Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Tue 15 Jan 02 16:15
It was a fabulous experience, Rip. Very strange and very educational for a straight young white guy--and mutually strange for guys who had never spent any time talking to a straight young white guy. You're certainly right that it's not just cons who think that people who succeed just know some trick they don't!
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Wed 16 Jan 02 06:22
To continue this thought . . . writers are especially vulnerable to the trap of thinking that writing is something OTHER than work. People who want to be figure skaters KNOW they have to skate, people who want to be tennis players KNOW they have to play tennis, people who want to be concert pianists KNOW they have to play the piano, people who want to be singers KNOW they have to sing, people who want to be painters KNOW they have paint, but people who want to be writers very often think that what they have to do is WAIT . . . for some great idea to seize them. THEN, presumably, they'll begin to write. But in fact it doesn't work that way. Writing ideas come to people who are writing, and they DON'T come to people who are not. During the 1980s I was more or less constantly writing short stories -- and constantly getting IDEAS for short stories. When Ishmael was finally finished and published in 1992, I began to concentrate exclusively on book-length projects. Once I stopped writing short stories, I stopped getting IDEAS for short stories -- I wasn't LOOKING for them, so they didn't appear. If I were once again to start writing short stories, I'd soon be bombarded with ideas for short stories. The most consistent problem I see with aspiring writers is that they tend to think they can get where they want to go just by waiting.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Wed 16 Jan 02 08:35
When in fact, what they will actually get is more ideas for ways to wait... Now, when you shifted your concentration from short stories to longer work, did you have a sense that the stuff "coming through" the longer form was similar or different? Was it an evolution of the same issues and concerns into a new form, or did you sense a change in what mattered to you, and somehow figured out the new material needed the longer form? I guess I'm assuming part of the process was active, and part of it was either unconscious or receptive, and I'm wondering if you could talk about how you experienced/created the transition.
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Wed 16 Jan 02 10:32
It wasn't that I was "concentrating" on short fiction during the 1980s. I was mainly focussed on the book that would eventually become Ishmael, writing versions three to seven before getting to version eight (Ishmael) in 1990. Short fiction gave me an occasional vacation from this almost obsessive endeavor. It was also a vacation in the sense that there was no thematic connection to the book I was struggling to produce, and most readers would probably be puzzled to see me writing in a purely literary mode. (One reader of version six told me, "You're not a writer, you're a thinker." Naturally he never saw the stuff of mine that was appearing in magazines like The Quarterly, Fiction, Asylum, and Magic Realism, so he didn't know any better.) Writing short fiction is fun. You can produce a short story in a week or two, but for a writer who's trying to make a living at it, short fiction isn't going to contribute much to your income unless you're publishing in The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy, or two or three other top-paying markets. Even Joyce Carol Oates (who writes a ton of short fiction) publishes in magazines that pay just a few dollars -- or nothing -- so the competition is astoundly fierce. Writing a novel, by contrast, can bring big financial rewards, but it also requires a commitment of a year or more to a difficult and sometimes maddening endeavor.
Jay Kinney (jay) Wed 16 Jan 02 15:32
Daniel, when you've described the years of doing version after version of what ultimately became Ishmael, I'm left with the rather personal question of "how did you make ends meet while all this (non-paying) writing was going on?" Were you working on the side? Or had an income from previous investments? Or...? I ask because the financial equation is always part of what I have to consider when sitting down to write. i.e., is there are market for this? Will this pay the rent at the end of the month? and so on... It isn't what I like to think about, but it's part of trying to write for a living.
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Wed 16 Jan 02 17:40
During the early years I was working on the book, Rennie was earning a salary as the assistant to the Goodman School of Drama, and I was still earning money as a developer of educational materials. Then I received an inheritance that we decided to use to get out of Chicago and give me time to finish this project. We moved to New Mexico and bought a home/retail business in Madrid, about 30 miles south of Santa Fe. After about three years we discovered we were utter flops as shopkeepers. With the remnants of our cash we started a weekly newspaper called The East Mountain News, covering a huge area east of Albuquerque that was not being served by any newspaper (and whose merchants had no advertising medium). This was largely Rennie's project (newspapering being in her blood, so to speak). I gave the newspaper three days a week and the book the other four. The paper was quite successful but eventually wore Rennie out (and you can't just shut a newspaper down to take a month off). We sold it and moved to Austin, TX, where Rennie landed a good job as an editor at an educational publisher, and she supported us until I finished Ishmael and won the Turner Tomorrow Award for it. The whole adventure was quite amazingly reckless, considering that we were both in our forties when it started. We put our lives in the hands of the gods, and they looked after us.
Jay Kinney (jay) Wed 16 Jan 02 22:20
> We put our lives in the hands of the gods, and they looked after us. Good for them! And it was certainly a blessing that you were able to spend several days a week just writing without economic pressure. I've certainly toyed with moving to Ireland where writers are apparently exempt from income tax. ;-)
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Thu 17 Jan 02 07:28
I hadn't heard that about Ireland. After losing two of the twentieth century's biggest literary lights, maybe this is the country's way of trying to keep its writers at home!
Jay Kinney (jay) Thu 17 Jan 02 22:10
Daniel, another thought that occurs to me. Literary purists have often looked down on "comics" as an inferior medium. The criticism is that showing scenes visually inhibits the reader's imagination from picturing it him/herself. Yet you've said that "The Man Who Grew Young" was not really feasible as a prose project. Any thoughts on comics and graphic novels as a medium distinct from purely text fiction?
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Fri 18 Jan 02 10:40
When photography appeared, it was inconceivable that this could ever become a legitimate art form. When motion pictures came on the scene, no self-respecting actor would lower himself to appear in one. When sound came in, film purists wept; when color came in, they wept some more. New media always suffer from the scorn of purist snobs. What in the world is contemptible about telling stories with pictures? Does anyone despise Michaelangelo for what he did on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Should Pope Julius have commissioned a piece of text instead, so as not to inhibit the imagination of visitors to the chapel? There are no good and bad media. Paint is a wonderful medium, but does that mean that, if he was a real artist, Edward Weston would have ditched his camera? Radio is wonderful medium for drama, but does that mean that, if Francis Ford Coppola was a true artist, he would have done APOCALYPSE NOW as a radio drama? Artistry isn't a function of the medium but of the USE of the medium. Cinema originated as a cheap novelty; no artists were involved in it. But when they began to see its possibilities as an artistic medium, they ignored its nickelodeon origins. The same has yet to happen to the medium of THE MAN WHO GREW YOUNG. According to media snobs, the medium itself is unworthy of a serious artist. On the matter of "graphic novels as a medium distinct from purely text fiction"... To my mind the difference between these media is the distance they put between the reader and the characters. A prose novel puts the characters IN HERE--inside your head. This is fine, of course, but it isn't inherently desirable, isn't always what works best. When I tried writing THE MAN WHO GREW YOUNG as a prose novel, I found it just wouldn't work to have Adam Taylor IN HERE. By translating him to the page graphically, I put him OUT THERE. (Characters seen on a stage or a screen are similarly OUT THERE.)
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Fri 18 Jan 02 11:17
What a profound distinction! An interesting way to look at history since the rise of the novel -- you could call it the "IN HERE Period".
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Fri 18 Jan 02 11:23
I thought it was pretty good myself. I'd never really thought about the distinction till you asked the question.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Fri 18 Jan 02 11:58
That's one of the great things about *this* form.
Jay Kinney (jay) Fri 18 Jan 02 23:10
Daniel, you talk about the Novel as an IN HERE medium, but it occurs to me that with modern book marketing and the media that authors' success increasingly depends on them being OUT THERE! I know that I'm a kind of stay at home guy (as are many writers and artists). Yet book tours, TV appearances, radio interviews, etc. all seem to call for the author to be an extrovert and performer. How does that sit with you?
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Sat 19 Jan 02 07:43
It seems to me that authors who are adept at self-promotion have always had an advantage--people who have an instinct for attracting media attention. You can even attract media attention by shunning it, the way J.D. Salinger (and, more recently, Jonathan Franzen) did. Of course, you have to have the books as well. Just being a colorful character wouldn't have made Hemingway a successful author if he hadn't been writing important books, but being a colorful character certainly helped get them to a wider audience than if he'd been bland and boring. James Redfield, a terrific self-promoter, single-handedly turned The Celestine Prophecy into a bestseller, but it wouldn't have become a bestseller if readers weren't getting something out of it that they wanted. No amount of promotion (of any kind) will make a success of a book that no one wants to read. I can give you a great example of this from my own experience. Oprah once devoted a show to three authors whose work she loved: Sarah Ban Breathnach, Alive Walker, and me. At this point no one had ever heard of Sarah Ban Breathnach (or her book, Simple Abundance). Alice Walker was promoting her latest book, in which she related her horrible experience with the making of the film The Color Purple (poor baby!). And of course I was there courtesy of Ishmael. After this show, Breathnach's book became a monster bestseller, mine received a nice little boost (it was already a successful book), and Alice Walker's did nothing. What this shows is that there was a huge market for what Breathnach was doing, a much smaller market for what I was doing, and no market at all for what Alice Walker was doing. The mass market that Oprah reaches wants stuff like Simple Abundance, is much less interested in philosophical novels, and doesn't want to hear any author whining about how much she suffered while becoming famous and earning millions of dollars. Personally, while I'm no great showman, I enjoy book tours, TV appearances, and radio interviews. I dislike the travel involved but know this is the best way to let my readers know that I've got something new out there. At the same time, I firmly believe that if you've got something people want, they'll find it. Maybe it'll take a while, but the word will get out--if you've got something people want. (And if you don't, no amount of hoopla will MAKE them want it.)
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 19 Jan 02 17:19
E-mail from someone on the Internet, who did not choose to identify himself. mr. quinn america, since sept. 11, seems to be opening their minds to other views, besides our one track view of the world, on politics, religion, freedom, etc. do you think,maybe, something good could come from this horrendous event we as, americans are dealing with? for example, we've heard so much about one of the reasons americans are so hated in the world, our foreign policy in dealing with american interests in the middle east and elsewhere. what i'm getting at is do you think there will be any change in the way we view american culture as more important than other cultures, in that when thousands of americans died tragically, on sept.11, it seemed unthinkable that such an event could happen in this day and age, but when thousands of afghanistanians were tragically killed in response to 9-11 it seemed like no one in the west even noticed, i never once, seen a daily count on how many people were being bomb to their graves in afghanistan. doe! s this mean, to our leaders and the general population, that an american life is worth more than a afghanistan life. what are your thoughts on this situation and do you think 9-11 was another example of the cauldron begining to boil over to the point of evaporation. peace
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 19 Jan 02 17:20
E-mail from Art Slade: Hi Daniel, I just wanted to post to "the well" and say how much I enjoyed "The Man Who Grew Young." It was quite an eloquent piece, full of surprising revelations. You must be quite proud of it. Art
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Sat 19 Jan 02 17:32
No, I don't see 9/11 as "another example of the cauldron begining to boil over." It was not, in other words, an expression of despair over what the people of our (worldwide) culture are doing to humanity and to the world in general. It was simply an expression of hated toward Americans. And I'm afraid I don't see the possibility of "something good" resulting from it.
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Sat 19 Jan 02 17:35
Hi Art-- Glad you enjoyed TMWGY. I found it a very satisfying book to create, especially to watch the art come together so beautifully (over a three-year period!). In some ways, it's my favorite of all my books, but ISHMAEL casts a long, long shadow!
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 21 Jan 02 00:14
E-mail from Roger: Daniel, Is it frustrating for you that ISHMAEL overshadows the rest of your body of work? It seems that none of your later books have appealed to people as much as that one. I'm not sure why, since I think they're all great. Thanks, Roger
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 21 Jan 02 00:14
E-mail from Pablo Contreras: In your book "The Story of B", you talk about our culture currently "collapsing"; do you think that if this notion was broadly spread, we could change our doings to open the space for some new vision to arise? In other words, would you advise to tell every age group in our society that our culture is death and that it's up to us to find how we ought to live, and that this is a good thing? And could you further explain the implications of this collapse?
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Mon 21 Jan 02 07:06
Roger-- If I admit to being frustrated by this, I also have to admit to this being a bit irrational. ISHMAEL's success is due in large part to the fact that it has caught on in the schools in a big way, being used at every level of the curriculum from midschool to graduate school, and later books (though they're used here and there) don't lend themselves to this use nearly as well. I'm rather in the position of J.D. Salinger, whose later work all stands in the shadow of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (which the schools have made an enduring classic). Neither of us really has any ground for complaint!
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Mon 21 Jan 02 07:34
Pablo, I guess you could say that the task I've set myself is to show people that the chaos and catastrophe that we're experiencing (from the dissolution of the nuclear family to the phenomenon of children plotting to commit wholesale murder) is not just a bad patch we have to put up with until a good patch comes along. This is something we've been building toward for thousands of years, and every day we march out and put our shoulders to the wheel to push the trend further. In other words, we got us INTO this mess by following a certain path, and it's absurd to think that we can get OUT of this mess by CONTINUING to follow that path. We MUST get our feet on a new path--and soon. (And this path isn't something we have to invent; it's just the path we were on before we embarked on the strange adventure that has led us to this point of crisis.) I think my clearest statement about all this was made in a speech called "The New Renaissance," which you can find on my website at http://www.ishmael.org/Education/Writings/The_New_Renaissance.shtml.
Tony (jonl) Wed 23 Jan 02 05:17
Email from Tony: mr. quinn, with tmwgy, i guess you could say, you used a different format to get the same message across, wich to me is a excellant idea because you've reached out to a crowd (comic book readers and writers) that not many writers of your caliber would do. earlier this year i read somewhere that you were working on screenplays for "the story of b" and "after dachu". are those screenplays still in the works and are there any other mediums you would like to experiment with in the future to get your writings out to other generas. also do you plan to release anything in 2002? i greatly respect what you do and hope for much more in the near future. THANKS, TONY
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Wed 23 Jan 02 06:55
Thanks back, Tony, for your encouraging words. It's true that, in between books, I spent some time writing screenplays. There was some early interest in After Dachau in Hollywood, but that didn't blossom, and I didn't feel there was much future in that screenplay. There was also some interest in The Story of B from an independent filmmaker, but a few weeks of work persuaded me that I'd ultimately have to falsify the book to turn it into a 100-minute motion picture. Meanwhile . . . yes, there will be a new book in the fall of 2002, a novel called The Holy--something very different from all past work (but still within my thematic territory).
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