I have missed listening to Radio National’s Book Show of late. I seem to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time for over a month.
If today’s program is a guide then I have missed an enormous amount of good stuff!
Jonathan Franzen was the guest and in a repeat of an interview from November 2010 he discussed his work, including his new novel Freedom, with Ramona Koval. My attention was grabbed in his first response when asked about his championing of Paula Fox‘s work:
You know, you enter a dark wood at a certain point in your life and things start falling apart; your life is not what you expected it to be. And if you encounter a book that really speaks to where you are at that moment, it’s a life-changing encounter, and that happened to me with Desperate Characters. I just thought, ‘Why have I not heard of this book?’ I have not read a better novel written by an American since 1945. It was an incredible book, and it was out of print, so I started vacuuming up all these sort of second-hand copies, and wrote about my experience. And people paid attention to that and now of course she’s back in print; she has a new book coming out this fall.
Amongst other gems in the interview was a passing mention to Jonathan’s Ten Rules for Writing shared with The Guardian:
- The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
- Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
- Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.
- Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
- When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
- The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than “The Metamorphosis”.
- You see more sitting still than chasing after.
- It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
- Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
- You have to love before you can be relentless.
I was very interested in his discussion of observation too:
I’m not one of those writers who walks around with a little notebook and is kind of sitting in cafes studying people and taking detailed notes. I chastise myself for being too much of an amateur to do that, or not having the discipline. I did notice, I got a new glasses’ prescription a couple of weeks ago and I got these progressives, which are very good for reading and also seeing for distance, but one thing they don’t have—it’s a very narrow little part of the lens that you actually use, so much of the lens is just blurry. And I’ve noticed that I just, I can’t stand walking down a sidewalk anymore. Because I realise that all the time my eyes are kind of looking sideways at people, and I can’t do that because now they’re all blurry and you can’t… What the optician tells you is, ‘Oh you just have to turn your head and look at them,’ and I say, ‘Precisely not! I want to see them without their seeing that I’m looking at them and that requires these kind of sidelong glances.’ And I realised as soon as I put these glasses on, I must be doing that constantly when I’m walking down the sidewalk.
It was a wonderful way to spend thirty-five minutes on a road journey. Fortunately in the light of Number 8 on Jonathan’s ten writing tips I am writing a report of his interview rather than a fictional account.