I adore the Paris Review’s ‘Art of Fiction’ interviews. Long, rambling, instructional, irrelevant, earnest and tragic, befuddling and enlightening. They bring out the best and the worst in their subjects, allowing them the luxury of their own words about their own writing.
In the Winter 2010 Issue of Paris Review, there’s an interview with one of my favourite authors: Louise Erdrich. Among many other things, she says:
I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing and the words are everything.
With a child you certainly can’t be a Bruce Chatwin or a Hemingway, living the adventurer-writer life. No running with the bulls at Pamplona. If you value your relationships with your children, you can’t write about them. You have to make up other, less convincing children. There is also one’s inclination to be charming instead of presenting a grittier truth about the world. But then, having children has also made me this particular writer. Without my children, I’d have written with less fervor; I wouldn’t understand life in the same way. I’d write fewer comic scenes, which are the most challenging. I’d probably have become obsessively self-absorbed, or slacked off. Maybe I’d have become an alcoholic. Many of the writers I love most were alcoholics. I’ve made my choice, I sometimes think: Wonderful children instead of hard liquor.
Go, read it, and then read as much of her work as you can gulp down in a summer storm. Start with A Plague of Doves, or Blue Jay’s Dance or Antelope Wife. You could start by reading her first short story, ‘Saint Marie’ online here. Who can resist a short story whose first line is ‘So when I went there, I knew the dark fish must rise’?
Hell, start anywhere. Just read her work. You will feel the hair rise on the back of your neck.