Why Literary Ashland?

Why establish a blog on the literary life of southern Oregon?  For a while I’ve been marveling at some of the literary talent that lives in the area and that passes   through.  And as I’ve attended talks and readings, or in some cases interviewed writers, there has always been something that stuck with me that seemed worth writing down and remembering.  So one of the purposes of Literary Ashland is to collect and share those take-aways.

Here are some examples, in no particular order.  Visiting in April of 2010, Christopher Rice talked about the importance of characters and relationships to fiction and the way that he always tries to find out what he has in common with a character.  He also mentioned that places are sometimes characters—he grew up after all in New Orleans—so I guess it’s also crucial to find out what you have in common with a place you write about. 

Tobias Wolff also visited in April of 2010 and talked about, among other things, the significance of small moments in life as providing insight into one’s own moral sense. (So we think about our lives paths in terms of Frost’s road not taken.)

In May of 2010, I interviewed Tim Maleeny, a New York ad executive who has written several very funny mysteries (Jump, Stealing the Dragon, Beating the Babushka, Greasing the Piñata).  His advice was to develop an ensemble of characters, explore relationships among characters, turn stock devices on their heads, put characters out of place, and use short chapters that alternate humor and action.

In August of 2010, Maryann Mason interviewed the legendary Aaron Elkins, author of the Gideon Oliver “bone detective” novels.  Elkins said that he thought that the mysteries cannot literary fiction because they have to hide too much from the reader. It’s a nice point.  I guess if someone wants to try to write a literary mystery they’d need to both hide and reveal.  He also pointed out that when Gideon Oliver ovels were made into an ABC televsion series (in 1989!), the writers changed the character from a physical anthropologist to a cultural anthropologist. They didn’t think anyone would be interested in forensics.

Visiting in February of 2011, Mark Salzman pointed out that you are not the author of your life story; you are the audience.  That takes a lot of pressure off. Salzman also quoted his wife, filmmaker Jessica Yu, on the difference between documentary and narrative: in the first you organize material that is already there; in the second you generate material.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology was released by Oxford University Press in June of 2014.
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