Any weird things you do when you’re alone?
Binge watch Star Trek. I’m not quite half way through Voyager. I thought I was catching up, but now there’s that whole new series on the CBS streaming service. sigh.
What is your favorite quote and why?
Peter Senge. “Enormous detail complexity renders any rational system inherently incomplete.” This sums up for me the folly of much of human endeavor.
Who is your favorite author and why?
It’s probably a tie between Erica Jong and Joseph Campbell. I own nearly everything they each wrote, with the exception of Campbell’s multi-volume encyclopedia of mythology. I think that each of them, in their whole canon of work, measures the breadth and plumbs the depth of human experience. The fact that they come at it from opposite directions I think gives me a great balance.
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Voice. Story telling. Mastery of the idiom. Grammar and syntax. In that order. Voice is what turns words into conversation, dry black-and-white markings into something that carries the reader along. Then you need to tell the story – even if it’s only the story of what went on during an experiment or the story of how to assemble a piece of furniture. All the good word usage and sentence structure in the world doesn’t help if you don’t know how to take the reader from point A to point B.
It’s important to use some common sense when you employ the idiom. Nothing destroys my confidence in what a person is saying like misuse of the idiom. For example, how many people say “out of pocket” when they mean “out of touch, unavailable, out of the office, off the grid”? They are reaching for a hip phrase because they don’t want to sound pedestrian. We think in language; sloppy use of the language shows sloppy thinking.
Grammar and syntax come last for me. I think to a great extent they are replaced by voice. If I can hear what I’m writing and it sounds good, the writing is probably not going to offend too many English teachers. The rules of writing are to help the writer avoid constructions that trip up the reader and get in the way of understanding.
And what is [written] well and what is [written] badly – need we ask Lysias, or any other poet or orator who ever wrote or will write either a political or any other work, in metre or out of metre, poet or prose writer, to teach us this?– Plato, Phaedrus
Where did you get the idea for this book?
Part of the answer is the writing process itself. Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird writes about the importance of letting your characters tell you their stories. Erica Jong took it a step further in Any Woman's Blues by adding margin notes in which the author and the character argue about the direction the story is going. It's not the character complaining to the author, but the author complaining about where the character is going.
Following that advice, I just sat down with a yellow pad and a Parker fountain pen and started writing. No one was more surprised than I when Dottie started telling me a story about waking up on October Mountain in a snowstorm and realizing that she had been drugged and raped. But it didn't occur to me to question her until my wife Doris, the first to read chapters, questioned me. So I asked Dottie and her answer became part of my book blurb. She said that millions of women, hundreds every day, have stories of rape that never get told. She told her story because she could. Because she had to. Because maybe people would hear in a work of fiction a Truth that they could not hear in any other way.