Monday, April 20, 2009

Quotes About Writing

Here I collect quotes by writers, about writing. This will be a continually updated post, where I will add new things as I find them.

Last updated: March 9, 2011 (newest quotes always on top)

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

~Ray Bradbury

"Of course she ached to be a writer. Like so many women, she burned for it, all she wanted to do was to publish, and her whole life was leading toward the moment when she found an agent and a publisher and her first book appeared."

~ Meg Wolitzer, The Wife

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

~ Pablo Picasso

Interview with Joyce Carol Oates:

What advice do you give to budding writers?

Beginning writers should follow the lines of their own natural interests, look and listen hard, note the astonishing variety of personalities and voices in our culture. And of course they should read widely, and they should write every day. Like learning to play a musical instrument, learning to write has much to do with practice.

~ From Readers Read

Interview with Joanna Trollope:

What advice to writers beginning to write?

Don’t be in a hurry — after 35, with experience, is invariably better than before 35… and train yourself to notice. Keep a journal — not a Dear Diary — of scraps of things you notice/overhear/remember/think of. Stick in photos and postcards. Scribble down descriptions and snatches of dialogue. Watch other people like a hawk. And read. All the time, anything, everything. Also try your hand at all kinds of writing — poetry, drama, journalism, short stories — because it’s all part of your very necessary apprenticeship.

~ From Readers Read

"I am a writer because writing is the thing I do best."

~ Flannery O'Connor

"Perhaps we should all give thanks for the inspiration writers draw from each other - one good story begets another."

~ Katrina Kenison, Series Editor, in the Forward to The Best American Short Stories 1991.

"Writing is like hunting. There are brutally cold afternoons with nothing in sight, only the wind and your breaking heart. The the moment when you bag something big. The entire process is beyond intoxicating. As soon as Lenny [a character in her story] began speaking, I knew I had mainlined it. I felt like I was strapped in the cockpit with the stars in my face and the expanding universe on my back. In my opinion, that's the only way a writer should travel."
~ Kate Braverman, in the Contributors' Notes section of The Best American Short Stories 1991, in which she is discussing her story that appeared therein, "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta."

"I felt that if I could not fight, I might stop breathing, or I might go down: I imagined that it was like drowning; like floating in the lake, and then exhaling all my air, and sinking, and never being heard from again."
~ Rick Bass, "Legend of Pig-Eye," compiled in The Best American Short Stories 1991 (I replace the word "fight" in this quote with the word "write," or "read")

"For years I've been saving newspaper and magazine clippings - science art articles on the behavior of bats or how memory functions, news stories about missing children or a girl caught at the bottom of a well, odd photographs... anything that somehow strikes a chord. I paste the clippings in a big sketchbook where I also jot down writing ideas, and often the articles sit there for years without becoming stories. Sometimes, though, I flip through these sketchbooks when I'm stuck; other times an image or idea comes to me as I'm writing - and only later do I become aware of its origins."
~ Elizabeth Graver, in the Contributors' Notes section of The Best American Short Stories 1991,in which she is discussing her story that appeared therein, "The Body Shop."

See the Blog Index / Site Map for more quotes.

Book Review: The Best American Short Stories, 1991

A Grab Bag of Great Stories:
A Book Review of The Best American Short Stories 1991
Edited by Alice Adams and Katrina Kenison
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company

You may wonder why I am reviewing, in 2009, a book compiling these editors' choices for the best short stories published in 1991. The short answer is that I am very, very far behind. The long answer is that I used to read this series a lot, in high school and college (both of which were post-1991) but I stopped that habit, which I now find unfortunate. I've decided to continue reading as many short stories as I can, to improve my own writing of them, and because collections of short stories make good reading for me. I can bring the book with me wherever I go, whether to dentist appointments or on road trips, and read one story at a time. It's much easier to pick up where I left off than it is with a novel!

In the Forward to this book, Series Editor Katrina Kenison makes the following observation, which is in line with why I decided to start re-reading short story collections: "Alice Adams reveals in her introduction that reading a good story often provokes her to go and write one of her own. Perhaps we should all give thanks, then, for the inspiration writers draw from each other - one good story begets another."

There are many, many good stories in this book, some of which I found inspirational for my own writing and some in which I simply lost myself. My top three favorite reads, which I hope to go back to again and again, were the following:

1. Charles D'Ambrosio, Jr.'s "The Point." In this story a man reminisces about helping his mom's friends home after parties thrown by his mother at their house. He has memories of very interesting characters, most of them sad alcoholics, yet he seems to have turned out just fine.

2. Charles Baxter's "The Disappeared." In this story a Swedish businessman visits Detroit and meets a religious-crazed American girl who temporarily steals his heart. The main character in the story, however, is truly the city of Detroit. It's amazing how Baxter captures the pulse of a dying city, and makes dreadfully accurate predictions regarding its fate.

3. Elizabeth Graver's "The Body Shop." In this story a man looks back on his adolescent years of helping his creative and entrepreneurial mother run her mannequin design business. It is touching and very realistic.

I also enjoyed Amy Bloom's "Love is Not a Pie," Kate Braverman's "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta," Millicent Dillon's "Oil and Water," David Jauss' "Glossolalia," Francine Prose's "Dog Stories," and Leonard Michaels' "Viva La Tropicana," a very entertaining and far-fetched yet somehow believable story about a young man who gets caught up with the escapades of his uncle, a former Cuban revolutionist-turned-gangster.

There are stories by some other usual "giants" in this collection - Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Munro, John Updike - but I didn't enjoy them as much as the others I've mentioned. I haven't read much from Munro but I usually like reading Oates and Updike. Both of their pieces in this collection, however, seemed wordy and cumbersome to me, and I couldn't pay much attention. Munro's story was the most interesting to me, and I also like parts of Updike's piece, and feel that perhaps if I read it when I had more time and patience, I would like it more. Perhaps it had something to do with it being the last story in the book!

Although the subject matters of the stories in this collection obviously vary, there are themes that run through some stories, seeming to accidentally connect them. Here are a few that I noticed:

1. Wars. Especially the Vietnam War. And soldiers. And woman, working during wartime. And memories of wars and lingering questions after they are over. Stories with this theme include Kate Braverman's "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta," Millicent Dillon's "Oil and Water" and John Updike's "A Sandstone Farmhouse."

2. Adults looking back on childhood and family, often after the death of a parent. Stories with this theme from this collection include Amy Bloom's "Love is Not a Pie," Charles D'Ambrosio, Jr.'s "The Point," Elizabeth Graver's "The Body Shop," David Jauss' "Glossolalia," Alice Munro's "Friend of My Youth" and John Updike's "A Sandstone Farmhouse."

3. Dogs. (Always a favorite theme of mine)! This category includes Rick Bass' "The Legend of Pig-Eye," John Updike's "A Sandstone Farmhouse" and Francine Prose's "Dog Stories" (Obviously. This is also a wedding story, which I also usually enjoy. Alice Munro's "Friend of My Youth" also features a wedding, albeit a rather simple one.)

4. Mothers and sons. Including Charles D'Ambrosia, Jr.'s "The Point," Mary Gordon's "Separation," Elizabeth Graver's "The Body Shop," and John Updike's "A Sandstone Farmhouse."

5. In semi-related themes about parents and children, Amy Bloom's "Love is Not a Pie" is a story about a father and daughter, and to some extent, also about a mother and daughter (while additionally touching heavily on the relationship between sisters), while David Jauss' "Glossolalia" is a heart-breakingly sad story about a father and son, and Alice Munro's "Friend of My Youth" is a story told by the narrator about her mother. Harriet Doerr's "Another Short Day in La Luz" is ultimately also about the relationship between a mother and daughter.

6. Americans abroad. And people escaping/ hiding from shady characters in strange situations. Or running to them because they are strangely intrigued by them! And, of course, the seemingly ever-present theme of displacement. These stories include Charles Baxter's "The Disappeared," Kate Braverman's "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta," Robert Olen Butler's "The Trip Back," Millicent Dillon's "Oil and Water," Mary Gordon's "Separation," Mikhail Iossel's "Bologoye," Leonard Michaels' "Viva La Tropicana," Lorri Moore's "Willing," and Joyce Carol Oates' "American, Abroad."

7. Friendship: This isn't as common a theme throughout these stories as one might expect, but Rick Bass' "The Legend of Pig-Eye" could be categorized as such, in that it tells the story of a teenage boxer being "raised" and trained by a couple to whom he relates half as friends, half as parents. And Millicent Dillon's "Oil and Water" is about a friendship, as is Deborah Eisenberg's "The Custodian."

8. Romance: Again, surprisingly not a common theme, but Charles Baxter's "The Disappeared" touches on this, as well as Kate Braverman's "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta," Millicent Dillon's "Oil and Water," Leonard Michaels' "Viva La Tropicana," Lorrie Moore's "Willing" and Francine Prose's "Dog Stories." In the realm of affairs, where "romance" always reigns supreme, there's Alice Munro's "Friend of My Youth" and Amy Bloom's "Love is Not a Pie," Well, now that I look at it, I guess romance is a theme that often runs subliminally underneath all the other themes.

Here are some quotes I liked from the book:

From Rick Bass' "Legend of Pig-Eye" (I replace the word "fight" in this quote with the word "write," or "read"): "I felt that if I could not fight, I might stop breathing, or I might go down: I imagined that it was like drowning; like floating in the lake, and then exhaling all my air, and sinking, and never being heard from again."

From Charles Baxter's "The Disappointed"(There have been some men in my life in my past, that I should have said this to): "We? There is no 'we'... there's you and then there's me. We're not a couple."

From the same story (Ditto the above! And it reminds me of that Pink Floyd "fish bowl" song): "Oh come on... we're just two blind people who staggered into each other and we're about to stagger off in different directions. That's all."

From Francine Prose's Contributors' Notes regarding "Dog Stories" (Interesting observation!): "People never talk about nothing, not even when they seem to. There are always secret and interesting reasons for the stories they decide to tell and for the moments at which they choose to tell them."

From Charles D'Ambrosio, Jr.'s "The Point" (I've noticed this when among drunken friends... maybe they've noticed it about me, too!): "Often drunks seemed on the verge of sobering up, and then, just as soon as they got themselves nicely balanced, they plunged off the other side, into depression."

From Alice Munro's "Friend of My Youth" (I think all brides must feel this way during the stress of wedding-planning): "This getting married is even more of a nuisance than I thought!"

From John Updike's "A Sandstone Farmhouse" (This rings true to me, a pat-rack through and through): "He recognized in this accumulation a superstition he had to fight within himself - the belief that everything has value. The birds in the trees, the sunflower at the edge of the orchard, the clumsily pasted-up valentine received years ago from a distant grandchild - all have a worth that might at any moment be called into account. It was a way of saying that one's own life was infinitely precious."

(There are more quotes, about writing, from this collection located in the "Quotes About Writing" post.)

Look at me quoting from some of the same stories I just I didn't enjoy as much as others, which I didn't quote from! Oh well. At the end of it all, I'm glad I picked up this "old" book and I plan to read many more short story collections in the coming months. I love the variety as well as the convenience. It is so easy to escape into a short story, come back out of it, and then get lost in the next one!

Click to browse or buy The Best American Short Stories 1991.