Tuesday, November 26, 2019

And Thanks Goes To...

With Thanksgiving coming up, I figured I'd mark the occasion here by writing down a few of the lines about writing that have stuck with me over the years.  These are points about writing that either struck a strong chord in me when I encountered them or taught me something I can always refer to. They are writing mind cleansers if you will.

So here goes:

Thanks to the novelist and my old college professor John Gardner (who I had for part of one semester at Binghamton University till he died in a motorcycle crash) for emphasizing in his great book The Art of Fiction that good fiction should be "a vivid and continuous dream" -- a point I've never forgotten since I first read it over 35 years ago and something I try to achieve every time I write a story or novel.

Thanks to the novelist Muriel Spark for her line in Loitering With Intent, where her narrator, who is writing a novel, says that she treats a story "with a light and heartless mind, as is my way when I have to give a perfectly serious account of things." This is an approach, a way of looking at things, that happens to agree with me, and serves as a reminder that being all heavy and somber in fiction doesn't necessarily mean you are being more "serious" or more truthful than a writer handling things quite differently.

Thanks to Clive Barker for something he said in an interview I read years back (I don't even remember where) -- that the more brutal and horrible the events he's describing on the page become, the more elegant he makes his prose. I've always loved this idea of turning on the elegance, the burnished style, during the moments in a story when the things depicted are disturbing and atrocious. Let's say you can create a real frisson in the reader.

Thanks to Jorge Luis Borges who in one of his essays says something to this effect: why write a novel of four or five hundred pages when you can say everything you need to say in six or seven pages?  Of course, not everyone, and certainly not me, can pack as much into six or seven pages as Borges can, but I take his words as a constant prompt to condense, shorten, keep things tight.  So many novels you read absolutely do not need to be as long as they actually are.

And finally, let's end this by thanking that tireless office worker, Franz Kafka.  Something of his that I've taken a lot from is this line (quoted, by the way, in Paul Bowles' novel, The Sheltering Sky).  It's a line that's a bit enigmatic and yet, as applied to giving oneself to writing, somehow makes perfect sense: "From a certain point onward, there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached."

One could go on with a list like this, but let's leave it here.  There's plenty, I think, to chew on from these five greats.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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