Telling Stories, Talking Craft


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Telling Stories, Talking Craft is a collection of fifteen conversations with some of the finest contemporary fiction writers. These distinguished authors discuss their lives and their craft in candid, thought-provoking interviews from the pages of Sycamore Review, Purdue University’s international journal of literature, opinion and the arts.



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Published 13 June 2010
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EAN13 9781602351790
Language English
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Baxter Bernheimer Brown Butler Chabon Chang Davies Dubus III Ford Hamilton Hornby Jin Mun Percy Yarbrough
Telling Stories, Talking Craft
Telling Stories, Talking Craft
Conversations with Contemporary Writers
Edited by Chris Arnold and Anthony Cook
Sycamore Review Purdue University West Lafayette, Indiana
Parlor Press West Lafayette, Indiana
Sycamore Review, English Department, Purdue University, 500 Ôval Drive, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907
Parlor Press LLC, West Lafayette, Indiana 47906
© 2010 by Purdue Research Foundation All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
S A N: 2 5 4 - 8 8 7 9
 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Telling stories, talking craft : conversations with contemporary writers / edited by Chris Feliciano Arnold and Anthony Cook.  p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-60235-178-3 (pbk.) -- ISBN 978-1-60235-179-0 (adobe ebk.) -- ISBN 978-1-60235-182-0 (epub ebk.) 1. Fiction--Authorship. 2. Fiction--Technique. 3. Novelists, American--20th century--Interviews. 4. Novelists, American--21st century--Interviews. I. Arnold, Chris Feliciano, 1981- II. Cook, Anthony, 1980-PN3365.T46 2010 808.3--dc22  2010012479
Cover image © Pol Turgeon. Used by permission. Cover design by Anthony Cook
Printed on acid-free paper.
Sycamore Reviewis Purdue University’s international journal of literature, opinion and the arts.
Parlor Press, LLC is an independent publisher of scholarly and trade titles in print and multimedia formats. This book is available in paperback and ebook formats from Parlor Press on the World Wide Web at http://www. or through online and brick-and-mortar bookstores. For submission information or to find out about Parlor Press publications, write to Parlor Press, 816 Robinson St., West Lafayette, Indiana 47906, or e-mail
Forewordvii Chris Arnold and Anthony Cook
Introductionix Michael Martone
Charles Baxter3
Kate Bernheimer19
Larry Brown35
Robert Olen Butler49
Michael Chabon65
Lan Samantha Chang75
Peter Ho Davies91
Andre Dubus III
Richard Ford119
Jane Hamilton141
Nick Hornby153
Ha Jin161
Nami Mun179
Benjamin Percy189
Steve Yarbrough
About the Editors233
Index of References to Authors and Works235
Chris Arnold and Anthony Cook
If fiction writing is not just an occupation, but a lifestyle, then this book is more than just writers talking about literature—it’s a gathering of artists in conversation about their lives. Perhaps this is the source of the joy and mystery of the interview form: The books have been writ-ten, printed, and read, but here are a few more words from the authors, not in their narrative voices, or in the voices of their protagonists, but in their real voices, whatever those might sound like. We believe the strength of this anthology lies in its diversity of voices. Gathered here are realists and fabulists, short story writers and novelists, Pulitzer Prize winners and debut writers. Their influences range from Dostoyevsky to Stan Lee to the Brothers Grimm. They came to their calling after working as firemen, or Avon sales reps, or soldiers. What they share is an exquisite thoughtfulness about life and literature, and a generosity toward young writers just starting out on this lifelong path. Ône common difficulty for young writers is recognizing that fic-tion has much more in common with bricklaying than daydreaming. For this reason, it makes sense to learn the art through apprentice-ship—that medieval idea that a craft is best learned in close proximity to a master. This idea drives the fifteen interviews in this book. Each interview originally appeared inSycamore Review, Purdue University’s international journal of literature, opinion and the arts. The premise is simple enough: Take an apprentice writer and put them in the same room as a master. In an era of prepared statements and electronic cor-respondence, these interviews are unique for their human qualities. Ôften conducted before a live audience, they have the conversational quality of a friendly chat and the performative feel of improv comedy. vii
The journal has been conducting this experiment for more than 20 years. The most memorable results are collected here. The editors would like to thank each of the interviewers and in-terviewees for being the subjects of these experiments. We’d also like to thank the creative writing faculty at Purdue University, David Blakesley at Parlor Press, the inimitable Michael Martone,Sycamore Reviewstaff past and present, and our intern for this project, Lisa Cur-tin.
IOûçîO Half Life
Michael Martone
Answer: What kind of question is that? Blue. I suppose. I was, a long time ago, the editor of my junior high school newspaper,The Franklin Post, and it had, as a recurring feature, interviews that were titled “Know the Ninth.” Many of the stock questions were interested in establishing a particular ninth grader’s favorite this or favorite that.
Answer:The River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild Westby Rebecca Solnit, Niall Ferguson’sAscent of Money, and100 Frogs. This is another kind of question. What is it really asking? It does not, so much, want to literally know what I am reading (I am at this moment, reading this “this” at this moment) but couches reading as a special kind of reading, embedding in the ques-tion a qualifier of quality—what are you reading that isgood, that is helpful to the act of the questioner’s writing. There is reading. And there is reading. Ôur eyes pass over so much every day. We read con-tinuously. But the reading in question, the reading of this question, is a kind of dedicated reading, sequestered reading, reading that excludes the world of reading. The question is seeking a key to a treasure. Read this and you will understand. The question does not see reading as a treasure itself. It is a question that does not really want to know the answer it asked.
Answer: Perhaps. What is this form, the interview? What is the form up to? This form is often all about nostalgia. It exercises nostalgia. It exorcises nostalgia. It is nostalgic for a past moment, the moment before the moment when “Creative Writing” emerged as a field of ix