Friday, September 30, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Photo: Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West [after Cormac McCarthy] 2010 by Matthew Spiegelman
Monday, September 26, 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Monday, September 19, 2011
RQD: What are you working on now?
Vaness Hua: After finishing the latest revision of my novel, I decided to step away and work on short stories. In the novel, I'd been working on a thread involving female relationships and betrayal, and I continued to explore that in a short story, albeit in a far different setting, and with far different characters. I'm also working on a comic story, based on true events, yet with a high degree of the absurd. A lot of fun to work on, and the perfect break to take before returning to the novel manuscript. At present I'm figuring out how to work in the brief, brief, moments that I have to myself.
RQD: What's interesting to you about the characters you're writing about now?
VH: Both stories involve deceit and secrets, and how the characters carry that burden. I've found that's an ongoing theme in my work. I became a first time mother in August and I’m interested to see how that will influence and change my writing.
RQD: What other art or artists influence you?
VH: I always struggle with the question of influence. While I can readily tell you whose art and music I admire, who am I to say if those elements are present in my work? It seems presumptuous at best, self-deluded at worst. That said, if my writing reflects the playfulness of Calder’s mobiles, the tactile sensuality of Moore’s sculptures, the reimagining of the familiar of O’Keefe’s paintings, then I would be proud and ecstatic.
When working on specific projects, when pondering character and setting, I’ll listen to music and look at art from that era and locale. For example, for my novel, I pored over Cultural Revolution propaganda art and musicals.
RQD: What book or story or poem do you return to over and over?
VH: It depends on what I'm working on. For example, when figuring out how to weave together narrative arcs in two time periods, I studied Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides and Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill, among others. Anything I read while working on a novel, I find myself drawing connections and comparing, analyzing how other authors solve different narrative issues.
RQD: What are you reading now?
RQD: What were you reading as a kid? how did those books impact the writing you do now?
VH: I read widely and voraciously, from the copy of Little Women that my mother brought over from Taiwan, to my older sister's copies of Candide and Animal Farm (the allegory flew far over my head), and Russian fairytales I found on the bookshelf at home. In elementary school, I wanted to read every book in the library! My favorites were female heroines who were writers: Jo from Little Women, Anne from Anne of Green Gables, and Laura from Little House on the Prairie, and their examples must have made becoming a writer seem possible. I continue to be an omnivore in the subjects and characters I write about.
Photo: Georgia O'Keeffe via PBS
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Thanks to author Lynn Freed I was lucky enough to meet Mark Childress at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley a few years ago and he was everything you'd think he might be if you've ever read his books: funny, gracious and a hell of a storyteller.
From Mark: I know so many writers are superstitious about talking about work in progress that it has become a cliche, but hey I guess I am living that cliche. I find that if I pre-tell the story I’m trying to tell, to my friends and those nice people who care enough to ask, at some point I have already “told” it and the juice goes out of it that you need for the writing of the scenes. Does that make any sense?
I will say that I have fallen in love with characters before and usually they lead me where they want to go. This time is no different. It’s funny - this will be my eighth novel and it hasn’t gotten any easier at all. It is more rewarding, though, because I know whatever obscure little thing I put in there, somewhere there will be a reader who gets it. That is really cool.
I listen to a lot of music when I am reading but not when I am writing. I listen to classical music or sometimes old rhythm and blues in the morning to get my brain cells lined up in order. I like rock, too, and I have all kinds of weird tastes. The Beatles, both Elvises, Bruce, Joni. When I am traveling I go to the art museum like everybody else and try to learn something about the people from the art ... but generally you learn only about the artist. You don’t learn anything general, but everything specific.
There are some books I read over again, as soon as I have read it, because I can’t believe how good it was and I want to take it apart and see what made it tick. Other books, I delay and delay because I don’t want it to end. And then of course there are those that are like the second term of the Bush presidency, an endless dreary slog. I like to read Anna Karenina every couple of years. I like to read most of Dickens again and again. I’ve been on a David Foster Wallace kick since The Pale King came out. I cant imagine a year without reading some Marquez.
I just re-read The Broom of the System, David Wallace’s first book. I had a great time with In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Also a gripping crime novel by Jane Bradley, You Believers.
Every summer I teach writing workshops up at Squaw Valley. This year Annie Lamott and I were talking about books we absolutely inhaled as children. I started talking about a wonderful book called Follow My Leader, by a writer called James B. Garfield. It’s the story of a boy who loses his sight in an accident with a firecracker. He has to learn to deal with being blind, goes off to a special school to learn how to work with a seeing-eye dog. The details of the training were absolutely fascinating to me; I used the glasses we got from the eye doctor with our dilated pupils, and went around pretending I was blind like the hero the book. I read that book about twenty times, I’ll bet.
Afterward, at least two dozen people came up to tell me that was their favorite book too. Many of them had forgotten it until I mentioned it. Apparently it was a Scholastic Book Club perennial choice and a great favorite of kids everywhere. I highly recommend it, although it may seem a bit old-fashioned now. (I was really surprised to discover the hero’s name is Jimmy Carter!)
I’ve never written about a blind person yet, so I don’t think there has been any direct influence of the book. But I always try very hard to plunge the reader into the sensory experience of whatever is happening in the story. And I’m sure it’s because James B. Garfield did that to me, over and over, long ago.
Monday, September 12, 2011
The slight silken scrape of her knock-knees when she walked quickly was, I repeat, highly prized by me. I thought that if I were a locust such a sound would send me soaring over mountain ranges. From Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow via Karan Mahajan in Canteen
Photo by The Sartorialist
Sunday, September 11, 2011
"You feel anything?"
"Maybe you're supposed to hold it in longer."
It was summer in Indiana, the week before I turned sixteen. All afternoon my friends and I had been on our bikes, following the mosquito truck through the streets, breathing the sweet-smelling clouds of DDT because we'd heard it would get you high. From One Mississippi by Mark Childress