'Out of Africa,' Dinesen's second book, is a love story, though not the one portrayed by Streep and Redford in the film. The memoir is about Dinesen's love of East Africa - the cultures, the landscapes, the animals. The feeling that saturates the book is reverence.
The novelist in me is probably hiding behind all the stories I write, looking for ways to connect them and continue the conversation with readers. Maybe I'm writing one long narrative, and each book, however different from the last, is just a chapter.
As children know, there's lots of fun in nonsense. We never stop benefiting from staying flexible, open and responsive, even in the midst of confusion.
Writing that flirts with incoherence can just as readily flounder as writing characterized by simplicity and composure. There is no reliable formula for originality, and strategies that are distinguished as innovative in their first incarnation can quickly become stale in the hands of lesser artists.
When we really start searching for the truth in stories, we can find it everywhere, not just in sincere confessions but in the deliberate lies and imagined possibilities, the magic and fantasy, and all the other unreal elements that go into the concoction of identity.
The past is full of examples of renegade writers who were overlooked in their time not only because their work didn't fit neatly into potted categories but also because they avoided the self-promotional efforts of their peers.
There are plenty of writers, past and present, from Shakespeare to Henry James to Lydia Davis, who test the limits of coherence and put pressure on current notions of accessible (and acceptable) narrative methods. To thrive and change and grow, any art needs this kind of pressure.
I don't think Donald Barthelme would have minded being called a confusing writer. Confusion was a favorite subject for him in his essays and reviews, and it's enacted in his fiction in a mishmash of dizzying incongruities.
I feel there has to be a certain amount of improvisation as I'm writing, which means any idea or any commitment to a project is risky. It involves time; it involves gathering of material, and sometimes it just doesn't work. Sometimes it does. As I'm starting out on a project, I can't tell if it will click or not.
If the rules of a language are followed, words usually make sense. But these very rules can stir the impulse to rebel. We're obliged to keep trying to convey meaning through correct sentences. After a while, the good-soldier rigidity of polished prose can begin to seem dull, and it gets harder to resist the temptation of nonsense.
Telling ourselves that fiction is in a sense true and at the same time not true is essential to the art of fiction. It's been at the heart of fiction from the start. Fiction offers both truth, and we know it's a flat-out lie. Sometimes it drives a novelist mad. Sometimes it energizes us.
My first two books, I was very close to my main character, stuck inside their head. And then with 'Arrogance,' I broke into many different voices. I introduce many different characters, and that helped me to develop a confidence to move between different characters, between different voices.
I'm really such a bumbler! Writing fiction is like arranging furniture in a dark room. I can't see what I'm doing. I grope for the right words. I bump against the wrong words and stumble and stub my toe and curse and keep trying to guess what belongs in the space.
There's a point I set for myself, and it's an arbitrary point, when I think no matter happens, I'm going to finish that book. And that's when I get to page 100. I have to see it out.
Whether art is defined as a representation of or response to reality, it demands an intense engagement with things we haven't managed to understand fully.
Reviewers try to square the antics of a writer's life with the antics in the fiction. Even satirical verbal play is too often read and admired as autobiographical expression. And thanks to the democratic exposures of the web, it's easier than ever to document private experiences and divulge the most intimate secrets.
With prurient absorption and only minimal risk, we can pretend to be the subject of the lead article on the front page of the Style section of our local newspaper for as long as it takes to finish our morning coffee.
While it can be pleasurable to move speedily through a work of fiction, there's a different sort of pleasure to be had in lingering, backtracking, rereading the same page.