I've Been Meaning To Ask You...
Hi, Y’all! Glad You’re Here—
Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing/chatting with some of my favorite authors. I’ve been able to ask about their favorite books, how they approached the writing of their latest project, what they want to achieve in their work—I think the questions we have for different writers says a lot about who we are as readers. A few years back, at a book signing with Julianna Baggott, there were several readers who demanded she provide closure for some of the characters from her Pure trilogy. One reader asked why her next book was historical and not dystopian. I asked how she navigated using similar metaphors to other writers, and if she felt connected to Madonna, since they had both sampled their previous work for one of their later projects. That night, I discovered that some people were desperate for closure, maybe because they had always been provided closure—or because they’d never had closure in their own lives; I also discovered that some readers don’t like change, maybe because consistency was a comfort to them. I discovered that I ask too many questions and come across as Annie Wilkes.
I thought it might be a fun little break from my National Book Award reading project to share some questions I’ve had over the last couple of years that I would love to ask different writers who I admire. And I think it would be fun if you wouldn’t mind sharing some of the questions you’ve always wanted to ask some of your favorite writers!
Joyce Carol Oates
I know you heavily revised A Garden Of Earthly Delights for its Modern Library edition, and that there have been a few short stories you’ve more deeply explored in novel form—I was wondering, are there any other works of yours that you wish you had the chance to revisit? Or any that you’re not sure you would have written today?
You’re a renowned critic and have a lot of thoughts about the current state of literature—what are your thoughts on how writers are approaching the novel today? Also, you once mentioned in an essay that critics didn’t understand the structure of longer novels—what do you think people misunderstand about longer novels and novels in general, and what do you hope to see for the novel in the future?
You consider yourself a formalist, and you play around a lot with various forms in your storytelling, but you also have a very clear voice in all of your work. I guess this might be a silly question, since a writer would hope to have a distinct voice in all of their work—but how do you balance the recognizable quality of your work with the way you like to explore different modes of storytelling and write from the perspectives of all different types of people?
Are there any modern writers whose work you deeply admire or are impressed by?
You’ve touched on racism in a number of your novels, but (from the books I’ve read) you don’t write as much about queerness, and I was wondering why that is? Not necessarily in a critical way—I guess my question is more of, does the one interest you more than the other? Is it just not something you’ve considered touching on? We’re having conversations right now around who gets to tell which stories, and while you’ve written stories outside of your experience, I don’t know if I would say you’ve written as much about queerness.
Back in 2018, you mentioned you were working on a novel. Sorry to be a creep, I just watch all of your interviews because I’m a fan. Anyway, I was wondering what ever came of that novel, and if you plan to release any fiction in the future? —I know you’ve said before that you’re kind of doomed to write certain things, and wondering if maybe for you, memoir and poetry is just where it’s at.
Is there anything about memoir as a genre that bugs you? Are there certain types of memoirs you read and don’t really like? Or are there things you’re seeing people do now that excites you?
How is your approach of writing poetry different than your approach for memoir? I mostly mean on a sentence level.
Is there anything in particular that you’re the most proud of in your work? A style choice or a certain line you’ve written that just really sticks in your head? Or a moment of clarity you had through the writing that just really made you happy for it?
Do you notice that there are moments that feel more emotionally involved in the writing, and other moments that are more clinical? Is it during a certain point in the process or is it just dependent on the situation?
What is your favorite line you’ve ever written? (There are too many that I’ve loved, but one I loved is the last line from this perfect moment in Edinburgh that made me weep—”Sound waves don't ever go away. Not one sound goes away. The wave simply expands, infinitely. The sound remains. Imagine a cosine arc the size of Jupiter, and that might be the size of the wave of the last thing Peter ever said. I'd need an ear the size of another solar system to hear him again.”)
If you only had one story left to tell, what would it be?
Would you ever consider writing a western? A gothic novel? Sci-fi? Is there a certain genre you’ve been interested in exploring?
Everyone I’ve ever spoken to who knows you has said such kind things about you, said they were a champion of their work. Who was an early champion of your work, someone who you feel was life changing? And who is someone whose work you admire? Are there any people who fit both of these?
If you were given an ultimatum, to only write fiction or nonfiction, which would you choose and why?
Your work pulls from so many different influences and you’re so well read—when considering the work you’ve written so far, what classic novels would you like to see your books shelved next to?
You’ve joked about this on twitter, that you didn’t want to write a southern novel. I was wondering…if you were to write one, maybe a southern gothic or something, who would be the southern writers you might pull from? And what are the things you would like to change, to subvert, whatever it may be, of the southern novel? And what do you love and hate about them?
You’ve written an amazing short story collection with Filthy Animals, and I was wondering what your thoughts were on short story collections as a whole—like the ways that they function, how they’re read, if your approach to putting your collection together was very specific or not…
Your upcoming book sounds like it could be a cousin to films like Nocturnal Animals and Velvet Buzzsaw—are there any specific movies, songs, paintings, any form of art really, that you wish to capture the feeling of in a future work? Why?
What is a book that you hate with so much passion, you would erase its existence from the world if you had the power?
I’ve long adored your work, and one of my favorite things about is it that it’s just so beautifully written. I sometimes find that when we discuss mysteries or thrillers, noir novels, the sentence level writing is kind of ignored—I mean that people don’t discuss the prose as much in their reviews. Why do you think that is? We’ve seen strong writing coming from this genre from you and Gillian Flynn and Tana French. Do you think it’s being overlooked or that the genre is just known for a different focus? And when working on your craft, was this something you were mindful of?
Your stories always have these delicious, believable but also shocking twists—when do you know what the twist is? Do you plot your stories? And if you weren’t writing these types of stories, what genre do you think you’d be interested in exploring?
You tweet about movies a lot, different favorites of yours, and I was wondering, if there was one film you wish you had written, which one would it be and why? Ditto, book!
Out of all of your books, is there one that you loved writing more than any other, or one that was much more difficult to write? You’re so prolific—I was wondering if there was something maybe you’d learned during the writing of one of your books that you enjoyed and continued to stick with, or part of the process of one that you’ve avoided in future projects.
Are you the kind of writer that has snacks or candy nearby as you work? If so, what are your snacks for writing?
Anyway, I know this was kind of random, but thought it might be fun. Like I said above, let me know questions you’ve had for different writers and their work! Also, they don’t have to be writing related or even related to their work—imagine you were sat next to them at a dinner party, what would you ask? I’m just super curious.
Stay tuned for some future posts—I have ideas that I want to write about for gothic fiction, the ‘high brow beach read’, and the history of the novel. I don’t know how long it’ll take to get my thoughts together, but it’s the kind of stuff that’s on my mind right now. Until then, thanks for reading!