The Creative Process: Interviews & Portraits of the World’s Leading Authors & Creative Thinkers
Inspiring Students – Encouraging Reading - Connecting through Stories
The Creative Process exhibition is traveling to universities and museums. The Creative Process exhibition consists of interviews with over 100 esteemed writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Hilary Mantel, Neil Gaiman, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Tobias Wolff, Richard Ford, Junot Díaz, Marie Darrieussecq, Michel Faber, T.C. Boyle, Jay McInerney, George Saunders, Geoff Dyer, Dave Eggers, Etgar Keret, Douglas Kennedy, Sam Lipsyte, and Yiyun Li, among others. Artist and interviewer: Mia Funk.
Do you have an idea for an essay, story or poem linked to the writers featured in The Creative Process? Have ideas discussed in this interview inspired your own creative works? We're happy to review audio and short video pieces. We welcome submissions from all genres and disciplines.
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I think many of my stories work on this principle: everything is just as it is in our world (they physicality, the psychology, etc) except for one distorted thing. The effect, I hope, is to make the reader (and me) see our "real" world in a slightly new light.
I do develop my books in scenes, and write a lot of dialogue – though book dialogue is different from stage dialogue, which is different from TV dialogue – and that is different from radio dialogue – I’ve explored all these facets. I think I am covertly a playwright and always have been – it’s just that the plays last for weeks, instead of a couple of hours.
The idea that anything could be a door, the idea that the back of the wardrobe could open up unto a world in which it was winter and there were other worlds inches away from us, became just part of the way that I saw the world, that was how I assumed the way the world worked, when I was a kid that was the way that I saw.
I think part of what I was thinking about with this project was to build the fact that [my character] Yunior is a writer and that with Yunior being a writer we get to check in with his maturing and changing perspective. [...] Therefore built into the story there’s a perspective that might not otherwise be available if I was writing far more closely to the events he was narrating. These are the weird nerdy decisions one makes as one writes where one has to decide the events that are occurring in your text. You have to decide what’s the distance between the event and the point of telling where the narrator stands, looking upon and reflecting and retelling those events.
In the course of writing a novel I will sometimes lock myself away. During most of my previous novels there comes a point where I just go to the country and hide for 5 or 6 weeks. Sometimes it’s the first draft, sometimes it’s the second. There are periods when I feel like you just have to cut out the world and listen to the voice in your own head. In the course of writing a novel I will sometimes lock myself away. During most of my previous novels there comes a point where I just go to the country and hide for 5 or 6 weeks. Sometimes it’s the first draft, sometimes it’s the second. There are periods when I feel like you just have to cut out the world and listen to the voice in your own head.
I've written a number of short stories from a first-person POV but I guess with novels I felt that this was too restrictive. What worked for me was a third-person approach that was somewhat suffused with the personality of the character.
All artists are seeking to create a modified world that conforms to their emotional and artistic expectations, and I am one of them, though, of course, as we grow and age those expectations are continually in flux. [...] Yes, like all of us, I have experienced disillusionment with the limits of human life and understanding.
I don’t start off to create a moral in telling a story, but there are certainly consequences to the decisions that we make and some of those will inevitably have what we call a moral dimension. I don’t respond enthusiastically to fiction when I can see a thumb on the scales, when I can see that it’s a sermon in disguise. I’m more interested in writing that explores rather than proclaims.
Characters begin as voices, then gain presence by being viewed in others' eyes. Characters define one another in dramatic contexts. It is often very exciting, when characters meet-- out of their encounters, unanticipated stories can spring.
In a way, I sometimes think that it’s when the divergences from what really happened are quite small that it calls for the services of a very scrupulous and clever biographer. Certainly the stuff you get about me from my books it’s not–how can I put it?–it’s not reliable as evidence in any court of law. I’m very conscious that I’m not under oath when I’m writing.
When I compare novelists to short story writers or very short story writers, I can’t compare them, but one thing for sure, the purpose is different. I think that someone who writes tries to create or document a world. And when you write very short fiction you try to document a motion, some kind of movement.
Je suis devenue écrivain parce que dans ma famille ce n’étaient pas seulement les rêves, les étoiles et les animaux sauvages, qu’on passait sous silence, mais tout. Il y a deux choses surtout qu’on cache aux enfants : la mort et le sexe. Les zones du grand secret. Chez moi, la présence d’un enfant mort réunissait ces deux zones d’une façon dramatique. Ce chagrin silencieux de mes parents, et la folie de plusieurs personnes dans ma famille, ont déterminé l’écrivain que je suis.
I sort of think we’re all kind of a swirl of everything we’ve read, the art we’ve looked at or heard, the life we’ve led, the people we know, the stories we’ve heard, the stories we’ve lived through and the stories we’ve heard secondhand, the fears we’ve had, the desires we’ve had, it’s kind of just swirling around, so when you’re writing it’s not that you’re channeling it in a completely unthinking way, but when I write I’m just sort of moving fence to fence and seeing what bubbles up.
The artificial beginning is interesting to me. There is a clear-cut: old life, that's old country, and here's there's new life, new country. It is an advantage. You are looking at life through an old pair of eyes and a new pair of eyes. And there's always that ambivalence––Where do you belong? And how do you belong? And I do think these are advantages of immigrant writers or writers with two languages or who have two worlds.
And it's something every writer carries in them in their heart. Carries–it's a big statement, but there's a small truth within the kernel of it–carries the history, the geography, the rules and the songs of the place they come from. It's inescapable. And to throw it away or to lose it is a tragedy. And to throw it away is a crime. So, for all my complaints about my native land, I am glad to be in there on that bus because it was a lovely thing to have. There are lot of them driving that bus, I'm just one of the passengers.
All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost was a departure. It’s actually my favorite because it was just a huge pleasure to write. So much fun to write. Nothing to do with my background, my family, it’s all about lived experience and observations I made coming up as a writer. Because for me becoming a writer went hand in hand with me becoming a person.
I hear the slamming of a door, bolted shut, which belongs to a house with a weather-beaten chimney. On the street tinkles the sour moaning of the windows’ metal bars. Street lamps are shining in a depressive state. A seventy-two-year-old helpless loner walks past me.