It’s very hard to write novels. With novels, you never know if it’s going to give you back anything. You’re trying to get the reader to turn the page. You don’t really worry about that with poetry because you know nobody reads it.


There’s a kind of freedom. When I became well known and continued to write novels I was always nervous when I was writing the novel, thinking: Will people resonate with this? I never worry about that with poetry because poetry is perfectly obscure. You know you’re not going to earn a penny, you know it’s out of the commercial world, which is a very important thing. The Japanese believe that when you are an amateur, you do something for love — you make a screen, you print something, you do calligraphy. You don’t think about it in a commercial way. And so the joy of poetry is that it cannot be commercial. And so it feeds the writer.

Erica Jong
Poet to Poet Practice: A Conversation with Erica Jong; Kim Dower interviews Erica Jong

Los Angeles Review of Books 19th December 2018

I don’t relate to standard psychologizing in novels. I don’t really believe that the backstory is the story you need. And I don’t believe it’s more like life to get it — the buildup of “character” through psychological and family history, the whole idea of “knowing what the character wants.” People in real life so often do not know what they want. People trick themselves, lie to themselves, fool themselves. It’s called survival, and self-mythology. I wanted to create a person who felt in her thinking how I think a person might actually think, but through literary language, mine, not stream of consciousness (with all due respect for those experiments), and maybe that’s one trick of it. I don’t do the big hand of God placing people around the Kriegspiel board and claiming to see into their deeper motivations. Even Freud would not do that. He would probably just listen to what they are saying, and let the reader interpret.

I do study Proust, for multiple technical virtuosities but also his swerve, as you say, between characters and in scenes. Certain films can help for that, too, in terms of understanding how multiple conversations at a table, or in a room, can take place and remain separate, and dissonant, and also gather themselves, accidentally, into a collective rhythm and an affect. Altman is very good at that, for instance. So is Jean Renoir. I compared her voice to water above but really it’s about neutrality, as you say. About the tone of the whole, every part has to kind of vibrate on the same internal register. It’s impossible to describe or name that register but I know when something is off from it.

Rachel Kushner
Interview in Guernica 17th February 2014

four or five lines

May 21, 2019

I do find it harder to write now than before, both novels and journalism. When I worked for newspapers, I wasn’t very conscious of every word I wrote, whereas now I am. When I was working for El Espectador in Bogotá, I used to do at least three stories a week, two or three editorial notes every day, and I did movie reviews. Then at night, after everyone had gone home,  I would stay behind writing my novels.  I liked the noise of the Linotype machines, which sounded like rain. If they stopped, and I was left in silence, I wouldn’t be able to work. Now, the output is comparatively small. On a good working day, working from nine o’clock in the morning to two or three in the afternoon, the most I can write is a short paragraph of four or five lines, which I usually tear up the next day.

Gabriel García Márquez
Interviewed by Peter H. Stone
Paris Review Winter 1981

As far as I’m concerned, I believe the subject chooses the writer. I’ve always had the feeling that certain stories imposed themselves on me; I couldn’t ignore them, because in some obscure way, they related to some kind of fundamental experience — I can’t really say how. For example, the time I spent at the Leonico Prado Military School in Lima when I was still a young boy gave me a real need, an obsessive desire to write. It was an extremely traumatic experience which in many ways marked the end of my childhood—the rediscovery of my country as a violent society, filled with bitterness, made up of social, cultural, and racial factions in complete opposition and caught up in sometimes ferocious battle. I suppose the experience had an influence on me; one thing I’m sure of is that it gave rise to the great need in me to create, to invent.

Up until now, it’s been pretty much the same for all my books. I never get the feeling that I’ve decided rationally, cold-bloodedly to write a story. On the contrary, certain events or people, sometimes dreams or readings, impose themselves suddenly and demand attention. That’s why I talk so much about the importance of the purely irrational elements of literary creation. This irrationality must also, I believe, come through to the reader. I would like my novels to be read the way I read the novels I love. The novels that have fascinated me most are the ones that have reached me less through the channels of the intellect or reason than bewitched me. These are stories capable of completely annihilating all my critical faculties so that I’m left there, in suspense. That’s the kind of novel I like to read and the kind of novel I’d like to write.  I think it’s very important that the intellectual element, whose presence is inevitable in a novel, dissolves into the action, into the stories that must seduce the reader not by their ideas but by their colour, by the emotions they inspire, by their element of surprise, and by all the suspense and mystery they’re capable of generating. In my opinion, a novel’s technique exists essentially to produce that effect — to diminish and if possible abolish the distance between the story and the reader. In that sense, I am a writer of the nineteenth century. The novel for me is still the novel of adventures, which is read in the particular way I have described.

Mario Vargas Llosa
Interviewed by Susannah Hunnewell and Ricardo Augusto Setti
Paris Review Fall 1990

Fiction, non-fiction

June 14, 2018


My old reliable Handbook to Literature defines fiction as ”narrative writing drawn from the imagination of the author rather than from history or fact,” though it includes historical fiction, fictional biography, autobiographical history and the roman a clef. There is no entry for nonfiction, but The Random House Dictionary (1987) defines nonfiction as ”narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality.” The term came into general use through the cataloguing of books as recently as 1905.

The first difference I experienced in crossing over from fiction to nonfiction was the publisher’s willingness to draw up a contract on the basis of a scant proposal and tentative outline. As a fiction writer, I had been used to showing anywhere from 50 to 200 polished pages of a novel in progress, though later in the game, when I had five or six novels behind me, I could say, ”My new novel is tentatively titled ——–, and it is going to be about ——–,” and the rider to the ”satisfactory manuscript” clause would then specify only that the finished novel should ”conform to the professional and literary standards” of certain (named) previous novels of mine.

Gail Goodwin
A novelist breaches the border to non-fiction
New York Times 15th January 2001


January 30, 2018

Why should a novel seek for a tidy closure? Novels are inherently rather messy. They use time very differently from drama. Beginning-middle-end isn’t obligatory. They can wander through a whole lifetime, or follow a great circle like Lord of the Rings, or go right on from what seemed a closure (as happened with Earthsea — my mistake!) I have nothing against endings, but I do write in a form that doesn’t take them too seriously.

Ursula K Le Guin
Interview with Lev Grossman

Rabindranath Tagore could be the greatest – he wrote over 1,000 poems, 2,000 songs (two of his songs were chosen as national anthems; one for India the other for Bangladesh), 38 plays, 12 novels, 200 short stories, and essays beyond count, covering, politics, social and cultural issues, education and philosophy.

In 1913 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature (the first time an Asian had won the award). His short stories have been compared to those of Chekhov and Maupassant amongst others. He also produced and directed plays and dance-dramas as well as acting on the stage. His life-long dedication to education resulted in the foundation of both a school for children and a university. In old age he took to drawing and painting, producing over 2,500 works of art, many of which were successfully exhibited across India and Europe.

Rabindranath stated: “Modern civilization has gathered its wealth and missed its well-being” a message he preached on his many lecture tours of the US, Europe, South America, China, Japan, Iran and Iraq.

Rabindranath was one of the world’s great thinkers. “True education must aim at freedom from ignorance of the laws of the universe and freedom from passion and prejudice.” A view I’m sure most of us would subscribe to. He also felt: “Religion should establish unity in diversity” another admirable sentiment we would all do well to follow.

His ideal was the Universal Human Being. A rational, creative, and spiritual individual. He was such a person. His most dominant single quality, which might explain his personality and his genius, was love – first, last, and above all else, he was a lover.

“ My breath will cease,
With these my parting words:
‘How much I have loved!’ “