Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dylan Landis & Marion Winik

Marion Winik is the author, most recently, of The Glen Rock Book of the Dead. Her other books of creative nonfiction include Telling, First Comes Love, The Lunch-Box Chronicles, Rules for the Unruly, and Above Us Only Sky. Winik’s essays have been published in the New York Times Magazine, O, and Salon.

Dylan Landis is the author of the novel-in-stories Normal People Don’t Live Like This, published to high praise from Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times, and others. A former journalist, she has published short fiction in Tin House, Bomb, and Best American Nonrequired Reading.

From a conversation between the two writers:

Dylan: What gives you the chutzpah to put on paper what you do? Does the difference between a memoirist and novelist lie in material…in the need for privacy or a sense of shame…in the type of talent?

Marion: The need to connect with other people and to understand and validate my experiences has been a force in my writing since Day One—which is like, 1967 or so. In cases where I am telling something I am afraid to tell, I feel a thrill of revelation, I experience the fear as exciting. I am an inveterate risk-taker, exhibitionist and connection-builder—not just on paper.

“Type of talent” is an interesting issue. I think the type of talent people have may issue from the psychological roots of their writing. For the reasons I just explained, I am a born memoirist. On the other hand, I have always been drawn to types of writing that don’t come as easily. I love the imaginative leap of fiction, as well as the imaginative leap of a brilliant metaphor or other turn of phrase. But I don’t think I’m necessarily “wired” to create those things—it’s something I am trying to learn by extensive trial and error.

Do you think there are similar psychological forces that drive a “born” fiction writer? Because I think of the invention of characters and of a world as quite a different project, emotionally, from that of the memoirist.

Dylan: I’m not a born fiction writer. Every piece, while I’m writing, feels at many points doomed to fail. But I love how fiction feels reassuringly apart from me, like a canvas I’m working on; I love discovering what characters want to do. I mine my subconscious and imagination for material, but I relish not being constrained—or revealed—by life.

And is it so different to invent a fictional character than to construct a memoir’s “characters,” including the narrator? Even invent feels off; I learn my fictional people by revelation. We both make our people flawed, sympathetic and believable. Maybe the difference is that you, Marion, start out knowing your iceberg, the huge amount of submerged psychological material you won’t use but that anchors everything you write. When I start a piece of fiction, I can’t even see my iceberg. All I got is...[read on]
Visit Dylan Landis's website and read the Los Angeles Times review of Normal People.

Writers Read: Dylan Landis.

Visit Marion Winik's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Marion Winik & Beau.

--Marshal Zeringue