Friday, June 21, 2013

Norman Lock's Subconscious Needs

In the ninth in a series of posts on 2013 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Norman Lock, author of Love Among the Particles (Bellevue Literary Press), discusses how and where he works.

How often does an idea for a story occur to you, and what triggers those ideas?
I have had my share of what can—and will—befall nearly anyone: love, marriage, children, the adventures and tedium of a working life (now, in my retirement, finished except, of course, for the work done each day at the keyboard). Sufficient material is available in the recollection of people and events to prod a writer into storytelling—if the writer has chosen to record and reproduce the world as it is experienced in familiar or agreed-upon ways. But I chose otherwise and have eschewed realism and naturalism—fictions anchored (or mired) in psychological or sociological observation—in favor of an intellectual, albeit sensual, fantasy. The occasions for my stories, as well as my stage and radio plays, novels and prose poems, lie not in people I have known or stories I have been told—not in a biographical or autobiographical impulse—but rather in ideas, or sensations seemingly produced by causes other than phenomena, or impressions with strength to insist on a secret or concealed source, or even by what is remembered in the aftermath of dreams. Inasmuch as I am constantly seized by strange and willful forces, story ideas occur to a degree that would be alarming and dangerous if I had not learned to select the most promising and peremptory to develop. Life for me is elsewhere: on the page, among words assembled into shapely sentences. I am often troubled and sometimes shamed that this should be so.

What’s your approach to organizing a collection?
Most often, I write stories or prose poems with their final integration and compilation in view. In fact, the newest book, Love Among the Particles, may be my only story collection without a strong commonality of fictional place, cast of characters, and an emotional “weather” to bind the texts and make of them a seeming whole. A History of the Imagination (2004), Land of the Snow Men (2005), Grim Tales (2011), and Pieces for Small Orchestra & Other Fictions (2011) were published as novels or novellas in acknowledgment of their narrative unity. Why I should invariably multiply a first text—by a subconscious need to elaborate, to extend, to hold and squeeze dry a fruitful notion—into a suite or a book of linked fictions is a mystery to me.

I should say that Love Among the Particles, whose stories were written during a fifteen-year period (excepting “The Love of Stanley Marvel & Claire Moon,” finished in 1978 at the beginning of my fiction-making life)—do have a persistent thread of ideas and metaphysical investigation. They also have in common their length (they are, for me, lengthy and spacious texts) and an intended wish to “paraphrase” literary or cinematic presentations of cultural icons, such as the Phantom of the Opera, the Mummy, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Hyde, the Wright brothers, and Death from Alberto Casella’s play. The conforming idea of the paraphrase did not survive, although the exploitation of genre fiction and its strategies for my own imaginative ends can be felt throughout the book.

Where do you do most of your work?
In my head and at my desk in our apartment in New Jersey, near Raritan Bay: a large and tonic body of salt water affording distant views of lower Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and the Atlantic Inlet. It thrills me to have landed so near to what has been my principal element and predominant humor—water—and to be so companionable with New York City. And when I said, impertinently, that work is done in my head, I am in earnest. Always, I have written there—if not first, then during the writing as it proceeds along its subterranean (or submarine) ways. And I have always insisted that much of the work is accomplished in sleep. How else am I to explain waking to the solution to a narrative problem which nettled me the night before?

In what other forms of artistic expression do you find inspiration?I
n paintings and in films that share my obsession with fable, fantasy, and the imaginative subversion of the “real.” There have been many painters and filmmakers whose work has—perhaps not influenced me, but confirmed me in my fabulist tendencies. To cite the most important to me (those I remember at this instant): Klee, Miró, Chagall, Henri Rousseau, Chirico, Cornell, Baselitz, Basquiat, and Diebenkorn, as well as the Fauve painters; and the directors Fellini, Cocteau, Buñuel, Kenji Mizoguchi, Bergman, Resnais, Chris Marker, and Tarkovsky.

What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
The worst piece of writing advice I was given was to write about what you know. For me, writing is not only storytelling but an act of exploration and a conscious decision to work my way beyond the limits of my own narrow experience—to discover what I did not know before (or, at least, to unearth what was buried in my unconsciousness). The best advice is found in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast where he recommends always saving something to go on the next day. I try—as difficult as it can be—to not exhaust the day’s impulse or content. To begin afresh the next day is so much easier than to begin the next day anew with nothing to build on.

What’s the shortest time it has taken you to write a story?
I wrote much faster when I was young. The shorter stories in A History of the Imagination, for example, were written in a day; the lengthier ones, in a week or two. I cannot account for that speed and facility, unless they are—like other things one might mention—the prerogatives of a youthful mind and constitution.

What’s the longest time it has taken you to write a story?
“To Each According to His Sentence,” published in Love Among the Particles, was written over the course of two years. I mean to say that the first half was written in two weeks before I stalled or lost interest in favor of something else, only to take it up again and finish it two years later.