Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Patrick on Pivotal Books

Patrick Shawn Bagley asked a bunch of authors to comment on their “pivotal books.”

He says:
"It was a slightly different take on the “book that made me want to be a writer” theme—which has been done a gozillion times. What interested me were the books which, when read by someone who was already writing, affected the direction of that reader’s work."

I like the idea of considering, as a writer, our path's turns. No one I know has written in a straight line. (If they did, a lot of women would still be trying to rewrite THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER and I guess guys would be writing DUNE...or something like that.) Sometimes we make abrupt shifts, even U-turns - and other times we veer gently.

There are so many factors at play. For me, it's been revelations about myself coupled with a decreasing appetite/tolerance for other people's approval/input/censure. Pretty typical - that's just another way of saying that as I get older, I write more like me.

One such shift came pretty early in my writing life. Here's what I wrote in response to Patrick's question:
When I stumbled on an early short story collection by T. Coraghessan Boyle in the 1980s - not even sure which it was, though a quick search gets me thinking it might have been Descent of Man - I was riveted. I was in my first year or two of college, home for the summer, broke, bored, and trolling for something new at the local library. I was shocked that you could write in such an unvarnished way about human appetites and still get published. There was also an element of emotional violence in Boyle's work that struck a resounding chord in me, one which, it turns out, later formed the basis for most of my own work. Also, some of the stories were also just so wonderfully, unapologetically, fantastically weird. I had certainly never heard of magical realism and, if I had, would have assumed it wasn't allowed in Missouri.

I wondered which of the librarians had test-driven the book - I was under the impression there was some round-table vetting process - and hoped I would not meet her eye by accident, because surely she would know: reading the book, I was convinced, had marked me forever.

In those days I felt deeply ashamed that I was so viscerally attracted to raw writing. A decade later, books like Mona Simpson's Anywhere But Here made me see that you could reveal the drama at the core of human relationships without necessarily having to introduce sex and violence into the story. Though damn if those don't make handy story elements.

1 comment:

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