Letter Seven — A Smorgasbord
Here are few things on my radar this week.
Lately, I've been interested in the relationship between light and shadow and its affect on objects.
Stripes of a watermelon.
Leaves within leaves.
What these photos show is a cool visible intersect with what's there and what's not, and how often, what's not shapes what is. This is a technique I try to replicate in my own fiction.
I enjoyed this brief interview with the inimitable Joy Williams, whose new novel Harrow is out today.
I loved a few things about this interview: her typical 'Joy Williams' coolness, style & persona, the wanting to do the interview via snail mail, and above all, her answers. The one I found most profound and timely, was the answer to the question "How do you tackle writer’s block?" To which she answers, partly:
This is something I've actually been thinking a lot about lately, the idea of the world not needing your work; that, often, the work is self-indulgent, and what that means for the creative process. To me, having this approach is kind of liberating; it puts less pressure on the day-to-day act of forcing yourself to write, and an emphasis on the spiritual, unknown underbelly of the act of creating art. It also puts less pressure on how a writer should envision the reception of their work. It's true, writing novels may not be as important to the world as say, manufacturing elevator parts. I'm reminded of sometime last year during the first draft of my work in progress, I was in daily feverish states of writing (I had been recently laid off) and it felt like I contained the world on my laptop, spending every waking and dreaming hour of the day engulfed in the work. Until one day a plumber came by to check our hot water heating system and we got to talking. He asked what I did and I said I was currently unemployed but was spending the time to work on my book. He asked what kind of books I wrote. I said I was working on a novel, fiction. And he said, "Oh, fiction. That means fake right?" This was a poignant, but refreshing reminder of how the current world really sees books; that just because I entrench myself in the literary world, surrounding myself with books, reading current publications, interacting with mostly writers and book lovers online, doesn't mean everyone does; that, actually, I'm involved in a very small niche, even though, to me, it feels like everything. I have no answers for writer's block, but what I know has been helping my process is trying to understand that the world doesn't require it, but my internal world does, because without the work of writing (both the physical act and mental) that world becomes incredibly bleak, which in then turns the work into something meaningful and spiritually gratifying.
Lastly, I've finally gotten to the novel I've been most excited about on my reading list this year, which is Ratner's Star by Don DeLillo, a book I've been holding off on for various reasons. And man, is it fantastic! Has all the DeLillo markings, with some extra room for strangeness. Similarly to the notion before about the world not needing your book, this frees you up to write what you want to write, chasing down your own odd quirks and obsessions; which, to me, Don puts on full display in RS. And I'm not sure how anyone could say he is humorless, especially if they've read this one.
Oh, and Happy 10 Years to The Otherppl Podcast, a true pillar of literature.