I’m working on a novel about a man who lives near a large public rock. He installs fake grass for a living, so it’s about that, and it’s about the people who come to the rock, and, lately, it’s about doll shopping (the guy has young children). What do I like about these characters? I like that there’s still some language left in them. I like that the main character uses his imagination—uses it publicly, I mean. He trusts it, allows it to affect change in his life. I think a lot of people go around making up dialogue, imagining fight scenes, talking out little scenarios while walking the dog; I think a lot of people do this, and I think that it actually effects how they interact with others—if I’m wrong about this, then I’ll just call it semi-autobiographical and sit back and wait for the psychotic break.
Art that’s influenced me. Yeah, I like to see what people are up to. “Influence” is a hard one for me, since real influence probably happens below the level of consciousness. But I’ve recently enjoyed Will Rogan’s pictures. He has a photo of a minivan parked beneath a concrete staircase so that it fits just right (the angle of the stairs is the angle of the windshield—at least this is true in my memory). Also, Kelly Reichardt. Her film Old Joy. I went to a “screening” where Reichardt did a Q &A afterward. There’s a scene in the film at a hot spring in the woods where these two old friends are drinking beer and soaking and enjoying the water sounds. After the movie Reichardt said all those water sounds were dubbed in later—recorded at her friend’s house in New Jersey (I think she said they poured water from buckets off his roof into his pool). It is now my favorite scene of all time, but only because I know where the water sounds came from.
I return toRay Carver’s Fires. I have an old Capra Press paperback version with a close-up picture of flames on the cover, and a slightly out-of-focus author photo on the back. Fires has a little poetry, some personal/craft essays, and a few short stories (“The Pheasant” among them, the best of the roadkill realism subgenre). The book takes its title from an essay on influence, and so, in a neat (but not too neat) way, the stories and poems become evidence. It’s the only book you can’t borrow.
There are other books that, when I was reading them the first time, I thought: I will read this every three years until I die. But, ten years later I haven’t made it past page 6 in most of those books. There are hundreds of individual short stories that I re-read, and some of these are in books that I feel very strongly about but can’t see taking up again because big-N Nostalgia lurks in the margin notes.