By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
One of the things that happens in your stories is that people start out one place and they end up someplace else they could never have dreamed of — often someplace treacherous. Like Janice in "Charity," who’s on vacation in the Southwest with Richard, probably had no idea that she’d end up in bed with most of a strange, semihomeless family.
Sometimes when I’m teaching, I see my students get so sentimental about their characters. I think you’ve got to be willing to destroy your characters in a short story. You’ve got to get their life, if not the beginning, then the middle and the end. You wrap them all up somehow. They do go on, but you’ve got their essence. I’m done with my characters by the time I’m finished with a story.
I’m interested in the confidence you have in your associative abilities, so that you’re able to have these stories go to such strange, unpredictable places.
I think intuition and those correspondences are so important to a writer, so important, and I don’t know how you’d nurture them or how you keep them or renew them. And I think a lot of writers don’t depend a lot on them and they’re actually in better shape in a way. [Laughs.] Nothing then can dry up, they’ve got a narrative gene, or something: The train leaves, without relying on associative bursts.
You imply there’s a distinction between the narrative gene and a writer’s ability to work with associations, intuitions and correspondences. . .
Well, I think that writers are constantly working against their strengths. Whenever I find I can do something fairly well, I begin to think of it as a crutch and a gimmick. I think lots of writers — and I think I’m one — once they know how to do something, want to avoid it, and try to do something else, get at it some other way.
It’s like what Tolstoy said after publishingWar and Peace: I vow never to write such trash again...
Or Katherine Mansfield, who totally dismissed her work. She wanted to continue to write, but she wanted to write only stories that would be worthy enough to show to God.
I’d rather die than write under that kind of pressure.
Yeah, well, a hemorrhage came soon after that.
If writers are constantly working against their strengths, what are you working against (or toward) presently?
Upon reflection, I would have to be crazy to want to work against any strength I might think I have. But when a strength becomes a mere habit of style, it shouldn’t be utilized.
You write about places and things most of us would prefer not to dwell on: sickrooms, rest homes, pistol ranges, taxidermy museums, landscapes in the throes of environmental degradation, hopeless parents, brutal kids. Writing about it puts you right up against this stuff. I’m wondering, how do you cope?
I don’t cope very well!
One of the blurbs on your novelThe Quick and the Deadsays that "the brilliantly controlled style [is] informed by a powerful spiritual vision." What do you consider the spiritual elements in your fiction — and your nonfiction, for that matter?
That word. A boulder in the path. Meister Eckhart said that the angel, the gnat and the human mind all have an equal model in God. Which would mean wolves and trees and boulders too. Then Meister Eckhart went on to say that God is nothing. So there we are.
My essays may have a bit of fire-and-brimstone fervor. But if you can’t screech and carry on and exhort in an essay, where can you? Stories have to be a lot more subtle.
Katherine Mansfield found spirituality in her pursuit of Gurdjieff’s teachings. As I said, she professed nothing but scorn for all she had written previously and wanted to write only those stories she could show to God. She died at Gurdjieff’s establishment in France of a massive hemorrhage. For a writer, spirituality has its perils.
HONORED GUEST: Stories| By JOY WILLIAMS | Knopf | 224 pages $23 hardcover