Last week, I happened to be able to catch two authors I admire very much give craft talks: Nicole Krauss and Michael Chabon.
I went to hear Nicole Krauss first, at the New School. She read a bit from both History of Love and her current work in progress. Anyone who has been following this blog long enough (or knows me personally) knows that I've had this fascination with Nicole (and secretly want the authorial power marriage she and JSF share). The first and only other time I've heard her read, I was so nervous, she had to hold out her hand and touch my arm, telling me it was okay. It has something to do with the fact that when I read History of Love, I felt like it was the book I wanted to write. It had the essence of something that felt very... me, for lack of a better word. In any case, when I heard her at New School, this feeling was only further reaffirmed.
Nicole has this aura about her, that I can't adequately explain. She's obviously a very internal person. She speaks in such a soothing tone, I can't imagine she has trouble getting her kids into bed at night. She uses the word "perhaps" instead of "maybe" and she's very thoughtful and measured when she speaks. There's something incredibly calm and affirmed about her, and she's clearly a very intelligent person. She talks neither too slowly or too fast. I don't know. Maybe it's also a measure of grace.
But what really struck me were the things she was saying when she was speaking about the craft. She said that she never really came up with a plan, that what she was going for, more than anything, was a mood. I think this really resonated with me, because that's generally how I like to write too. I like to capture a mood, and that's probably why I do my best writing at night, or when I'm feeling something in particular. She said she'd rifle through books, looking for things that could help her attain or keep the mood she was looking for, and I completely understood that as well. I've read certain short stories or passages of books (including hers) to put me in the right mindset before I write. I also liked how she talked about the fact that sometimes, she would just put things in and write about it, without really know why or what it meant, and then later it would work, in fact it would mean everything. Some writers are measured and planned, but she completely opens herself to surprises. I love that about her, because I feel like that's why her book felt so authentic to me.
It was a short hour, but it left me really trusting in her, because from everything she was saying, her process is very similar to mine, or at least the way we are as writers. I've tried to become more structured over time, because I think it might help, but her instinct, and the things she says she does, it totally resonated with me. And left me wanting to be her best friend, because I feel like somehow, she might really understand me. Maybe that's weird, and presumptuous, but I really really appreciated everything she said, not just as a different point of view, but because I felt she was speaking to and about me. Weird.
I had never heard Michael Chabon prior to this, though because Moonrat is a fangirl, I knew I was in for something fantastic. I've enjoyed the two books of his that I've read, and I know he is a masterful wordsmith.
In any case, I went up to Columbia University to hear him speak. He read an essay about Edgar Allen Poe, a long piece that came in 5 parts and took him about 80 minutes to read. But to his credit, despite the fact that it was long, I was never bored. And that's a hard feat, especially when it's non-fic. He was so interesting, so funny, so witty, and his words, as always, left me in awe. In fact, I just sat there, wondering to myself how one person could come up with such interesting, fresh phrases, how he could use these words to so much advantage. It was seriously breathtaking. The essay was about Poe, and so he read some of Poe's poetry, and it was actually interesting, because you could see that he was influenced by Poe too.
To be honest, Michael Chabon was so impressive in person (helped greatly along by his scruffy good looks, gravelly voice, and entertaining reading skills), that I fell in love a little bit. Ha! But really, I thought to myself how much more I appreciated his writing, having heard him in person. He is so incredibly thoughtful, intelligent and witty, and I still can't get over his amazing ability with words. That was obvious in reading his writing, but I think it struck me even more when he was reading them outloud to us.
In the Q&A that followed, I think he had some interesting things to say about researching books and how it excites him, as well as how one knows when to abandon a book. Strange to be able to see a man like that talk about the fact that he had one failed book. You think of your heroes as invincible, I guess, and someone like him as being able to churn out gold every single time, not as someone who struggles hard the way we do too.
Afterwards, I was sorry I hadn't brought my book to be signed. I would have liked to have shaken hands with him and told him in person how incredibly in awe of him I am. I'm sure he hears it all the time, but one can never be praised too much, right? Not in this thankless job, anyway...
Two great author events that make me SO GLAD to be back in the city... :)