No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better. (Fail Bigger).
“Prepare to make the imaginative leap. But you must be prepared to work and in particular to research. It is all about desire, stamina, perseverance.”
For Gogol, the true, unwritten last line of every story is: “And nothing was ever the same again.”
Argh! Novel Panic! Beware! Beware!
Find the most obscure detail and make it yours! Find the small detail that reveals the wider world.
No ideas but in things. For example, what is “joy?” Joy is an idea (or an emotion). But how to represent joy? What “thing” might convey joy? How about a table of writers singing Irish drinking songs and show tune classics around Norman Mailer’s dining room table on a Friday night in summertime after a week of hard workshopping? Yes! Carouse and tumult, song and toasts.
“I came home on a Tuesday night, as drunk as drunk could be …”
“Is that bottle nailed to the table down there?!”
“Art is a way of coping with the world by bringing it under the microscope of detail.”
“The specific must reveal the grand canvas.”
What is the moment of the story?
Reflections on Colum McCann
Imp grin, eye twinkle, mirth and high jinx (he pick-pocketed a stranger’s wallet because he could … and then gave it back). Broad smiles, shouts, the wisdom of enthusiasm, an enthusiasm for wisdom.
Surfeit of empathy. The result of creating such realized characters? Because he can put himself in the shoes of his characters, it follows that he’s able to put himself in the shoes of those with whom he interacts – workshop attendees, university students, friends, other writers, reference librarians.
Always send a thank-you note! The power of expressed gratitude.
Vast reading! A deep knowledge of the work of others. All week referencing particular works to illustrate a given discussion. He was familiar with just about all the authors & novels we brought up in discussions. Astounding! A small list:
Michael Ontaatje Coming Through Slaughter
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Malantes
DeLillo, in particular Underworld (he considers it the most important novel of the last 25 years)
Stoner by John Williams
Redemption Falls by Joseph O’Connor
Aleksander “Sasha” Hemon
Roddy Doyle for dialog
A force at the table! Songs songs songs. Fill the glass, raise your glass, give us a song! A poem! Give us a poem! Read the poets. When you’re stuck, read the poets. As research for place/time/setting, read the poets.
Read Read READ. There is no substitute, no alternative, no shortcuts.
Standing on the street in front of the Mailer House waiting for the Gay & Lesbian Carnival Parade to come down Commercial Street, we talked. He rode a bicycle around the United States in 1986, from Massachusetts to Florida to New Orleans and into Mexico. This was before he’d published any fiction. He kept journals of the ride but has no intentions of publishing from them. He threw away scads of early written work as worthless, embarrassing. He admitted to doing the Kerouac thing – he actually bought a huge role of paper that he fed into his typewriter a la “the Scroll.” His view on Kerouac today? Relevance has diminished with time. His favorite Kerouac is “The Dharma Bums.” He called it “kind.”
“I came home on a Thursday night, as drunk as drunk could be …”
Firm handshake. Eye contact. No guile there. The glow of the Wide Embrace.
From Let the Great World Spin: “Good days, they come around the oddest corners.”