Monday, July 23, 2007

Anthony Doerr

From Lisa Albers's April 2007 Blogcritics interview of Anthony Doerr:

LA: Your stories are often set in unconventional locales — the Alaskan tundra; Lamu, Kenya and Liberia, West Africa; rural Montana and Idaho; Lithuania; an island in the Caribbean — not what one might expect from an Ohioan. One of your characters moves from Ohio to the East Coast to become a shipbuilder, a romantic venture that cannot be supported. Many of your characters move from one place to another that is very much unlike the first. What are your characters seeking, and what do they find? Why this emphasis on the journey, the extremes in setting?

AD: I think movement is a kind of narrative I’m preoccupied with. I like stories that establish two places and string a character out between them: Huck Finn, Madame Bovary, Disgrace. Pynchon’s new novel seems to be about movement more than anything else; places and times serve as poles, and characters serve as vehicles shuttling between them. (By “places,” I suppose this can be as figurative as it can be literal.) All of my favorite stories, I think, involve some kind of duality — that’s where tension comes from, and conflict. A character is in one place but wants to be elsewhere. A character is trapped somehow, and works to free him or herself. So these are the kinds of stories I try to write.

Even in my new book, which is non-fiction, I tried to build the narrative around the central idea of displacement: being an American in Rome, being a parent of brand new twins, living in an ancient city that is struggling to modernize. Storytelling itself is, maybe, the act of moving from one place to another, or leaving one place and returning to it once more, but changed somehow.

But, again, unfortunately, it’s hard to know exactly why I make certain decisions in my work. I’m sure the same must be true for your own work? Often structural decisions, in particular, are instinctual: you just try and try different ideas out until something feels interesting, and then you try pursuing it for a while.

Maybe the simple answer to your question is that I love to travel; I get stir crazy if I’m in one place for very long.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue