INTERVIEW: SELAH SATERSTROM
Your novels The Meat and Spirit Plan and The Pink Institution do a wonderful job balancing their big, philosophical ideas with compelling and unique characters. What steps do you take to create your characters?
When a character arrives...well, I suppose I should start with that: arrival. It is a mystery. And the characters arrive with the entire project (though it can take years to hear, see, and reveal it). I experience this process as a visitation: characters are like ghost-roommates who set up shop inside my home, my brain: all the spaces between all the things in my life. My primary job is to listen to them. It means practicing awareness about my desires in the light (and darkness) of what a story needs, on its terms. What the work requires is not always congruent with what I think the work is "about." I may even have judgment about what it requests, it may not be what I had hoped for. At crossroad moments within a project, I often have to surrender what I thought and privilege what the text necessitates. Writing is an invitation to practice non-attachment.
What would you like to see other writers do more of with their characters?
I want all writers to do what they/their work needs to do. I can say that I notice while editing my work, as well others', that sometimes we think in the work: we comment on why x is so profound, we speculate...we bloat our texts with what is already stated or implied. In such moments I often want to say: trust the details. Rather than overly-narrating, trusting the details to accomplish the labor of "telling" the story. Probably the best answer I can offer is to suggest Joan Fiset's Now the Day is Over and Rebecca Brown's Excerpts from a Family Medical Dictionary. These are profound guidebooks about how one might trust the details to move the characters and story - and what is profound concerning both - forward. Of course, there are plenty of times when everything I just said goes out the window! It always goes back to writers listening to what their work requests, requires.
What do you never want to see another writer do with character again?
What an odd and fascinating question I have never asked myself! I've never been reading and thought, "Now there's something I never want to see another writer do..." It sounds like it would be kind of fun, to know so much, but then I am humbled instantly as I recall my own writing conundrums. Maybe my reaction is my best attempt at an answer.
SELAH SATERSTROM is the author of The Pink Institution (Coffee House Press / 2004) & The Meat and Spirit Plan (Coffee House Press / 2007).