What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
1. Read a lot, and read widely.
2. Write every day.
3. Find a few people with whom you can share your work, and on whom you can count to provide honest, tactful criticism.
That’s the best I’ve got.
Where do you get your ideas?
I think what people are really asking when they ask this question is, “Is there something—a device or a ritual maybe—that inspires you to write fiction, which would also inspire me to write fiction?”
And the answer to that question is, “Probably not.” The thing that triggers a story idea for me—a newspaper article, a snatch of conversation, personal history, whatever—isn’t in all likelihood going to trigger the same story idea in you, or for that matter, vice versa. Sorry. I believe that good writing can, to a certain degree, be taught. Inspiration is more nebulous and individual.
Here’s one suggestion: Try brainstorming with a friend.
Here’s one other suggestion: Sacrifice a block of tofu to the God of Square Food. Wait patiently. No promises, but something may come to you. This is what is known in the business as the Agatha Christie Method. In order to gain access to all of the devious mysteries locked inside her head, the legendary authoress killed thousands upon thousands of defenseless soy blocks, and dedicated them all to the God of Square Food. He rewarded Christie with a steady stream of wonderful story ideas. Moral? You be the judge. Brutal? Undoubtedly. But consider the benefit accrued by the reading public as a whole.
What are some of your favorite books?
If you’re planning on being stranded on a desert island, or locked in an unassailable tower, here are twenty-five or so books that I frequently and unreservedly recommend, and which should keep you occupied for a few months. I doubt they’ll be very tasty eating, though, so you better concentrate on fashioning a spear or something (a bird-catching net you can poke out the portcullis?) before you get too wrapped up in the literature.
End of Story by Peter Abrahams, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, I, Claudius by Robert Graves, Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene, Arcadia by Lauren Groff, The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher, The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, The Book of Ralph by John McNally, The People’s Act of Love by James Meek, Goats by Mark Jude Poirier, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie, Straight Man by Richard Russo, Voodoo Heart by Scott Snyder, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone, The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh, The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, Native Son by Richard Wright
You used to be my friend on MySpace, but now you’re gone. What happened? Are we still friends?
First of all, we are still friends. We will always be friends.
Anyway, I just decided that one Web site was all I could handle.
Update! (11/26/11): I have established a facebook presence!