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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

'FREEDOM': Jonathan Franzen discusses his novel and the writing process with Leigh Sales on LATELINE

Be all that as it may, meanwhile:
'In other news…'
30th November 2010

Tuesday: But two hours broken sleep out of four in the cot, unable to sleep without eventually succumbing to my talking book and headphones.

Janny and I got to an appointment at Charlie Gee's by half nine, on this stinking hot day, high thirties Celsius. Before noon we were visiting Baby Inkletter in Adelaide Terrace, to drop of some supplements we'd been storing in our fridge for the last week for her, and we drove her to the Inglewood Library to save her bussing in the scorching conditions.

She finally has completed her assignments and exams for her Diploma of Education, which, assuming she has passed, will be her third degree; she will have to wear a triple deckered black flat cap at graduation.

Back briefly to Charlie Gee's for a prescription after dropping our precious daughter back home in the heart of the city, then finally home. I had to go to bed, and slept maybe another four plus hours till after dark.

Lateline: The (Leigh) Sales Graph: Thank you Ms Sales for bringing us a superb interview with Jonathan Franzen, celebrated author, who has recently had his latest novel 'Freedom' published.

Mr Franzen was able to open up and give some exceptional insights, under the skillful questioning of Ms Sales, about the novel and about the phenomenon of writing. He wasn't afraid to assess the devaluation flowing from even interviews like the very one he was engaged in with Ms Sales, late in the time allotted: "But there is something about the process – particularly of doing interviews like this, frankly - that it begins to empty you out and you start to feel as if more of the language you speak is going dead on you." Give us more of this type of honesty and integrity any day!

I could not think of a better ABC journalist, a better qualified one, to conduct an interview like this. Being very widely read, intelligent, and with a satisfyingly broadening insight, Ms Sales helped her honoured guest share much of value, and much of unusual but fascinating interest.

For example, Ms Sales asked Mr Franzen whether he missed his characters when he finished writing a book, and he gave a wonderful analysis of what leaving his characters be, when he pens his final lines, means to him.

For this line from Mr Franzen alone, thank you thank you thank you, Ms Sales: "You know, once it's passed a certain hour in the evening it's time to be reading… because I need that time alone to commune with a book."

I imagine interviews like this one are like getting a favourite dessert after a long and punishing diet for the likes of Leigh Sales, who, for her bread and butter must spend mind-numbing hours grilling mediocre politicians who are all mouth and trousers, these connivers, shallow-minded common scoundrels in suits.


Gladys Hobson said...

Well, I miss my characters when I finish a book - especially the last of a trilogy. They have been part of your life, hardly leaving your mind whatever you happen to be doing. They are real people brought to life in one's imagination — walking, talking, loving, hating, each unique but familiar. I still see and hear them. I put them in situations — 'Rob would have done...'

Payton L. Inkletter said...

Gladys: I don't know how you could do otherwise than miss your characters, given the huge investment of imagination and thinking time before during and after your writing sessions.

We don't have to meet a person to love them and admire them, dislike them, and so on. The real people we are told about by others are not essentially different in their impacts in our cognitive and emotional spheres than most fictional characters in stories.

But Jonathan Franzen seemed to really mean, honest injun style, in answer to Leigh Sales, that he does not miss his characters once the last page is written and closed (Lateline Tuesday 30th November 2010):
LEIGH SALES: Do you miss your characters when you finish a book?

JONATHAN FRANZEN: That's an interesting question.

No, oddly not. I'm very involved with them when I'm working on them. I love them, I can't - that's part of why it takes me so long to write a novel is I - it takes me a long time to create characters I really love - love enough to be very hard on.

And female characters I tend to have, you know, I'm in love with them to some extent and even male characters, there's a quality of a kind of a crush-like preoccupation and intense affection for them. But there's something about bringing an end to the story - drawing the curtain on this particular story - that just puts all that immediately behind me and it's done. It's done.

They're in the book now and I'm closing the door on that, so I don't miss them oddly. Never have.

Never want to go back to them. I don't really... I'm not a sequel-writing kind of person. Like, they had their place in that story and now it's done.

LEIGH SALES: As a reader, if the characters are particularly well drawn, I sometimes feel like they're still living their lives somewhere out there and I just don't have a window on that anymore once I've finished the book.

It seems like you don't feel that way necessarily as a writer though?

JONATHAN FRANZEN: As a reader I absolutely feel that way, you know. I feel like Pierre Bezukhov and Natasha Rostova are with me always. I feel like Josef K from Kafka's book The Trial, he's with me always.

They're are a hundred characters - there are three characters in Christina Stead's masterpiece The Man who Loved Children who are just - I really do believe, just like you said, that they're out there in the world, that they have some reality.

It's only my own characters I don't feel that about."

Well, he couldn't make it much plainer than that.

Gladys said...

Miracle on the River Kwai by Ernest Gordon will never leave my memory though I first read it many years ago. Last year, at out local memorial, we were at the Service of Remembrance for those who lived and died in the war with Japan. Tears streamed down my face. Not just because, although a child when the war ended and tales of suffering were told and seen at the cinema, but because of what Gordon wrote in his book. Out of despair a new Christian hope was born. It was through the self-sacrifice of those living in that hell, so well described.

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