Bomb: The Author Interviews by Bomb MagazineBomb: The Author Interviews by Bomb Magazine

Bomb: The Author Interviews

byBomb Magazine

Paperback | January 3, 2017

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Drawing on 30 years of BOMB Magazine, this anthology of interviews brings together some of the greatest figures of world literature for a brilliant and unforgettable collection of sharp, insightful and intimate author conversations.

Here we have a conversation with Jonathan Franzen, still an unknown author, on the eve of the publication of The Corrections; and one with Roberto Bolaño, near the end of his life. Lydia Davis and Francine Prose break down the intricacies of Davis's methods;  Edwidge Danticat and Junot Díaz discuss the power of Caribbean diasporic fiction. This anthology brings together some of the greatest figures of world literature for a brilliant and unforgettable collection of sharp, insightful and intimate author conversations.

From the Hardcover edition.
BOMB Magazine, a breakout publication born of the early '80s New York's downtown art scene, offers intimate and outspoken artist-to-artist conversations. For 32 years, BOMB has kept an eager readership informed of and engaged with the most important innovators in art, literature, music, theater, and film. BOMB offers a quarterly magazi...
Title:Bomb: The Author InterviewsFormat:PaperbackDimensions:480 pages, 8.3 × 5.5 × 1.3 inPublished:January 3, 2017Publisher:Soho PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1616958111

ISBN - 13:9781616958114

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Read from the Book

An excerpt from the Lydia Davis and Francine Prose interviewFRANCINE PROSE Do you remember learning to read?LYDIA DAVIS Yes, and my memories of the Dick and Jane books are very happy memories. I loved learning the words “look” and “see”: “Run, Jane, run. See Jane run.” It was so clear and easy and unconfusing and neat. Actually I spent my second grade year in Austria. I had one year of learning to read in English and then I learned to read in German. I still have the German textbooks in which the letters got smaller and smaller as the pages progressed through the book.FP How sadistic!LD That’s right, very sadistic.FP Do you think about the rhythms of Dick and Jane?LD I always liked clarity and simplicity and balance. All rhythms can be seductive. I was attuned to the music of language as well as the music of music. Learning another language when I was seven probably made me hyperconscious of language; also the German language in the classroom was a wall of incomprehensibility around me. Gradually the words began to have meaning. But first I heard the language as rhythm.FP So do you write for rhythm now?LD Yes, it’s always rhythm. I always hear it in my head.FP There are lots of books that make me think: I don’t care what’s in them as long as they’re written beautifully.LD In fact Beckett said somewhere that he didn’t care what a text said as long as it was constructed beautifully, or something like that—all of meaning, all of beauty is in the construction.FP It’s rare that people pay attention to that any more. What were your favorite books when you were a kid? Do you remember?LD A turning point for me was Dos Passos’ Orient Express. That was one of the first “grown-up” books that made me excited about the language. It was one of the first I wasn’t reading for plot. Another was The Unnamable by Beckett. I got into that at thirteen.FP You read Beckett at thirteen?LD Yeah, I didn’t read the whole thing.FP Where did you find it?LD My father was an English professor, and somehow it must have been in the house. It made a very strong impression because it was so different from anything I had read. I opened this book and it said on the first page, “I’m lying here. I’ve dropped my pencil.” Later, in high school, I would go through one novelist after another—Nabokov, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Dostoevsky, Joyce—and read everything.FP Do you think about Beckett a lot now?LD He was very important to me in my early twenties. I studied him. I was really picking apart sentence structures, seeing exactly how he constructed a sentence. Why it worked so beautifully. I suppose I wanted to do it as well as Beckett. So if I was going to do it as well as he did, I had to learn how he did it.FP So you knew you wanted to write?LD I knew from a very early age—maybe twelve—but the funny thing wasthat it was more of a burden than a pleasure.FP (laughter) How prescient.LD Right. I knew it would be a lot of hard work. Like a Chinese emperor, the child knowing he’s going to grow up to be emperor. He may not really want to, but has no choice in the matter. I wasn’t reconciled or really content with the idea until I was in my twenties. As a child, what I really loved was music! I enjoyed writing a story when I had to write one, but what I really sought out was music.FP Playing the piano?LD Playing the piano, and I loved listening to music. I would listen to a record over and over again. Then I would go out and get the score and listen to the record with the score because I wanted to get as deeply into it as I could. I didn’t go into my room and write stories or write a novel the way some kids do. I spent all my time on music.FP If you had to think of a modern writer . . . who’s the closest to music? Beckett and Joyce often seem to be writing more for the music of the language than for content.LD How about Nabokov? Do you include him?FP Well Nabokov, yes, he’s sort of like Bartók. What was the first thing you wrote, the first thing you thought was really something?LD I can remember a day when the teacher read aloud my story and also a story by a classmate. I loved her story. I wasn’t so fond of mine. So I can say her story was a big influence on me, the first thing that I really remember liking. You know the book Iron and Silk where the English teacher asks a class of Chinese students to describe their most memorable experience? One of the students hesitates and hesitates and finally says that his most memorable experience was when his wife went to Beijing and ate duck there. He didn’t go. She went, but that was his most memorable experience.FP I can remember some dreadful little moralistic tales that I wrote in grade school and horrible little love poems in high school.LD In high school I was more excited by essays because I was discovering how to think things through and come to new thoughts.FP When did the stories in Break It Down start?LD The earliest ones were written about ten or twelve years before they were published. They were written when I was in France after college. I was having trouble writing a traditional narrative story. There was one long story that I worked on endlessly. Looking back at the notebooks, I realize it took me over two years to finish it, trying another version and another version. In the meantime, I started doing these very short stories to break myself out of the rut of not writing or resisting writing. I told myself: You have to write two tiny stories every day. It didn’t matter how silly they were, I just had to finish two one-paragraph stories.FP This is probably an impossible question, but when you say a story’s “not working” or “working,” what does that mean?LD It’s flat. It’s dull. There were two stories, one called “What Was Interesting.”FP Oh, I love that story.LD The other was “The Center of the Story.” Both of those didn’t work as they were. The core of the story didn’t work. I left them alone for a long time. The way I rescued them was to come back and address the question as a part of the story. Why isn’t it working? The problem with one of them was that it had no center. The problem with the other was that it just wasn’t interesting enough.FP Speaking of “What Was Interesting,” why do you think that obsessive love is such an interesting subject? It’s not in fact a condition that people find themselves in all the time, or even most of the time. And yet it’s always somehow riveting, and a number of the stories in Break It Down are about that.LD It’s one of the first things we experience when we’re changing from being children to being adolescents. One of the signs is that we suddenly start falling in love with a camp counselor or with a teacher. Usually the first objects of our affections are at a distance, rather than someone who falls in love with us in return. Maybe it’s so compelling later because of those first experiences.FP There’s that dreadful familiarity each time you have those first experiences all over again.LD Obsessive or foiled or frustrated love is very compelling because you don’t have control over it. It’s the most extreme example of not being able to control another person.FP It also puts you smack up against some unknowable mystery that I think at some points, or for some people, wisely gets turned into religious emotion. It’s that sense of the unknowable. In some of the stories in Break It Down it’s the question: Why is this guy doing this? You might as well be Job asking God why He’s done what He’s done.LD Right, and I’m not allowed to ask. I can ask, but He won’t really tell me. Just as I can strive for grace or perfection but maybe it won’t be granted to me.FP Or strive for knowledge. (pause) When did you figure out that the self watching the self write was a permissible thing to put in the story? So many of the stories have that element. It’s one of the things that gives them dimension and textures and layers.LD In The Unnamable, Beckett certainly includes the self watching the self write. There’s a story within a story. The old man who keeps losing his pencil is trying to tell a story about a strange family whose name I forget—Saposcat or something. I didn’t do it for a long time, because everything I read said you don’t do that.FP You’re not supposed to do that.LD So even though I got that from Beckett right away, it’s as if you have to go through the stages of writing more traditional stories before you can go back to what really spoke to you first.FP Right. Here I am trying to write, trying to describe this thing for which there are no words, for which there is no point in writing, which I don’t understand the point of writing. Before that, there was Flaubert with all those pronouncements about how the writer should be as invisible in the work as God is in creation.LD That’s why I felt as though I was cheating with “The Center of the Story.” I added another layer, and that other dimension or perspective automatically made the stories richer and more interesting. But is that cheating or not? FP Why would you think it would be?LD I guess this is why: either I should have had that intention from the very beginning, it should have been part and parcel of the whole conception; or the story should have been strong enough to stand on its own, anyway. My slightly uneasy feeling was, couldn’t I do that with each story that didn’t work? Here’s another story coming along with a broken leg. This one is just too slow. How can I speed it up? Ah, here comes another with another problem. I often seem to work in pairs: whatever impulse I have with one story there’s enough of that impulse left to do another story.FP I was going to ask you about that, if the stories led to other stories or if they were all discrete stories?LD They usually don’t lead to others, except that as I’m writing, I get a certain level of energy going that makes me more inclined to think of other stories. So in that sense one story will spawn a lot of other beginnings. I got into a strange thing at one point: “How He Is Often Right I & II” ended one way in one version and went off in another direction in another version. I simply didn’t know which was better. They seemed like two alternatives. I did publish them as “I & II” in a couple of instances, and then in another instance I combined the two into one. I decided one was weaker and one was stronger. I got very intrigued by that dilemma when I was writing the novel, feeling like I could have done it like this or just as well like that. It’s so much more comfortable when you’re writing a story and you see there’s only one way to go with it, but when you see that there are all these forks in the road and you’re not sure you’ve taken the right one . . .FP But it’s also because the consciousness of the narrator in most of the stories is the consciousness of someone who can see a number of different possible explanations or paths or interpretations.LD Yes. It’s very unnerving. It was very unnerving with the novel not to be sure that this or that decision was right.FP How far in advance do you know?LD Know what?FP What’s going to happen with a story or the novel?LD I hate to say “right from the beginning” because that contradicts everything I’ve ever thought and studied and learned and taught students—that you shouldn’t know. But of course in most pieces even if you know, there are a lot of things you don’t know that will happen along the way. With the novel I knew roughly what events and what time period I wanted to cover. But in the one-paragraph stories, I didn’t know exactly where a certain argument was going to land. But that’s a different problem because those are not plotted stories. In a plotted story I might know that X was going to get sick and better again, but in these logical argument stories, I really do have to write them over and over again.FP You say “logical argument,” but it’s always a kind of logic that’s just teetering on the edge of absurdity.LD Right, it’s got to be water-tight logic within an absurd situation or starting from an absurd premise.FP That’s what’s thrilling about them. You’re reading it and you’re absolutely convinced, and it’s not until the end that you go, “Huh?”LD Yes. I’m thinking of one called “Ethics.” I heard on a television program that the idea of “Do unto your neighbor as you would have him do unto you” was the basis for all systems of ethics. Then I realized if I applied it to one person I knew, it wouldn’t work because he would really want certain people to be angry and hostile towards him because he was already feeling that way towards them. So I had to work that out.FP What is it that you’re trying to get to in “What I Feel”?LD The revelation that the character has is that her feelings may someday not seem very important to her. Once they’re not important, then life is a lot easier. But it’s still important to her what she feels, or it still plays a big part in how she reacts to things. I guess what’s so hard to get is the very end, that she’s comforted both because she realizes “Ah, I am free of this horrible burden of my feelings” and that she realizes “Someday I will be free of this horrible burden of my feelings.” I still haven't quite got it.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for BOMB: The Author Interviews  "Bomb: The Author Interviews brings together a selection of conversations in a handsome anthology. The book, which offers 35 of the magazine’s interviews, is both a primer on authorial strategies and a record of the evolution of an iconic literary institution." —The Washington Post"Lets readers into the room for conversations with Martin Amis, Junot Díaz, Jennifer Egan, Sharon Olds, and others about the craft of writing." —The Boston Globe"'Inspire' might be a thin word in our cynical literary present, but dare I say that reading these conversations made me want to handwrite excerpts on index cards and lean them against books on my shelves."—The Millions"Rare insight into the creative processes, feelings and work habits of contemporary prose writers and poets . . . These fascinating, in-depth and intimate conversations between notable writers delve into writing as a craft and as a calling."—Shelf Awareness"BOMB’s author interview series, which has been going for years, is one of the most inspiring dialogues between writers available." —"These are not your run of the mill author interviews featuring a journalist throwing canned questions at a writer, these are conversations between writers and delve into the essence  of creativity . . . Essential reading for any admirer of contemporary literature."—Seattle Post-Intelligencer  "Through the diverse range of voices represented, the book affords a window into the minds and the writing processes of some of the world's best practitioners of poetry and prose."—Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review"Significant . . . [an] unusual and very engaging collection."—Kirkus Reviews“BOMB gives us conversation distilled into dream conversation, talk that transcends talk, thought that digs beneath transient impressions to get at the essence, the meaning, the purpose, the experience of the writing process. There is something to be remembered and learned from every one of the conversations gathered here. Read them for pleasure, for entertainment, for insight, and for clues to the mystery—to the hard labor and the profound satisfactions—of what writers do.”—Francine Prose, from her introduction