Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"The Dickens of Detroit" is...

...good enough for Saul Bellow and Martin Amis.

LEONARD: I think I should start this book with the main character. Or I start a book with who I think is the main character, but a hundred pages into the book, I say "This guy's not the main character, he's running out of gas; I don't even like him anymore, his attitude; he's changed." But he's changed and there's nothing I could do about it. It's just the kind of person he is. So then I have to bring somebody along fast. Do you run into that?

AMIS: What I do find, and my father Kingsley Amis used to find, is that when you come up against some difficulty, some mechanism in the novel that isn't working, it fills you with despair and you think, "I'm not going to be able to get around this." Then you look back at what you've done, and you find you already have a mechanism in place to get you through this. A minor character, say, who's well placed to get the information across that you need to put across. I always used to think (and he agreed) that: Thank God, writing is much more of an unconscious process than many people think.

...

LEONARD: It's the most satisfying thing I can imagine doing. To write that scene and then read it and it works. I love the sound of it. There's nothing better than that. The notoriety that comes later doesn't compare to the doing of it. I've been doing it for almost 47 years, and I'm still trying to make it better. Even though I know my limitations; I know what I can't do. I know that if I tried to write, say, as an omniscient author, it would be so mediocre. You can do more forms of writing than I can, including essays. My essay would sound, at best, like a college paper.

2 comments:

Generic said...

Worth noting that like RTD, who talks about the writer’s mind as a stew of half-digested matter waiting to be processed, Leonard and the Amises see writing as a groping, half-unconscious process. I know for a fact, even from the comparatively low-level stuff I do, that this view is correct. We often write not to state what we already think or believe, but to find out what we think or believe. Some folks who read but don't write seem to be shocked and/or disillusioned by this, as if their idols have let them down. If a writer is startled at times by their own characters, if there turn out to be potentialities in the people they invented that only emerge when the creators have worked through the steps of bringing them to the surface, this means that they are, what, amateurs, fakes, hacks? Say instead that the writer’s research project has been successful: the writer posed a question to himself in the form of a puzzling character, and ended up with an answer of some kind. What could be more exhilarating than that?

Generic said...

I will admit that characters take over the story or act on their own is an overstatement. Probably. Who knows how this stuff feels like at the highest levels? Davis is pretty convincing when he said that he didn't know what the Jessica Stevenson character in Bob & Rose was doing in the story until Bob left the room.