Ramblings & ephemera

Kurt Vonnegut on the conventions found in plots

From David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, & Richard Rhodes’s interview of Kurt Vonnegut in “The Art of Fiction No. 64” (The Paris Review: Spring 1977, No. 69): INTERVIEWER Let’s talk about the women in your books. VONNEGUT There aren’t any. No real women, no love. INTERVIEWER Is this worth expounding upon? VONNEGUT It’s a […]

Kurt Vonnegut on using our talents

From David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, & Richard Rhodes’s interview of Kurt Vonnegut in “The Art of Fiction No. 64” (The Paris Review: Spring 1977, No. 69): I bawled [my daughter] out one time for not doing more with the talents she had. She replied that having talent doesn’t carry with it the obligation […]

John Steinbeck on finishing a book

From Nathaniel Benchley’s interview of John Steinbeck in “The Art of Fiction No. 45” (The Paris Review: Fall 1969, No. 48): I truly do not care about a book once it is finished. Any money or fame that results has no connection in my feeling with the book. The book dies a real death for […]

Joseph Heller on the necessity of limits on writing

From George Plimpton’s interview of Joseph Heller in “The Art of Fiction No. 51” (The Paris Review: Winter 1974, No. 60): There’s an essay of T. S. Eliot’s in which he praises the disciplines of writing, claiming that if one is forced to write within a certain framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost […]

James Dickey on Philip Larkin

From Franklin Ashley’s interview of James Dickey in “The Art of Poetry No. 20” (The Paris Review: Spring 1976, No. 65): INTERVIEWER: We’ve talked a good deal about American poets, but English poets are always on the scene; some critics contend that the best contemporary English poet is Philip Larkin. DICKEY: Oh, my Lord. Philip […]

James Dickey on the personalities of poets

From Franklin Ashley’s interview of James Dickey in “The Art of Poetry No. 20” (The Paris Review: Spring 1976, No. 65): INTERVIEWER: You’ve known a great many poets personally. Do you find some common characteristic—in their madness, their vision, their discipline? DICKEY: I would have to put the answer in the form of a paradox. […]

James M. Cain on writing editorials

From David Zinsser’s interview of James M. Cain in “The Art of Fiction No. 69” (The Paris Review: Spring-Summer 1978, No. 73): Editorials (we called them idiotorials) were written by trained seals whose only qualifications were that they be in favor of motherhood and against the man-eating shark.

James Dickey on why he wrote Deliverance

From Franklin Ashley’s interview of James Dickey in “The Art of Poetry No. 20” (The Paris Review: Spring 1976, No. 65): I wrote Deliverance as a story where under the conditions of extreme violence people find out things about themselves that they would have no other means of knowing. The late John Berryman, who was […]

Anthony Burgess on satire

From John Cullinan’s interview of Anthony Burgess in “The Art of Fiction No. 48” (The Paris Review: Spring 1973, No. 56): Satire is a difficult medium, ephemeral unless there’s tremendous vitality in the form itself—like Absalom and Achitophel, Tale of a Tub, Animal Farm: I mean, the work has to subsist as story or poetry […]

Anthony Burgess on his ideal reader

From John Cullinan’s interview of Anthony Burgess in “The Art of Fiction No. 48” (The Paris Review: Spring 1973, No. 56): The ideal reader of my novels is a lapsed Catholic and failed musician, short-sighted, color-blind, auditorily biased, who has read the books that I have read. He should also be about my age.

Anthony Burgess on artists dying young

From John Cullinan’s interview of Anthony Burgess in “The Art of Fiction No. 48” (The Paris Review: Spring 1973, No. 56): I think America likes its artists to die young, in atonement for materialist America’s sins. The English leave the dying young to Celts like Dylan Thomas and Behan.

William Burroughs on how he gathers material for writing

From Conrad Knickerbocker’s interview of William S. Burroughs in “The Art of Fiction No. 36” (The Paris Review: Fall 1965, No. 35): For exercise, when I make a trip, such as from Tangier to Gibraltar, I will record this in three columns in a notebook I always take with me. One column will contain simply […]

James Ellroy on how he writes

From Nathaniel Rich’s “Interviews: James Ellroy, The Art of Fiction No. 201” (The Paris Review: Fall 2009): I begin by sitting in the dark. I used to sleep on the living-room couch. There was a while when that was the only place I felt safe. My couch is long because I’m tall, and it needs […]

2 great examples of Tom Wolfe’s early New Journalism writing style

From Tom Wolfe’s “The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!” (Esquire: March 1965): Ten o’clock Sunday morning in the hills of North Carolina. Cars, miles of cars, in every direction, millions of cars, pastel cars, aqua green, aqua blue, aqua beige, aqua buff, aqua dawn, aqua dusk, aqua aqua, aqua Malacca, Malacca lacquer, Cloud […]

A fine example of bad writing: repeated details

From Keith Phipps’s “Treasure Of The Black Falcon, by John Coleman Burroughs” (The Onion AV Club: 25 March 2010): Burroughs’ circuitous prose, which reads as if he absorbed the paid-by-the-word style of his dad’s early work, doesn’t help. Opening the book at random, I found this passage: The air was warm, humid, sultry. Everywhere the […]

Robert A. Heinlein on writing

From Cory Doctorow’s “How Heinlein plotted” (Boing Boing: 22 July 2010): My notion of a story is an interesting situation in which a human being has to cope with a problem, does so, and thereby changed his personality, character, or evaluations in some measure because the coping has forced him to revise his thinking. How […]

Luther & Poe both complained about too many books

From Clay Shirky’s “Does The Internet Make You Smarter?” (The Wall Street Journal: 5 June 2010): In the history of print … complaints about distraction have been rampant; no less a beneficiary of the printing press than Martin Luther complained, “The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no measure of limit to […]

David Foster Wallace on what’s wrong with memoirs, celebrity profiles, & academic writing

From Dwight Garner’s “We Are In a State of Three-Alarm Emergency” (The New York Times Paper Cuts Blog: 11 September 2007): In his brooding and kaleidoscopic introduction to the new “Best American Essays 2007” – a 5,000-word chunk of it is online – David Foster Wallace doesn’t write so much as shred (in the Jerry […]

Religion, God, history, morality

From Steve Paulson’s interview with Robert Wright, “God, He’s moody” (Salon: 24 June 2009): Do you think religions share certain core principles? Not many. People in the modern world, certainly in America, think of religion as being largely about prescribing moral behavior. But religion wasn’t originally about that at all. To judge by hunter-gatherer religions, […]

Malcolm Gladwell on training to be a journalist

From Alex Altman’s “Q&A: Author Malcolm Gladwell” (TIME: 20 October 2009): If you had a single piece of advice to offer young journalists, what would it be? The issue is not writing. It’s what you write about. One of my favorite columnists is Jonathan Weil, who writes for Bloomberg. He broke the Enron story, and […]