As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.
As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.
I’m doing less personal writing now than I used to for a very simple obvious reason. You use up your childhood, unless you’re able, like William Maxwell, to keep going back and finding wonderful new levels in it. The deep, personal material of the latter half of your life is your children. You can write about your parents when they’re gone, but your children are still going to be here, and you’re going to want them to come and visit you in the nursing home. Maybe it’s advisable to move on to writing those stories that are more observation.
I learned that [Italo Calvino] had already tried out—and flunked—one English translator, and I wanted to know the reason for my colleague’s dismissal. Indiscreetly, Calvino showed me the correspondence. One of the stories in the volume was called “Without Colors.” In an excess of misguided originality, the translator had entitled the piece “In Black and White.” Calvino’s letter of dismissal pointed out that black and white are colors. I signed on.
My last assigned book of the semester is Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities,” a canonical work that I’ve been assigned segments of before in many writing classes. However, after reading it all the way through I feel that it’s a disservice to assign loose chapters. It’s so powerful as a whole, and I fear that everything revolutionary that he did in this book will be lost if you only read a chapter or two - there’s no way to feel the full effect. Anyway, as I was doing research on Calvino for my response papers, I came across his Art of Fiction in the Paris Review. I always love the Art of Fictions, and his was no exception. Here is a few paragraphs on his thoughts before the interview, which detail his everyday problems with writing. (Mostly I’m enjoying this because it makes me feel less bad about my own.)
Every morning I tell myself, Today has to be productive—and then something happens that prevents me from writing. Today … what is there that I have to do today? Oh yes, they are supposed to come interview me. I am afraid my novel will not move one single step forward. Something always happens. Each morning I already know I will be able to waste the whole day. There is always something to do: go to the bank, the post office, pay some bills … always some bureaucratic tangle I have to deal with. While I am out I also do errands such as the daily shopping: buying bread, meat, or fruit. First thing, I buy newspapers. Once one has bought them, one starts reading as soon as one is back home—or at least looking at the headlines to persuade oneself that there is nothing worth reading. Every day I tell myself that reading newspapers is a waste of time, but then … I cannot do without them. They are like a drug. In short, only in the afternoon do I sit at my desk, which is always submerged in letters that have been awaiting answers for I do not even know how long, and that is another obstacle to be overcome.
Eventually I get down to writing and then the real problems begin. If I start something from scratch, that is the most difficult moment, but even if it is something I started the day before, I always reach an impasse where a new obstacle needs to be overcome. And it is only in the late afternoon that I finally begin to write sentences, correct them, cover them with erasures, fill them with incidental clauses, and rewrite. At that very moment the telephone or doorbell usually rings and a friend, translator, or interviewer arrives. Speaking of which … this afternoon … the interviewers … I do not know if I will have the time to prepare. I could try to improvise but I believe an interview needs to be prepared ahead of time to sound spontaneous. Rarely does an interviewer ask questions you did not expect. I have given a lot of interviews and I have concluded that the questions always look alike. I could always give the same answers. But I believe I have to change my answers because with each interview something has changed either inside myself or in the world. An answer that was right the first time may not be right again the second. This could be the basis of a book. I am given a list of questions, always the same; every chapter would contain the answers I would give at different times. The changes would contain the answers I would give at different times. The changes would then become the itinerary, the story that the protagonist lives. Perhaps in this way I could discover some truths about myself.
But I must go home—the time approaches for the interviewers to arrive.
God help me!
Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.
Memory belongs to the imagination. Human memory is not like a computer that records things; it is part of the imaginative process, on the same terms as invention. In other words, inventing a character or recalling a memory is part of the same process. This is very clear in Proust: For him there is no difference between lived experience—his relationship with his mother, and so forth—and his characters. Exactly the same type of truth is involved
The trouble with emergencies is that I always put on my finest underwear and then nothing happens.
What kept me going was food. And booze. And music. (The things that still keep me going.)
I didn’t necessarily know that I was writing a book. I was just writing one story after another. Ultimately, the stories I didn’t throw out accumulated to a book-length quantity of pages, and I sent those out. I think if I’d been concentrating on the volume, rather than each story in its own right, I never would have finished it.
I was in my MFA program and I had two part-time jobs. You’re in a program, so the telos of the program is you’re supposed to generate a body of work. I’d also been on a pretty strict reading schedule. For the last three or four years or so, I was trying to read a book every other day and I would write the book down and what I as a reader took away from it — I still have the notebook. What happened was, after a couple hundred books I began to have an organic inspiration about how I might create a book.