I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’m spending this whole tour worrying about the thing I’ve got at home that I’m a few pages into and I’m not sure if it’s any good. I think that is being a writer. It’s that state of perpetual worry, and the only way I’ve ever figured out of the worry is to work your way through it. Not that that’s even advice, but that’s the truth for me, for sure.
How does that anxiety manifest itself in your work?
In a positive way, it means you keep going back to it. . . . The worst form of it is, I think, when you’re outside of the story, being anxious about it, and then you’re making decisions based on theoreticals or concepts — you know, “I want to write about the demise of capitalism.” Ugh!
When fans approach you, what story do they say is their favorite?
“Sea Oak.” I’m hearing a lot about “The Semplica Girl Diaries” — that long one in the new book — but “Sea Oak” seems to have a special place in people’s perverse little hearts.
I used to read it when I would go out to colleges. It’s really fun because I always think of it as being kind of a gentle, Chekhovian, funny story, and then you get into it and it’s like, Whoa! Who wrote this? It’s so harsh. It makes it fun to read, because you’ve got to commit. You can’t half-ass that one. You’ve got to do Aunt Bernie’s voice, the whole thing.
Read any good books lately?
There’s this book called Senselessness by Horacio Moya. . . .I don’t know anything about him, but my former student Adam Levin [author of The Instructions] is the teacher of my daughter, and they both, in the same day, emailed me to tell me to read this book. It’s a short novel that’s really funny and dark and kind of nasty. It feels real novelistic, but it’s got a great, fast shape — almost like a short story. It’s told in a really original voice that I hadn’t heard before.
What did you think of Gawker demanding you write a novel of your own?
I thought it was kind of sweet, but, well, that’s not how it works. The best answer is that Flannery O’Connor quote that I keep rehashing, that a writer can choose what he writes, but he can’t choose what he makes live. So as an artist, you have to do what works, and if you depart from that to do what you think you should do, you’re going to be on thin ice.
GEORGE SAUNDERS AT AWP | “The Lake Effect: A Celebration of Fifty Years of Creative Writing at Syracuse” :: With George Saunders, Arthur Flowers, Brooks Haxton, Christopher Kennedy Free with AWP registration :: March 8 :: 10:30 am – 11:45 am :: Hynes Convention Center, Room 200, Level 2 :: awpwriter.org
MORE SAUNDERS! at Harvard Book Store :: March 10 :: 12 pm :: Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St, Cambridge :: SOLD OUT :: 617.661.1515 or harvard.com