Thursday, October 27, 2011

In which I ask myself the same questions they asked Joan Didion

Questions from L.A. Times interview by David Ulin.

Jacket Copy: Throughout [book title] you speak (or write) directly to your readers. How did you develop that device?

Me: Oh, I don't know. Our Town?

JC: Your language is very stripped down in the book: spare, declarative. That makes for a certain tension, given the emotional murkiness of the narrative.

Me: It's because I was in a big hurry. Can't bother with a lot of romantic foofaw.

JC: How much does that have to do with the difficulty of writing about a child? It's harder than writing about a spouse.

Me: You can say that again. Children can't get back at you, at least until they grow up and write novels in which you're the bad guy, but I'll be long gone by then.

JC: What was her reaction to being written about?

Me: Well, she thinks everything's about her anyway, so it was very natural to her.

JC: You write about her presence in your working life -- on assignment, in hotel rooms -- and the effect this may have had on her childhood.

Me: It's true, she had to watch a ton of TV. It's a good thing everything on TV is suitable for children. (Laughs.)

JC: Do you regret it?

Me: Well, there was a period in which she insisted I was Yogi Bear and she was Boo Boo. I had to call her Boo Boo for weeks.

JC: Part of the book deals with parental guilt, or parental failure. You write: "I do not know many people who think they have succeeded as parents."

Me: Yeah, I hate contractions. I had an editor at the student paper who was just nuts about contractions, would not allow a single one. Now when I use them, I feel dirty, but it's a good dirty. As for my failure as a parent, that's well known. I've pretty much failed at every human relationship. But we never expected to be successful as parents.

JC: When you say "successful as parents," what do you mean?

Me: The child goes on to be a very high-earning child star. I know how few of them there are; you have to have the right agent. But we acted as her agent, so we failed at that too.

JC: That's a tendency with all parents, I think. Not quite to see your children, to minimize their concerns ...

Me: Well, they're children, I mean really.

JC: In [book title] you say that writing no longer comes easily to you. But you've never given the impression that writing was the easiest act.

Me: Yes, it is hard to write using no adjectives and contractions. Harder still to talk that way.

JC: What about your novels? Do you find them easier or more difficult to write?

Me: The main problem is maintaining momentum. I go on a tear for a few months, but it takes longer than that to write a novel, for most people. I really admire Georges Simenon, who would write a whole novel in two weeks, though it exhausted him and made him a sex maniac.

JC: With a book like [other book title] it's as if you were building a structure, literally using narrative to stave off chaos and loss.

Me: That's the beauty -- I mean, that is the beauty of being able to talk anyone into anything.

JC: This book, too, attempts to use literature to work through something. You call it "maintaining momentum." But you also note that maintaining momentum ...

Me: Is so difficult when things are happening all around you. You know what Woody Allen said about how a relationship is like a shark: Unless it keeps moving, it dies. But so many things get in the way.

JC: Still, there's a cost, too, when we don't maintain momentum.

Me: It's really true of most things -- damned if you do and damned if you do not.

JC: So for you it's a matter of failing yourself, not other people?

Me: Like I say, what choice do I have?

JC: As if you haven't completed the task?

Me: One is never finished. Why should I finish?

No comments: