When we first started dating, almost thirteen years ago, my husband bought me a gift subscription to iconic journal The Paris Review, which he has faithfully renewed every year. I can take or leave most of their short fiction, but every issue has at least one interview with a writer and for these alone the subscription is worth its weight in gold.
Though I find Rick Moody’s writing a little patchy (glorious, perceptive moments interspersed with meandering slightly-off-topic passages), I really loved this interview with him in The Paris Review.
I was really taken with his whacky irreverent quip (in the image above) about why he started writing – it makes the pontificating other writers do on that subject seem rather so pretentious by comparison.
On Writing and Ageing
On a more serious note, this is a lovely thought:
As you get older and more sympathetic about other people, you get better at imagining.
On Visceral Vs Cerebral Writing
Though I’m not sure I understand what it means, I found this a fascinating notion:
The best work, for me, has to come from organs that are removed from the brain: liver, pancreas, pituitary gland.
On Writing Rules
If you feel constrained by ‘shoulds’ in writing, this is liberating:
The modernist notion that anything is possible, the postmodernist notion that everything is exhausted, the post-postmodernist notion that since everything is exhausted, everything is permitted.
On Writing Routines
And I don’t believe this would work for me, but it’s always refreshing to open yourself to different approaches to writing:
I’m against schedules. Write when you feel excited by the prospect. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Over the last few years I’ve found myself in a number of conversations about books which don’t appear to have been very assiduously edited; whether because they are just overly long, or loose in places where they need to be tight. One theory I have is that writers and editors now rarely have the trust that comes from working together for many years, and that editors are thus perhaps a little afraid to rigorously work over books by already-successful authors. Or perhaps the industry model demands the churning out of books at an ever faster rate, not always allowing editors the time they need to do their jobs properly. I think a trusted reader who can be honest about what’s not working is an essential companion for every writer. And I liked what Moody had to say on this subject:
It’s important for me to have someone read the work who won’t let me get away with things.
My first two novels, A New Map of the Universe, and Whiskey & Charlie (published in Australia as Whisky Charlie Foxtrot) might most conveniently be described as contemporary realist literary fiction. My third novel, The Ark, might be described as a digital, interactive novel, with an experimental structure, set in the near-future. I have never yet ‘decided’ to write a novel in a certain form or genre. An idea takes hold of me and seems to come with a storytelling mode that seems like a perfect fit. I don’t believe labels like ‘realist’ or ‘science-fiction’ are very useful in truthfully conveying what my books are really about. For despite their seeming differences, at heart, they all explore the same thing: how humans behave when under pressure; whether crisis brings out their best or their worst; whether they have the capacity to heal, or change, or grow. So Moody’s thoughts on genre resonated with me. Here is the full quote:
My feeling is that literature, or the sort of specialization in genre that we experience now in literature, is like the cooling down of the universe. When language was first used to try to entrap human experience and render it, this gesture was before genre. Sure, as the literary universe cools towards its absolute zero, there is genre . . . and using different genres to do different things is appropriate and exciting. Each genre is a relief from the other. But the anticategorical truth is more complex. I want to be back at the big bang. I want to evade naming and hierarchies. So, I don’t even think of my poems as poems, and I’m sure there are a lot of poets who don’t think of them as poems either. They’re just things that I started doing that made me laugh. I don’t think of The Black Veil as nonfiction. These tendencies, which appear various, are therefore one tendency—delight in language. Let taxonomists figure out what it means.
If any of these quotes speak to your practice as a writer, I recommend you read the whole interview. And check out some of the other amazing interviews in the archive while you’re at it. It’s a veritable treasure trove!