INTERVIEW: BRIAN KITELEY
Your The 3 A.M. Epiphany and The 4 A.M. Breakthrough are both excellent resources to help writers jump-start their creativity. What's the one exercise or bit of advice between those books that most benefits your own creative process?
My favorite fiction exercise is The Bridge, Exercise 141, in The 3A.M. Epiphany. “Choose two good, useful, and thrilling paragraphs from other writers of fiction, letters, or nonfiction,” the exercise tells you. “Then make a prose bridge between the paragraphs, although you don’t need to make the matter between the two paragraphs equal to the two bookend paragraphs.” I like the way these two paragraphs put pressure on the bridge paragraph(s), deforming the beginning of my own prose to correspond just a little bit with the first paragraph and doing the same thing at the end, to match the second alien piece of prose. I used to tell my students, especially in undergraduate classes, that they could pull their own writing out of this exercise and have fascinating, stand-alone fiction. But in my work, I have rarely deleted the other writers’ language. Sometimes I have revised their writing, but I like having the other voices bouncing off my own voices. This is, in the end, what we all do, trying to match our idiolect (our private version of the master language) with the prevailing, proper English (or Arabic or French) of the agreed-upon public language.
Your first novel Still Life with Insects originally appeared in print in 1989 and is being prepared for electronic release next year. What excites you most about e-books and electronic publishing?
My own writing for the last fifteen years has been largely published in digital form, in on-line magazines or sometimes straight onto my own home page at the University of Denver. I like having a great storehouse of information about my writing on my homepage because I have control of this material. For a long time, it’s felt like I was shouting in the wilderness, posting my fiction and essays and course pages and philosophies of teaching in this medium, but it seems to have kept my name and writing alive when few magazine editors were taking my idiosyncratic fiction. I do not own a Kindle or an iPad, so I don’t know what the experience of reading any book in electronic form is like, but the vast majority of reading I do is on the computer. I could not live without Josh Marshall, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, or 3quarksdaily. I believe we are learning to read in very different ways, because of computers, Kindles, iPads, and smart phones. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
If there is a downside to electronic publishing, what is it?
I love the texture and smell of books, even old, ratty 1945 Pocket Book editions (I’m reading Chandler’s Lady in the Lake at the moment). I wrote the first draft of my most recent novel in a beautiful, bound Italian blank book my wife bought me ten years ago. I wrote the book to change my habit of endlessly revising every little bit of prose I wrote (and never getting very far into a long story, because of this habit)—my rule for this draft was not to turn back, never revise, not even to comment on the story as I wrote it. The fact that this book and its gorgeous paper was waiting voluptuously for me every morning for the two years I was writing the first draft was very important. I realized, after my last published novel The River Gods, that I wanted to get back to the feeling of touching paper, writing with a fancy ink pen, and seeing the concrete page in a much different way than one sees it on a computer. I love the fact that one commits oneself to language when writing by hand. Word processing, by its very nature, allows for endless circles and returns and revisions. The pen on paper marks a long line, a progression of thoughts that can’t cancel themselves out. Hand-written words act more like spoken conversation. Text created on the computer feels more like thought, an internal conversation.
BRIAN KITELEY is the author of The River Gods, Still Life with Insects, and I Know Many Songs, but I Cannot Sing.