This morning, after driving through a surprisingly thick snowstorm, I found myself in a tiny room in the radio studio of WDEV in Waterbury. Hester Fuller, the host, had kindly read my book and interviewed me for a bit, then Gary Miller (author of the fine collection Museum of the Americas) came in, too, with Joe Citro on the phone line.
We were literally knee-to-knee in a tiny room, talking about the intimacy of writing. Writing is that curious mixture of intense privacy – literally, the stuff of our own experiences – spun into shared stories. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden wound into my life when I was fifteen, lodging deeply in my blood cells, its influence surfacing in my own writing. Over and over, I have hammered myself against Steinbeck’s anvil that insists on seizing human choice despite the chaotic happenstance of human life. How will I understand my life? The lives of those I dearly love?
Driving home in the dark tonight, I realized my character, Fern, understood her life like this: finding an abandoned sweater in a library’s free box, she washed and then unravelled the yarn, discarding what was ruined beyond repair, saving what she could. Then she knitted, by trial and error, a sweater patterned with trees and mountains and Lady Moon, creating a work of beauty – and practicality.
Only after a writer lets literature shape her can she perhaps shape literature. In working-class France, when an apprentice got hurt, or when he got tired, the experienced workers said, “It is the trade entering his body.” The art must enter the body, too.
– Annie Dillard, The Writing Life