Dream Baby was based on a dream I had. I don’t normally use my dreams when I write because I often have vivid, nonsensical nightmares, and who wants to read about that? Even when there’s something there, it’s usually hard to translate or lost by morning. This dream was different – it was lucid, there was a narrative unfolding chronologically and a climatic point, it was almost like watching a movie.
2. Tell us about your process. (Do you start sparse and widen out, or do you write down every possible association and cut back? Do you research the subject matter you are writing about? Is it pure intuition?) Take us through an example if you want.
It’s different with each story. Dream Baby is the only piece I’ve written that purely came from real life, and even then, it was a dream. I found it easy to write because it was (in a way) real and conversational. I almost never write like this. It usually starts with an image or a sentence and grows from there. Most stories don’t end up where I thought they would either, and I like that.
3. What advice do you have for other writers? (About the first or last line? About how to choose the title? Do you follow any rules?)
I don’t like the idea of rules, certain things like a strong opening are a given. Some of the best writing I’ve come across experimented with form and voice in a way that hadn’t been done before.
The advice that’s resonated the most with me has been to read and write as much as possible with an emphasis on reading. It’s a cliché but it’s true. I find I go through periods of reading and periods of writing, when I feel drained I’ll go back to reading until the itch to write comes back.
4. Who or what inspires your writing?
It could be anything. David Lynch has a way of putting it “catching ideas”, I know the feeling well, you could be anywhere – at work, with friends, listening to music on a bus – and out of nowhere something initiates a story. Lynch said Blue Velvet started with the thought of red lips, green lawns and the song by Bobby Vinton. I think all writers are observational people by nature. I read once that Hemingway’s fiction wasn’t so much about the things that happened in his life but what could have happened, the what if way of thinking. I do this a lot. Being slightly neurotic helps.
When I read someone’s work and it clicks I’ll become obsessed with that author. I’ll read everything they have until I’m exhausted of their style and I have to wait a while before coming back to them. Right now I’m re-reading Lydia Davis and Mary Robison, I’ve also just discovered Christine Schutt. I think I’ll always come back to Lydia Davis.