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“Write very hard, keep the prose lively and original, never sell out…”

 

R.I.P., Stephen Dixon. Here are some quotes from some of the author’s interviews.

 

“I give myself no excuses for not writing.”

 

“I try to get in deep, emotionally, and I try for honest emotions, real emotions, emotions. I love emotional writing; I don’t like sentimental writing, syrupy writing.”

 

“I just write; I have no plan of attack. I don’t think of hybrids, character studies, metafiction. Whatever I’m doing and have done will have to be explained by other people who know my work better or differently than I do. I’m just the writer. Once a work starts, things happen, the work grows and becomes more complex, ideas come, etc.. Once a work’s completed and I’ve gone through the galleys, I forget about it and am already deep into, by that time, something new.”

 

“It’s sort of a challenge to write something where the reader wouldn’t notice there wasn’t a period in one hundred pages. But it’s what you say: it’s for intensity. I just look for a natural place to spot, but I can’t find it, and I can’t stop until I do. But I think I’m coming out of it. I’ve been in a paragraph slump for twenty years.”

 

“What do I want to read in a short story? What kind of story do I want to read? To answer questions one and two: interesting and adventurous and original and clear stories and novels. Stuff that hasn’t been done before but is done in a way that doesn’t have to be done again.”

 

“I read seriously and for an intense reading experience. Thus, there are very few writers that come up to my standards of reading and very few very good writers who have sustained the quality of their fiction in book after book or story after story. But I don’t see why a writer can’t do that, always be good and always grow from his or her earlier works. If a work is lousy, one shouldn’t be reluctant to abandon and destroy it. Each year I throw out works I wrote first drafts of but which stunk, which is why I never went back to them.”

 

“Kafka’s one of my favorite writers. He’s inimitable. ‘The Judgement’ is one of the best stories ever written, and same goes for Penal Colony and Metamorphosis as novellas and The Trial as a novel. He’s deep and unusual and original and…and…inimitable. I always go back to Kafka. I like his very short pieces too. The Castle got tedious, though, and I didn’t like Amerika.”

 

“Chekhov could be the greatest writer who ever lived. And I don’t say that because my wife is a Chekhov scholar (his stories) and teaches him. I’m always reading Chekhov…so, always rereading him because I think I’ve read all the published stories in English. I’m amazed sometimes the things he pulls off. Language and character and dialog and story and the endings, those superb endings, and the great scenery—brushstrokes, quick but intensely visual…a master.”

 

“I’m sorry, I’m not good at explaining what I do and how I did it and what my intention was in doing it. I just do it and redo it and reredo it till the page is perfect, or as close to perfection as I can get it, and then on to the next. I don’t think I write at a heightened level. I’ve been known to get very lugubrious when I write something that’s sad.”

 

“David Evanier and Steven Schrader are friends and I like their work a lot. We have literary rapport. But there aren’t many writers I like. I liked T. Bernhard and Joyce and Beckett and Kafka and Chekhov and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (when I was in my teens and early twenties) and Mann (T.) and a lot others. But I can’t put a list together of that many living writers I like today. I’m very particular and you can say my opinions of living writers is worthless and unhelpful.”

 

“[Thomas Bernhard] delivers it to the targets in society who deserve it: pompous assholes and fakes and farceurs and could-be’s and lousy writers and opportunists and so on. He goes deep and he hits hard he doesn’t hold back. He was no fake. Some writers can fake being real but that guy was real and original.”

 

“To tell you the truth, I’d rather talk about classical (serious) music and painting than writing. I do—or did, since it was when I got to NYC more frequently—have great literary chats with my friend David Evanier and, before he got symptoms resembling Alzheimer’s, my friend Henry H. Roth, another writer I liked very much as a person and as a writer. I get into literary discussions with my wife, who’s very literary and very smart. Most writers I know, and I don’t know many, like writers I don’t, so what’s the use of discussing their or my writers. Another writer-friend who’s very literary and likes many of the same writers I do (a few) and dislikes many of the writers I dislike (many) is Tristan Davies, a good writer and a very smart guy too. We laugh a lot when we talk about writers and writing and the literary world. But at readings, no, I rarely stop at one long enough to talk literature. I don’t like reading my work in public. I get anxious and it affects (stultifies) my writing days before. I’m glad when they’re over and I can have a drink and relax from the ordeal of reading. I’m a reader of other writers.”

 

“I’ve never thought more of my work than I thought should be thought of it.”

 

“I have thoughts about my own work and my place in the canon and so forth but I’m not going to reveal what I think. I just write the best I can and try not to fool myself that it’s better than it is and is good enough for me to go on to the next page, when it isn’t. I don’t fool myself.”

 

“The genre distinction doesn’t matter to me much. To me, an interrelated collection of stories about the same character or characters can also be called a novel. You get a full life in these collections, which you also do in a novel, and other similarities. ”

 

“I work from everything, what happens in my life and what I imagine. Every one of my books is different, and started differently, and proceeded differently than the ones before. I start with fictions and take from my experiences and start with my experiences and fictionalize them. And sometimes I just take the experiences and write about them and sometimes the work is all fiction, and so on. I have no one way of writing, starting, proceeding, finishing.”

 

“I try to be humorous and if I fail, the story becomes dramatic.”

 

“I am a writer of comedy, drama, and tragedy. I am never maudlin. I write about the deepest things in me, fears and memories of loss. I try to get the tragedies right. I touch upon, or deal with, universal tragedies, just as I deal with universal joys. When I’m writing a tragic story or chapter, I sink into it deeply. I feel very deeply about the situations and characters I write about.”

 

“The best thing about not getting my full-lengths published earlier than 40 was that it showed me whom I was writing for: myself. It gave me full license to write the way I wanted to without thinking of an audience.”

 

“I just want to concentrate on the writing and ignore the adulation (when there is some).”

 

“My legacy? I don’t know. I’m not finished yet. I’m writing as much as I’ve ever done. Take what you want from my work. I just write them, you read them. People take different things from my work. I’m embarrassed when anyone talks to me about my work.”

 

“I am obsessive in that I always have to have something to write. I would probably get ill if I didn’t have something to write. That’s why I usually start something new the day after I’ve finished something new. And if nothing comes—I might try three or four times that dayI try again the day after, and if nothing comes that day, the day after that. I only feel good when I have something to work on.”

 

“I suppose I am naturally innovative. Innovation comes easier to me than traditional writing. I enjoy saying old things in a new way.”

 

“If I want to be healthy, I must have something to write and a way to write it.”

 

“But it all comes down to words. The right words. The right union of words. The right number of syllables in the words. The right number of words. The right union of sentences. The right number of syllables in the sentences. The right number of sentences. Nothing can stick out. Everything has to work together. I work to make everything work. I know when everything is working to the whole. Pace is important to the actions and emotion of the piece, of course, and the words and juxtapositions of the sentences are important, of course, to the pace.”

 

“Lessons? I taught line by line, story by story, word by word. I told them there were no rules in fiction writing. I was always encouraging, pointed out where they were writing well, was very easy on them when they weren’t writing well. My young writers were very sensitive about their work, and I didn’t want to hurt any of them. My impression of their work meant a lot to them. Somehow, they all became better writers. Benevolence works. I told them never to fool themselves that something is better than it is. Don’t call a work finished till it’s the best you can do. Never change anything if you don’t agree with the change. Develop self-editing skills, because one day you’ll be out there writing alone. And so on. Practical advice. Don’t let rejections stop you if writing is what you love most to do. And don’t change a word just to get it published. If you do, even onceI don’t care for how much money or recognitionyou might soil your writing from then on.”

 

“Well, I try to make all my fiction clearly structured. I’ve been writing a long time, and maybe I’m finally doing something right.”

 

“You can’t just write what you remember, so you have to fix it up, to make it readable fiction, and you have to accelerate the life that you are writing about.”

 

“Humor is very important in my work. Tragedy and humor can be on the same page. I think I’m a funny writer. But I also think I’m a tender writer. Emotions mean a great deal to me.”

 

“I could care less how my work is received. Long ago I decided that worrying about getting published and getting reviewed and about the qualities published and the places where one’s reviewed and what page the review is on, etc., was a waste of time and would take time away from what I liked doing most in life and that’s writing. I don’t write for an audience or to be published and certainly not to get attention or reviews or fellowships or prizes. None of that means anything to me. I write because it’s what I like to do…I don’t write for money, have never cared for money, realize the necessity of SOME money, but have never written a word or directed a work of mine to any place for money. Worrying about dough is another thing that’ll stop the flow.”

 

“To me, the best fiction is about emotion…Why not write about intense situations? It’s probably more challenging to a writer to make banal events interesting, but it’s never been rewarding to me. The mundane should only be written in fiction as a reward for the emotional intensity that preceded it.”

 

“I never know what I’m going to write about, unless it’s a novel. Then the ideas come in relation to what was written before it. And style follows the story; I don’t know what the style will be till it’s there on the page, though I hate repeating styles and repeating stories, unless the repeat is a variation of what came before it.”

 

“No matter how many drafts of a page I write, I always want it to have the spontaneity and freshness of the first draft. Some writers take the juice out of a work by rewriting or overwriting it. I try to always make those lines and characters and dialog and situations bounce around on the page and keep bouncing. The energy in my writing might come about from my love of the act of writing and rewriting. I don’t think exciting or even interesting work comes from a writer who doesn’t like the act of writing. I write with this premise in mine: that nobody asked me to write; I’m writing because I love to write. What sort of writing in the future? I don’t know, and I love not knowing. I am always in a rush to work on and finish a new work so I can see what’ll come out of my head with the next work. But I never finish a work till I am entirely satisfied with it. So as excited as I am when I write a piece now, I look excitedly forward to what I’ll write in the future. What I do now lays the groundwork for what I do in the future. There’s a certain irony in wanting to advance to the next work while tying yourself down with your current work till it is in your mind perfect, or till you can’t do anything more with it. Anyway, let’s just say writing is an exciting process and maybe that’s why my writing comes out energetically.”

 

“Good advice for writers: Write very hard, keep the prose lively and original, never sell out, never overexcuse yourself why you’re not writing, never let a word of yours be edited unless you think the editing is helping that work, never despair about not being published, not being recognized, not getting that grant, not getting reviewed or the attention you think you deserve. In fact, never think you deserve anything. Be thankful you are able to write and enjoy writing. What I also wouldn’t do is show my unpublished work to my friends. Let agents and editors see itpeople who can get you publishedand maybe your best friend or spouse, if not letting them see it causes friction in your relationship. To just write and not worry too much about the perfect phrase and the right grammar unless the wrong grammar confuses the line, and to become the characters, and to live through, on the page, the experiences you’re writing about. To involve yourself totally with your characters and situations and never be afraid of writing about anything. To never resort to cheap tricks, silly lines that you know are sillypat endings, words, phrases, situations, and to turn the TV off and keep it off except if it’s showing something as good as a good Ingmar Bergman movie. To keep reading, only the best works, carry a book with you everywhere, even in your car in case you get caught in some hours-long gridlock. To be totally honest about yourself in your writing and never take the shortest, fastest, easiest way out. To give up writing when it’s given to you, or just rest when it dictates a need for resting; though to continue writing is you’re still excited by writing. To be as generous as your time permits to young writers who have gone through the same thing as you (that is, once you become as old as I am now). To not write because you want to be an artist or to say you’re a writer. And to be honest about the good stuff that other writers, old and your contemporaries, do too. And not to think that any stimulant stronger than a couple of cups of coffee will help your writing. Sleep helps it, keeping in shape, but little else, along those lines. And not to listen to God himself if he tells you that you aren’t a writer and will never be one, if you still think you are a writer or can become a good one, or if you get a kick out of writing. There are a lot of writers my age out there who can’t stand young writers because they’re young and full of potential and because they have a clean slate and nowhere to go but up and who are still exciting about the act of writing.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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