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Friday, April 17, 2009

Post-Charles Baxter Reading & Conversation at the Bing Theatre, Spokane

Baxter's reading/interview were both so good . . . I mean, I knew he would be good (funny, entertaining, smart as hell, share his new work), but he outdid himself on all counts. 

The Top-10 Highlights: 

1. He was a failed poet and a failed novelist when he took to the short story with a vengeance. 

2. "Stories begin when things start to go wrong. Happiness is boring; not only that, it incites envy in the reader. It's not my business to write about nice people." 

3. "It's best to avoid conflict in your day-to-day life, but in fiction? Conflict has its home in fiction." Just make sure that the conflict is unexplainable/unknowable.

4. We all need an Iago (from Othello) in our stories. (He credited this comment to Vonnegut.)

5.  "Don't create a narrator who has it all figured out. Don't be too clear about motives--cut the point-making and glibness, up the mystery."

6. Baxter must write (1) in front of a window, (2) without a telephone, (3) on a computer not hooked up to the Internet. Otherwise, he'll check his email every 10 minutes.

7. He's a major daydreamer. If a story has staying power, he'll start to write it down. 

8. He suggested writers need to "get down to where your obsessions are" --Theodore Roethke

9. His three failed novels taught him he can't write conceptually; he has to write about folks who live in the midwest, his people. 

10. The Soul Thief, from which he read a chapter, is AMAZINGLY good, and I could tell this despite very little sleep, no dinner (except more of them Bite Me crackers, which are starting to lose their allure . . . )

Okay, off to bed. Tomorrow I am stepping out and actually going to a cafe for breakfast. (I can't eat crackers for breakfast, and that's about all I have left).

P.S. Hats off to Sam Ligon for doing a superb job with the interview questions. 


rams said...

Failed novelist? But...but...The Feast of Love? (Okay, some of the chapters are short stories -- the cement statues -- but they're not the best ones.)

And oh, your starvation sounds like us at AWP. Next time -- Laughing Cow to go with those crackers...

Martha Silano said...

Clarification: he wrote three bad novels, boiled each of them into a short story, then went back to writing novels, for which we can all be grateful.

So, to be telling the world he is a failed novelist is not technically correct, but he did spend several years of his life wondering in the desert, a writer without a home.

Damn, I wish I could be half as humble.