Friday, October 7, 2011

Lynne Tillman Interrogates Herself

In the 22nd in a series of posts on 2011 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Lynne Tillman, author of Someday This Will Be Funny (Red Lemonade), explores her writing process.

What is your writing process like? 
I want to answer, or try to, because I'm not sure what my process is. Maybe if I can respond, I'll better understand it. Which might be the reason, one of many, I write. To understand something, anything. So I may begin there -- what am I thinking or worrying about? I will interrogate myself. What keeps coming back to me, a thought that boomerangs. An image I can't shake. For instance, I see a baby carriage at the top of four wide stone stairs leading to a pathway in a park. I may have been in the carriage, or I may have walked past it when I was a child. Then I would have been with my mother or father. Then that notion leads to others. So one day I might write a story based on that image so that finally I'll know something about it, by fabricating a narrative to go with it, and then dismiss it from memory. That's an aspect of my process. Another is having a big theme: say, modernism vs post-modernism. How would I write a narrative about that, actually?

Years ago, I wrote a novel, Cast in Doubt, which was, in part, based on figuring out how to tell that story, with characters embodying, in some sense, their different and similar ideas. But an idea is different from a story, so while lots of ideas can pop up on my screen, few come into existence. It can take me two years or more to find a way in: American Genius, A Comedy germinated a long time, and while it did, while I tested things in my mind, I felt enormously frustrated. Then finally it came. Through the voice, a voice that was right to tell the story, which started with sensitivity. Everyone I knew had become more sensitive to the environment, but the same everyones could be quite callous too. And America started a pre-emptive war, Iraq. Usually I need to write a voice, that is, a character, that enables me to tell the story. Finding that voice, that character -- now I'm not able to explain it, which is not to mystify it. I am NOT a conduit, I do not hear voices, I am not hallucinating. I write it out, I write sentences, words, use rhythms, then I begin to realize a character who might be right.

Another part of my process: kick myself in the ass. I can be lazy or resistant. Resistant to throwing myself into IT and letting everything else fade fade fade.....