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On writing: A supernova is not necessarily more grand than an old cat dying

Saturday 7/1/23

This exchange began about this radio interview I did regarding four Anton Chekhov stories. I think it's interesting.


P: How long I have made the same argument to my former MFA classmates--but, truly, not the faculty, and my students that great fiction is not about Grand Things, but rather keen observations of the mundane about small victories and defeats. You nailed it. I preach this--and I hope demonstrate it in the Seminar/Workshop I do called "Inhabiting Your Characters." Those show have few or no platonic friendships are never good writers.


C: I don't think that's what I said, to be honest. Great fiction is about the biggest things and I have maybe one friend, and certainly not many. That's just not what I was saying.


P: But as you do so well the exploration of meaning in the mundane makes fiction vigorous and enlightening. Grand things spring from small victories


C: I apologize for this. Usually I just let people say whatever to me, even when I know it's wrong, but it does me no good, and it adds up and takes a toil.

I don't write about anything that's "mundane." Nor could anyone say, "There's Fleming, writing about a mundane thing for his story."

And what are small victories? In what way is what happens in "Fitty" or 500 other stories I've done indicative of a small victory?

I feel like you're speaking for yourself. You're not speaking accurately about me or my work.

I deal with so much projection. No offense to you.

I am also dealing with bigots presently, and I'm sure that is not increasing my stores of patience at the moment.


P: But...you take normal characters, people we might all meet, like the woman in Girls of the Nimbus, and when they face the grand moment, they rise beyond the mundane, or perhaps a better word is quotidian. The issue with so many of the stories I see from other less skilled writers is that they begin in a world we all know, pile sorrows on their characters and let the story end there. This is supposed to be a slice of life, but what it is is moribund writing. Jute is in many ways a quiet story but there is more soul there than in anything I see in Agni etc. I think we may be on the same page but that I am not expressing myself well enough. Your stories soar where others flatline. That;'s why I read every one you send me. I can't respond to them all, but I do read them and marvel at the art you create.


C: "Jute" also involves the witnessing of a ghost--or some manifestation--throwing its dead child into the sea, complete with follow through. "Nimbus" involves the saving of children standing on a mine, and exists/is told in overlapping temporal spaces. These are not quotidian things. What I would say, too, is nothing is quotidian if it's understood. As for quiet, "Jute" involves life-shattering loss--in two instances--and, again, a ghost on a boat and a burial at sea. So, I don't know what to say to that. I wouldn't say it's quiet. I wouldn't say it's loud. I wouldn't ever think about it in either of those terms, which both equally miss the mark in my view.

What happens with other writers is they write from the navel. They write about themselves. Further, they see nothing as it is, with the entrenched wonder, mystery, and insight that is potentially to be found in everything; a supernova is not necessarily more grand than an old cat dying.

I'm not sure those writers are attempting slice of life writing, either. I think they're writing about themselves. A slice of their life, maybe. Slice of life itself has a certain utility, albeit limited; slice of life speaks to all. Even in a simple way. Those stories speak to no one, not even their creators.

There is no quotidian for one who sees.


C: Further: I don't take normal characters and do anything. You know no one like anyone in my stories. You think you do. That's the trick of it. To have people think that way. If there were people out there, as in really fully existing like the people in my stories, I'd have a hundred friends, all of these rich, complicated people. There is no one like that woman in "Nimbus." You have to have people believe there is, though.




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