Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Jerome Charyn

“One of the most important writers in American literature” (Michael Chabon), Jerome Charyn is the award-winning author of more than fifty works, including The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.
A renowned scholar of twentieth-century Hollywood, he lives in Manhattan.

Charyn's latest novel is Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles.

My Q&A with the author:

What's in a name?

Since Rita and Orson are historical, I can’t really comment on their names. But I can tell you how I created Rusty Redburn.

Names are very important to me, and that’s one reason why I admire Dickens and Nabokov so much. Like them, I love to play with names.

Since Rusty had an ambiguous sexuality, I thought the name “Rusty” could suggest a kind of tomboy or someone who could float between male and female. Today we’d call her nonbinary. And the name Redburn comes from one of my favorite authors, Herman Melville – it is the title of one of his books. The music of language means so much to me, and the sound of Rusty Redburn seemed perfect.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

The first sentences are always impossible to write. Sometimes it takes me a month or two to find them. And writing the last sentence is even more impossible. Because the first sentence thrusts you into the narrative but the last sentence suggests the ending of a narrative that has no ending. So it’s completely random and utterly impossible to write. Books always continue after their last sentence and that’s where I place myself.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I see myself in all my characters. I hate them and love them with the same velocity. If they are historical, like Orson, their personae are more powerful than mine. And therefore they overwhelm me and leave me without a trace.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I’m a creature of the movie house. I saw movies before I ever read a book. Images are to me as powerful as words and far more dangerous because they can cut into you like a knife.

Words do have their own importance – my favorite works are Hamlet and the poems of Emily Dickinson, because the language of both writers defy all sense of logic and they themselves inhabit a space where none of us has ever traveled.
Visit Jerome Charyn's website.

The Page 69 Test: Under the Eye of God.

My Book, The Movie: Big Red.

--Marshal Zeringue