Tuesday, November 6, 2012

David Mitchell

David Mitchell's novels include Cloud Atlas.

From his Q & A with Carolyn Kellogg at Jacket Copy:

One of the things I like about your work is a real delight in how words function, how they look on a page, how they sound. You said Samsung is a better word than sony. Why?

It ends on a hard g, Samsunggg. That’s great. Sony – don’t know what I was thinking of, really. Y is about the weakest letter of all. Y can’t make up its mind if it’s a vowel or a consonant, can it?

You’ve highlighted something really at the heart of writing, I think. It’s all about decisions – you make a thousand decisions, at different levels. Structural ones, those are more macro decisions about plot, character, cliché avoidance, better still, cliché inversion, or cliché implosion. They’re wonderful. Also, micro decisions – about where the comma goes, words. You must have noticed sometimes, you know when to use maybe and when to use perhaps. There’s no way on earth you could codify that rule or how you know, but you know....

It sounds pretentious to say, but even though it sounds pretentious, I believe it. I think words operate like musical notes that the eyeball hears. That is at the root of why writers take these micro decisions about maybe and perhaps, which after all mean the same thing…. I think it’s because of this: You get to know the tastes or musical tastes of words themselves, and this informs your choice, whether you use them or not.

You’re doing all these things with language in “Cloud Atlas.” But it’s also very rooted in genre; science fiction or speculative fiction, adventure. If there was a shelf of books that you wanted your books to be sit beside, what would be on it?

I didn’t really think that far. What I think about is how can I make this damn book work? Because it’s killing me. How can I make it work? ....The metaphor I often think of is, it’s sort of like asking a duck-billed platypus if it’s an egg-laying mammal or a bird with mammalian aspects. It doesn’t care, does it? It just does its little duck-billed platypus business, catching things to eat and mating and digging tunnels, that’s what it does. I should probably stop this metaphor now...

Perhaps to invert your question, who says art does have to be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue