David Francis: The TNB Self-InterviewBy TNB Fiction
December 14, 2016
Why did you write Wedding Bush Road?
Because I needed to, and no one else could have.
Isn’t that kind of self-involved.
Perhaps, but it’s true.
Don’t you write for an audience.
If I start engineering a story to appease some notion of readership, the story risks losing its propulsion and integrity. I want to tell the story that I need to tell, not what I think someone needs to hear. I trust that the novel will find its own readership.
That sounds like a lot of hooey. No wonder you have a limited readership.
If I have some brilliant idea about what the story should be and write towards that I might never discover what the story truly is, so I tend not to write with any audience or any great conscious literary purpose; I’m just trying to find a voice that has a resonance and a story that has its own motor. Beyond that I’m trying not to think too much about the big picture, what I’m supposed to be doing, because as soon as I get into that, or have some idea of something grand, it creates an interference between me and the characters and the thread of narrative, a kind of self-consciousness and the beginnings of contrivance. The infiltration of some device or clever formula to get to where I’ve suddenly decided the story ought to be going or the deliverance of some great theme (which prior to that moment had been bubbling up from my subtler mind) usually means I’ve invited my ego to run the show and it all wanders downhill. The story will suddenly feel plain in my hands and I’ll be looking in at it from outside, from outside the window of the room where it lives, outside of myself. I’ll be unable to climb back in. So I must then become humble enough to find a door back into the heart of the thing, to some new vein in its arm where I might find blood or gold or something unexpected. I feel I can tell when a novel is truly written from this place. If it can then fill some small space in a literary landscape then that’s a benediction. I want to work organically, without structure, building sentence to sentence, or as Annie Dillard describes it, “from bole to twig to leaf to bough,” to attempt creating a vivid, continuous dream.
If you were any further up yourself you’d be inside out.
Shut it. I’m trying to be serious.
I had some stuff I had to explore about belonging and yearning and fidelity and searching for connection and love. I needed to find out about it, feel it and understand it.
You are such a wanker.
Fuck you. What do you write?
I don’t. I like watching The Voice. How do you even find time to write, the way you run around like a fart in a bath?
I spend most of the year here in Los Angeles where I do fight for the time to write, getting to it in my half sleep, scribbling prose as I wake, in a cemetery near Downtown L.A. at lunch time, in my office “of an evening” as they say in Australia, or late at night in my attic looking out to the Hollywood Hills. As I’m always plotting to find writing time, when I do, I don’t have the luxury of procrastination. And when I’m not writing, my sub-conscious mind seems to mull about in my characters’ heads or the world I’m creating. In Wedding Bush Road, I’ve essentially spent five years back on a farm in Australia, in my mind. A far cry from my office on the 41st Floor. But there’s something about that distance and dislocation that makes me yearn for the faraway place and to see it more clearly. The novel is about a young man going home to Australia but is told in the voices of several characters. When I heard one of them, I would scratch it down long-hand, wherever I was. The furious taking of notes in a business meeting can be awkward but I needed to catch those voices as they passed through me. Anything I write that’s halfway decent, usually begins in long-hand.
I wrote my first novel, The Great Inland Sea (published internationally as Agapanthus Tango) back when I was lawyering and also riding a team of jumping horses on the show-jumping circuit here in California. I realized I had to surrender the riding to pursue the writing which was the best thing I ever did. I’m not afraid of getting old and dotty as a writer, so long as I have a room of my own and something to write. I’ve been lucky enough to travel and see and experience things to fuel the possibility. (Although, Emily Bronte barely left the house.)
Maybe you should stay home more often.
I know. But then I have to be with you.
So you write to get away from me?
Maybe I write to contain you. To understand you. In some ways, the Reggie character in Wedding Bush Road represents you. That wild, feral, uncontained aspect of my being.
Whatever. But Reggie is kind of cool.
In an odd way, he emerges as the conscience of the novel, so there’s arguably hope for you.
I doubt it.
I heard someone say your writing tends to be spare. Is that a nice way of saying you’re a literary anorectic?
When talking about paring prose back to the essentials, Australian novelist A.S. Patrić (winner of the 2016 Miles Franklin Award) said: “It’s a school of thought that eschews ornamentation or elaboration, and makes a virtue of concision and only the sharpest, most pertinent details. This has been an established aesthetic since Hemingway, and was pushed even further and consolidated by Raymond Carver (with the rather merciless helping hand of Gordon Lish). In Australia this has become so pervasive as to be doctrinal.”
My first novel, Agapanthus Tango/The Great Inland Sea was generally regarded as spare and restrained (compared, in that regard, to Hemingway in one review, and as being Faulknerian in another, though I never quite understood the latter). Nonetheless, a leaner tone suited the stark emotional and physical landscape of the story. And I have to say, I love that kind of prose – where the emotionality bubbles up as much from between the lines as from the lines themselves, so that what is not revealed becomes almost as important as what’s on the page.
Stray Dog Winter, more of a mystery which evolves into a kind of literary suspense novel, was fuller in style and arguable more “prosey.” As a result it often resonates in a different way to readers, and connects with a slightly different readership. While the prose is still lyrical, I hope, it is perhaps more “lapidary” in style. While none of this was particularly intentional, it was what the story required.
Wedding Bush Road began with a story titled Once Removed that was published in Harvard Review and then Best Australian Stories. It was a short story well in excess of the usual Australian maximum length of 5000 words and was called “opulent in detail…in fact, it luxuriates in nuances of description.” It was described in The Sydney Morning Herald as being ‘like a carpet unrolled before our eyes… [a] revelation of mosaic structures.’ A pared-down version of that story unfolded into Wedding Bush Road and perhaps represents the best of both worlds, slightly more luxuriant prose but still somewhat restrained. The original piece came to me in a kind of flourish and I wrote it, not knowing whether it would be a short story or the beginnings of a novel. Then I heard another voice, that of a wild teenager called Reggie Dumbalk, and I wrote his story in another flourish. I keenly followed events seen or experienced by the main narrator Daniel, then Reggie then others, as the novel cupped itself forward from several points of view, all in the first person and all in the present. I don’t presume to have great authorial control, other than having one sentence inform the next, hammering along the walls in search for a load-bearing beam (Annie Dillard’s image). As a reader, I love tight, lyrical, heartfelt stories. For me, it’s far preferable than its opposite.
You mean bulimic writing?
Neither bulimia nor anorexia are appropriate analogies for writing.
My two cents worth is that most books published aren’t quite taut nor heartfelt enough for my taste. As a result, I find myself disconnecting and putting too many novels down. Maybe there isn’t enough care for or love of language, and rarely is there any real music. Maybe as writers and readers we are becoming increasingly disconnected from ourselves and so we don’t really notice. But those odd times when I read a book and hook into the rhythm of the prose and the energy of the voice and the propulsion of the story, I’m in heaven. This happens to me about once a year, if I’m lucky, and, sadly, less and less. But if all that’s somehow clicking, it doesn’t matter so much if the tone is spare or luxuriant, it just works on the page and as a reader I want to cherish each sentence, go slow and bathe in it. That’s the connection between reader and writer that I aspire to. And I hope I’ve accomplished something akin to that in Wedding Bush Road.
DAVID FRANCIS, based in Los Angeles, spends part of each year back on his family’s farm in Australia. He is the author of The Great Inland Sea, published to acclaim in seven countries, and Stray Dog Winter, Book of the Year in The Advocate, winner of the American Library Association Barbara Gittings Prize for Literature and a LAMBDA Literary Award Finalist. He has taught creative writing at University of California, Los Angeles, Occidental College and in the Masters of Professional Writing program at University of Southern California. His short fiction and articles have appeared in publications including Harvard Review, The Sydney Morning Herald, Southern California Review, Best Australian Stories 2012 and 2014, Australian Love Stories, Los Angeles Times and The Rattling Wall. Wedding Bush Road, his third novel, was recently released by Counterpoint Press in the United States and by Xoum (Brio) in Australia. He is Vice President of PEN Center USA.
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