What made you become a writer?
I think I began writing to find a place of solitude. I craved silence where I could be away from the battles I felt were going on all around me, and the war, the great war, that had ended as I was born and which no one talked about but which I could sense was still in the bodies and minds of the adults in my life. My parents fought various silent battles with other family members. I felt in the middle in ways I could not name and could not comprehend. I remember reading James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans when I was ten years old, and I didn't understand much of it, but I still finished it. I remember reading Hudson’s Green Mansions and being enthralled by the mysteriousness of it, even while, again, I understood little of it. In my father’s store when I would go into the large meat locker, turn out the light and stand in the black super cold air for as long as I could among the hanging carcasses of beef. Then when I turned the lights on I would see the slabs of fat, bone, red flesh and muscle, very dark pearls of dried blood, those cows had been cut in half and I could see inside their rib cages as they hung upside down by legs tied together and hung over big metal hooks from the ceiling.
Like everyone born in 1944. I am a child of WWII. We could feel that “something had just happened” although no one would or could talk about. Later, when we were about thirteen, we saw photos of the concentration camps in Life magazine. I can still see those black and white images of bodies piled high. Only many years after that did I see Goya’s whole series on the horrors of war from an earlier century.
How do you work?
I work by stealing any chance I can find to sit and write more on what I’ve started. But starting is difficult because it is so easy to imagine what you want to create but not so easy to find the right way into it. After I feel started, what comes next plays on my mind all the time and I need to get it down when and as soon as I can. If I have a big stretch of time for writing I will try to write steadily but this may involve stretches of pausing, even long stretches, to feel my way into what needs to come next. I often also write things that I hope I might be able to patch in to the work later on after I get a sense of how the whole is shaping up. There then is a back and forth effort in drafting and redrafting. I never can write for more than a few hours at a time because my attention fades.
Do you know the end of your novel when you start writing?
I know only the beginning. Or an image of a person in a specific location. From there I wonder about the situation and how it might unfold. I just start writing to see where it will take me. I have often wanted to use a murder story as a framework for finding what I really want to have develop. It gives people gravitas that they, otherwise, might not have. I’ve not yet done this but the notion appeals to me. I never know the end until I’ve reached it. But finding that point can be a tricky question. Knowing how to cut yourself off becomes crucial.
What inspires you? Who or what is your source of inspiration?
I have to see a place in front of me. A place I imagine or remember from which I can then continue dreaming. One of my stories starts with the memory of a time I was in Buenos Aires and the hotel room has stayed clearly in my mind. The room, the lobby and the street. From there I imagine my character engaging in an action that sets the story going.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Everyone makes it up, so advice is difficult to give. Write what you want to write, how you want to write it. Use anything that helps you find this. Use everything, use nothing, find whatever keeps you going. There are lots of difficult moments that are typical for all writers so you need encouragement to keep going. Ultimately your work becomes so precisely yours that no advice is helpful.
The following question appear in Patrick Modiano's novel Paris Nocturne.
Would you prefer to be part of the revolution or contemplate a beautiful landscape?
Always I have wanted most to contemplate a beautiful landscape. The revolutions seem interesting enough but from a great distance, great enough to see the landscape that frames them, either the fields or the perspective of history.
Which do you prefer? The depth of torment or the lightness of happiness?
In my earlier years I thought I preferred the depth of torment but that was a mistake I learned to see through and correct and now I know that the lightness of happiness is what I prefer and have always, really, wanted to prefer.
Do you want to change your life or rediscover a lost harmony.
Again, there has been an arc or trajectory over the years, from the illusion of wanting to change, through the experiences of what that entailed and how those attempts never quite panned out, to the sense that the ever elusive lost harmony continues to pull me forward into some unknown.
What could a lost harmony really consist of?
Not knowing this is what makes the loss so appealing and the harmony so meaningless and meaningful, as if both possibilities could somehow co-exist in a paradise of paradoxes.