Category : Fiction
Category : Fiction
Yiyun Li is most recently the author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Confusing golden boys with golden tickets.
Author: Yiyun Li
Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Li: The way I look at fiction is that the most dramatic moments do not come from physical or real dramas, but from internal dramas. And those moments are actually quite still, if you look from outside, and those are the moments I like to write about in fiction.
Correspondent: I’m wondering why narrative scenarios or stories tend to come more from that than, say, a natural collision of ideas. Or a natural collision of two characters arguing in a coffee shop or something.
Li: Right. I think with that scenario, if you have two characters, or two ideas, bumping into each other, there’s no space for them to stop. It’s like a train wreck. It’s like a crash. As a writer, you have to follow that. Which some writers do really well — following in that crash. By nature, I don’t think I follow that crash. But I like the aftermath of the crash. Or right before that crash. So I don’t follow the event. I follow the crash within the crash, in a way.
Correspondent: Do you feel that — if you had, say, an obvious crash, like two people — that this might complicate a narrative situation that you’re forming in your head? Or something like that? Do you work better from a minimalist narrative scenario than, say, a rather complex one?
Li: Yes. You know, in a way, I think my fiction doesn’t deal with a lot of physical actions. I think maybe that reflects my tendency to back up a little. Just to watch. And when I watch, my attention oftentimes is not with the physical crash or noise. I’m very sensitive to noises. And I think that those moments there — sometimes there’s too much noise. It’s too noisy for me. So I would go away. And I would go into the internal world. Where the noise is a different kind of noise. (laughs)
Correspondent: Have any sentences or any character developments emerged in your head from a noise? I’m curious.
Li: Oh, that’s so funny. No! I think oftentimes that the characters start with a very quiet moment. I don’t think I have — oh, I would say the counterrevolutionary who was sentenced to death in The Vagrants, she was the only one of my characters, I think, that had a little bit of noise in her. I mean, her experience was quite noisy. Loud. So she was the only one.
Correspondent: I mean, this is very interesting. Because I actually wanted to remark on one thing I’ve observed in your work. A very slight internal rhyme to your sentences. And I’m going to dig out some examples here to show that I’m not some paranoid, crazy freak here. “Spring in Bejing was as brief as a young girl’s grief over a bad haircut.” That’s in “Number Three, Garden Road.” In “House Fire,” “the court, as the last resort.” In “Kindness,” “I fumbled under the bundled clothes.” Not exact. But close enough. I mean, you mention sound. I’m curious how rhyme along these lines helps to anchor a sentence for you. How a sentence is formed based on this rhythm. Because there is this really wonderful rhythm, I think. And it comes out more directly to the reader, I think, with the internal rhyme.
Li: Right. So the question is somewhat about how do I come up with this sentences.
Correspondent: Yes! How does this musicality come about?
Li: Right. I think one thing is I have to write to the music. I actually imagine the music of my stories.
Correspondent: Oh yeah.
Li: And that’s one thing that’s really important. I’m not a visual writer. So I don’t imagine the images. I imagine the rhythm and the tone. So in a way, I think, you just have to push a sentence to match to the music in your head.
Correspondent: Aha! So you literally have the song going on.
Correspondent: There’s a musical phrase right there.
Correspondent: You have to get the sentence matching up exactly.
Correspondent: Even if it’s diatonic.
Li: Right. It’s almost like the sentence has to talk to the music in my head, rather than anything else I think.
Correspondent: Is this why it often takes you so long to come up with a sentence or a story? Because you’re so exact like that?
Li: I am. I think I do pay a lot of attention to the sentences. And I also listen to music. Like sometimes I would choose a specific piece that would match the mood of the story. Or to the novel. I’ll listen to it again and again until I get it. The sentence and the music. They sort of have the conversation.
Correspondent: So I’m curious what kind of music is going on in your head. Are we talking the Ramones? Are we talking classical music?
Li: (laughs) Well, this is a little confession. My first book was written to U2.
Correspondent: Oh yeah?
Li: I was listening to U2 songs.
Correspondent: Which albums?
Li: Actually, all albums of the time.
Correspondent: Oh really.
Li: You know, my husband would make all these files on my computer. So I would have all the U2 sounds. And I would just go over and over again. While I listened to U2, I would write. That’s how my first collection came into being. But then I think my music has changed since then. Now it’s more classic music. I listen to Tchaikovsky a lot. Because I feel very close to his music. And Brahms is oftentimes in my accompanying pieces. And Mahler. I wrote one story — “Kindness,” the novella in the new collection — completely to Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.
Correspondent: Which Tchaikovsky? The 1812 Overture?
Li: 1812 Overture. Yes!
Correspondent: I knew it. That’s so fitting in light of the depressed nature of the characters.
Li: Yes. Tchaikovsky is really close to my mind, I think. I don’t know. His music moves me just beyond words.
Correspondent: I’m curious if you have thought to find composers and artists who are oppressed in some ways — as Tchaikovsky was.
Li: No. (laughs)
Andrew Ervin is most recently the author of Extraordinary Renditions.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contemplating alternative forms of freedom.
Author: Andrew Ervin
Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Ervin: What else do we have but politics to write about? Ultimately. Whether it’s on a personal level or a cultural level or a national level, politics is going to play a part in every element of our lives, I would imagine. You were asking me about anger recently and I think that gets back to Brutus, who is a very angry character. And he’s the way that I found a voice from my intense anger about our political realm in America. I mean, what’s going on is disastrous to me. We’re still an incredibly racist nation. We’re still an incredibly sexist nation. And this character gave me an opportunity to voice that in some way. And it may be a bit over-the-top. It may push the radicalism a little too far in some regards. And perhaps I tried to mediate that with some of the other characters. But I’m not sure.
Correspondent: But with Brutus, you are very clear to point out that he has a good deal of materialistic hypocrisy.
Correspondent: Here’s a guy who goes ahead and he complains about blowing money. He complains about getting ripped off by the hotel and then he’s blowing money on fast food and Tom Clancy novels. And also that shopping trick he makes, where he’s totally fleeced. So for a guy who is in this really terrible and probably not very well-paying occupation of setting rat traps, and for a guy who is really anti-corporate and inflamed and into a possible post-Black Power situation, he is decidedly hypocritical. That his ultimate engagement with politics is actually a way of him getting lost further instead of finding that identity he wants.
Ervin: Is it still hypocritical if we’re aware that we’re participating? I mean, can we ever get completely outside of the system that we’re trying to critique. We can write the great environmentalist novel of our age, but it’s still going to be printed on bleached paper and packed into trucks and carried across the highway system. There’s always some participation in what we’re critiquing. No matter what. My hope is that I’m aware of the extent to which I’m working within a system to critique it to some extent. Not that I have a specific political agenda with this book. I don’t. I really don’t. Every critic that I speak to wants to ascribe one to it. And they tend to be different ones, depending upon whom I’m speaking to. Which is kind of nice. But there’s definitely an awareness both on my part and, I believe, on Brutus’s part — there’s no getting away from what we’re critiquing. We are also participating.
Correspondent: Yeah. So basically, the question I have now is why fiction is the best way to critique this problematic involvement with politics. Because…well, maybe I’m answering your question a bit. (laughs)
Ervin: (laughs) Yeah, would you please?
Correspondent: The thought I had here was maybe fiction serves as this container for you to examine our participation in the system we’re critiquing. Because it is, in itself, a container. And I did actually want to bring up some of the descriptive details about containment. You refer to “the ceiling of the sky.” There’s the Coca-Cola sign that is on the top of the apartment in the third novella. So this leads me to believe that this is indeed a preoccupation. But maybe we can tie in how you arrived at this walled in description with another query about whether fiction is the best way to create a dialogue about this issue. Do you think it is?
Ervin: I’m not sure that fiction is privileged in any way in speaking to those issues. If I could play piano, I would try that. If I could paint pictures, I would do that. I’d be willing to break out an interpretive dance for you.
Correspondent: Please do.
Ervin: If you think you can record that. I don’t know what fiction can do in relation to the other arts or any means of expression or nonfiction or poetry. They all play a part in whatever we’re trying to say. Fiction is just what works for me personally. And I don’t want to claim that it has some kind of privilege. It’s what I do.
Correspondent: Well, in terms of the description of characters walled in interiors, why do you think you’re so focused on this? I mean, you do use “the ceiling of the sky.” That is a very clear indicator that no matter where one goes, one is going to find one’s self in some kind of interior. Even walking outside.
Ervin: Are you telling me that you don’t feel that way?
Correspondent: Well, it depends.
Correspondent: You’re asking me to confess perspective versus description perhaps. And maybe that’s the tension we’re describing here.
Ervin: I guess a large part of what this book is about are the restrictions that are placed on us by social organizations and political organizations. The barriers we put on ourselves. The limitations we’re wiling to put on our own imaginations very often without even knowing it. And this scares me. This frightens me a great deal. That we don’t know how free we are. And we participate in these polite little conversations in front of microphones. And we go out in public and follow the rules. And go where we’re supposed to go and buy what we’re supposed to buy. There’s some part of our humanity that we’ve lost touch with. We’ve lost something that is vitally important to who we are. We’re all so damn polite now.
Ervin: And if my characters are constrained some way even by their natural environment, that may be the reason. Because I feel like we are constrained.
Correspondent: And yet you associate this freedom with violence. The end of the second novella has a very specific line about freedom. “This was something that he had not perceived for so long.” And to my mind, that is extremely interesting. Because on one level, what your freedom might be or what Brutus’s freedom might be — and then I think in my mind, Franzen’s idea of freedom, which from my standpoint is very much endorsing the exact system that you’re trying to critique. So since freedom is really a relative term, is it even a term to dwell on? Is it possibly too general a term? Does fiction, by way of ambiguity, allow one — either the author or the reader — to find not necessarily a solution, but at least an understanding of this dilemma that we’re describing?
Ervin: How are we going to know when we are free? I mean, that’s the question. Is it just opening up one more barrier and seeing a slightly bigger horizon? There’s no way for me to be able to answer that. The moment you’re talking about at the end of the second novella, with Brutus on the bridge over the Danube, I think references the [Frantz] Fanon book he’s reading. He’s carrying around The Wretched of the Earth. This great book in many ways about the curative power of violence. And to try and conflate my personal political agenda, if I have one, with that is a mistake, I think. That’s not me. That’s this one character who may have a more enlightened view of the world than I do or a more limited one in some way that I’m not sure. But freedom is not — I mean, what can you say? Who knows?
(Image: Dean Sabatino)
Joe Dante is most recently the director of The Hole.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Doing his best not to feed Mr. Dante after midnight or before 10:10 AM on October 10, 2010.
Guest: Joe Dante
Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I want to talk about the inside jokes. There are a few in The Hole. I noticed the yellow smiley face from The Howling in the background at one point. But it seemed to me that you were almost dialing down the inside jokes within the shots with this movie.
Dante: I did. Because, at heart, it’s kind of a sad movie, if you think about it. When you find out what’s in the hole, it’s much more melodramatic and personal than you would expect. It’s not little monsters coming out. And so the tone of the movie, it’s a little tricky to do a lot of those nudge nudge wink wink things, which I learned early on in my career. That you can’t do things at the expense of people who don’t know what you’re talking about. In The Howling, I had a scene in which Roger Corman looks for a dime in a phone booth. And it was funny to people who knew Roger. But when people didn’t know Roger, it was like, “Well, the scene is over. Why are you lingering on this extra piece? Because it didn’t mean anything to me.” And I realized that you can’t do that. You have to play within the rules. And if you do something that’s off the point, it should be done as an aside or in the background or as a tail — so that people maybe notice the second time when they see the picture.
Correspondent: Well, this is interesting. You’re talking about a lingering moment. And this leads me to wonder if it’s more difficult these days — not just from a financial standpoint, but also from an aesthetic standpoint — for you to convince a producer to give you work. Because your movies do, in fact, linger on that beat. Like that Corman moment in The Howling you were just mentioning. I even watched your episode of CSI out of morbid curiosity, and I’m seeing all these really great Dante master shots that unfortunately are being butchered by the crazy editing that goes on with that show. So the question is: How can a guy like you, who is extremely skillful with these Panavision-like shots, the 70mm that you did in Explorers and the like — I mean, is this more of a tougher sell?
Dante: It’s not a tough sell. People hire me for various reasons. But when you sign on to do a TV series, you must adopt the style of the TV series. Now I can shoot the stuff any way I want. But I know that in TV, you do your cutting. You hand it in. And then you see it on TV. And it’s always different. Because the show runners come in. And they change it to the style that they prefer. So you shoot a lot of long takes. But you just have to give them enough material for them to turn it into what they want. It’s never an expressive job. You don’t really feel you’re putting yourself into it. Although as much as I could, I stuck myself into it. And I stuck people who were familiar to working with me in the show. And it was, I think, a little bit different. A little bit offbeat from the usual episodes of the show. But the problem with doing a show like that, there’s an overarching storyline that happened before you came and that’s going to continue after you’re gone. So there’s really not a lot of space for you to insert yourself. Because you’re doing a job of work. And you’re not the auteur of the show. The auteur of the show is the writers. Because they’re the ones who are mapping out this entire scenario. The great thing is if you can get in on the ground floor and get in on the pilot.
Dante: If you do the pilot for the show, which I did for Eerie, Indiana, then you get to not only choose the cast.
Correspondent: You set the aesthetics.
Dante: You set the aesthetic and you get to influence the way the stories go and which direction they go. And even sometimes who’s hired to direct them. So that’s very creative and interesting and fulfilling. Doing one-offs is financially rewarding and a chance to work with a lot of talented people that you probably wouldn’t get to see otherwise. But it’s never like making a feature. It’s never like saying, “Okay, this is my movie.” And that’s why I prefer on TV to do anthology shows. Because it’s much more like doing a short film than it is to coming in and doing it. Illustrating an episode of somebody’s series.
Correspondent: Is it also a way of staying in shape so you don’t atrophy?
Dante: Well, it’s also a way of paying the mortgage.
Correspondent: (laughs) That’s true. That’s really the reason you did the CSI: New York episode.
Dante: Uh, I did it because it would be fun. But also, yeah, I did it because I wasn’t working. The great thing about Eerie, Indiana was that if I was going a feature, I could do that. I could go away and then do more Eerie, Indianas. But then it went off the air. And then I couldn’t do that anymore. So the trick is to try and find a way to keep yourself employed that doesn’t turn you into a hack. Basically. I mean, I always try and do things that — for movies, my yardstick is I don’t make movies that I wouldn’t go see. And I think if more people did that, we’d have better movies.