—Antonya Nelson, from “Until it Isn’t,” interview in American Short Fiction.
GT: My major hang-up regarding therapy is the fear that I won’t be able to confront the answers it yields. And while writing fiction forces me to at least stare down some of my BS, it’s comforting, for lack of a better word, to know my responsibilities as a writer fall short of providing answers. That said, obsessive fascinations, by their very nature, don’t exactly go away. One of the things that strikes me about your oeuvre is the deftness with which you keep coming back to some of your obsessive fascinations—family, marriage, mortality—while managing to keep the material vibrant and mysterious. I’m thinking, for example, of Andrea in “Happy Hour,” and Cara in “Winter in Yalta” (from the current issue of ASF), and even Birdie in Nobody’s Girl. Each of these women surveys their personal landscape and makes the very conscious decision to escape, to place their needs and desires above everything and everyone else in their lives—expectations, responsibilities, spouses, children. They escape in varying manners, but each of them relies on an uncanny inner fortitude, I think, regardless of whether they’ve mistakenly identified their needs and desires or not. Similarly, it takes a lot of fortitude and confidence to keep coming at material from different angles. Are you ever fearful of a misstep? Of conflating the sources of the mystery, as it were? Or do you believe that all material has the potential to be a bottomless well?
Rumpus: Did you ever feel uncomfortable writing someone else’s story?
Crouch: Wow. That question kept me up at night. What will the families think? Do I have a right to write a novel based on a real person’s experience?
In the end, I had to shut off my brain and find my writer balls. As Roxana Robinson so eloquently wrote in the New York Times last Sunday about her novel, Sparta, based on soldiers in Iraq: “We’re doing what fiction writers have always done: trying to investigate the world, explore human experience, render precisely what it means to be alive. We’re trying to give voice to everyone on the planet.” I loved that essay. The book felt dangerous to write, and I knew that was where I needed to be. Fiction is about learning things we can’t learn through everyday life. If it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, what’s the point?
—from an interview over at The Rumpus