What I write, and why

What I write is the novel. Why write the novel? Because it is the most exciting thing in the world. It is a world, the next best thing to being god of my own universe. Writers dream awake, just like readers. I call up a world and if I take good enough notes, you can come along on the long strange trip that’s the real reason that I write.

Stephen King, in On Writing, said it best of all: writing is telepathy. As I think about this particular night in July, a thick Midwestern night with trees tossing and fans blowing and the world strange under pools of lamplight and dark between, if I describe it well enough I can call it up for you. I can invite you in and you can walk around in it.

I read for enjoyment on the first pass, industrial espionage on the subsequent ones. If I enjoy a book, it has things to teach me. I’m fascinated as well by the interaction of books with their times.

The best novels, the ones I love the best anyway, are worlds unto themselves. Nothing chills my ardor faster than finding a thin place in a fictional world, a place where walls buckle as if they were cardboard, where the sky shows itself as fluorescent light. I need to believe that if I step through that door, I’ll find another room; that the character who just walked through the scene has a life independent of the proceedings here, both before the entrance and after the exit.

To step upon the dueling ground: I don’t recognize ‘pulp’ versus ‘literary’ fiction, but if I had to choose a side, I’d stand with the pulp folks, because they’ve got earth under their feet and the weight of thousands of years of storytelling behind them. I’ll be writing about this and other issues in a series of posts called ‘Border Skirmishes’.

Then to take the opposite point of view: I found the discussion of ‘literary merit’ and ‘canon’ very off-putting when I was in secondary school, but since then, I have found numerous works of literary criticism that have been useful and even inspiring for my work as an artist. I’ll be writing about some of them in an upcoming post called ‘The Best Books for Writers … That Aren’t’.

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