Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, Freedom, two other novels, a work of nonfiction and two collections of essays, gave a talk the other night and I was a fortunate attendee.
He spoke with thoughtfulness and richness. When the audience asked questions, Franzen didn’t merely pop off answers from the top of his head, but gave them much consideration; the answers were from deep reflections, much like his writing.
“Reading and writing fiction is an act of social engagement.”
“A character dies on the page if you can’t hear his or her voice.”
“A novel is a personal struggle. What is fiction after all if not purposeful dreaming?”
“If fiction is easy to write it’s not any good.”
(He mentioned he wasn’t talking about fun, light reading.)
“Take autobiographical risks. Trust people you know to love the whole you. All writers have to be loyal to themselves.” His brother was similar to the character, Gary, in The Corrections, in that he was also working on a family album. But Franzen learned not to be concerned because he knew his brother had his own life. After his brother read the book he called him. “John?” he said. “This is your brother. (Pause.) Gary!”
“Tone, language, character – – – even a great TV show like Breaking Bad can’t do moral subtly. I’m trying to defeat other media.”
“A writer wants to be alone in a room. He’s easily ashamed and is an exhibitionist.”
“I’ve grown a thick skin. I’ve learned not to Google myself.”
“I never thought I’d do nonfiction. I thought it was a betrayal of the novel.”
Favorite bird at the moment? The California Towhee. Why? Subtle. Charismatic. Not shy.
Just like Jonathan Franzen.
1. Franzen gave a plug for Memoir Journal, a nonprofit that is a literary magazine and also holds writing workshops. Check this publication out a memoirjournal.net
They are open to submissions for memoir pieces, with $500 and publication as their top prizes. Write a memoir following their submission policy.
2. Choose one small autobiographical detail and combine it with a fictional character in your story. Make sure it enhances and adds depth to your character and story.
3. Create a character with one or all of these descriptions: subtle, charismatic, not shy.