by Hope Dorman
American novelist, essayist and nonfiction writer Caleb Crain will be giving a presentation on campus titled “The Disenchantment of Literature in the Age of the Hit Counter.” The presentation will be on Tuesday, March 31st at 7:30 PM in the University of Portland bookstore. His novel, Necessary Errors which was published in August of 2013, was reviewed by the New York Times and The New Yorker and is on Wall Street Journal’s list of top ten books of 2013.
I had the chance to interview him to find out more about his work and his writing process, and to encourage the UP community to attend the event and hear what he has to say:
What literature influences you?
I found inspiring the way the novelist Henry Green uses dialogue to tell his stories. Sybille Bedford’s novel “A Legacy” helped me see how I could assemble a novel by piecing together the stories of several different people, shifting the focus from one story to the next. I’m fascinated by Henry James’s characters, and the way the reader is allowed to experience their inner thoughts with both intimacy and irony.
What is your writing process?
It seems to be different from one project to the next. The one thing I know is that I have to show up—to make the time for the writing. Then I wait to see what happens. Sometimes nothing does, but that’s part of the process.
Your topic is about the state of literature and reading today. What does its status mean to writers?
I’m going to try to talk about the aura around literature—the sense that people have, or used to have, that it’s special, that there isn’t anything else like it—and the way that this aura seems to me to have been dispelled somewhat by the internet. I think it used to be understood that literature took its meaning and value from a larger community, but that the experience of it was necessarily private. On the internet, the situation is reversed: one’s experience of a text is often made transparent to others, and may no longer seem quite real any more unless others can see it, but one is encouraged to decide the meaning and value of the text on one’s own.
How has your work changed since you began writing?
That’s a tough question! I seem to be getting slower. I think I’m more willing to accept that the kind of fiction that I want to write isn’t necessarily going to conform to everyone’s idea of what contemporary fiction is supposed to be, and more willing to allow myself to keep going in an idiosyncratic direction, if it seems worthwhile to.
What advice do you have for aspiring and beginning writers?
Keep a journal. It’s impossible to be good at an art unless you practice every day. It’s good for the soul to write sentences that you know that no one will read while you’re alive. And unless you keep a journal, you won’t realize how much of your life you forget, in the ordinary course of living. While you’re writing in a journal, the immediate reward is the chance to write about one’s feelings. It’s fun to do that, and you should. Years later, when you re-read the journal, however, your feelings may not be as interesting to you as details of the texture of your life, so that would be my second piece of advice: Put into your journal as many details as you can: what the kitchen looked like, what your friend was wearing, what you overheard someone say.