Subjects Discussed: Knowing when a story concept has legs, ideas that never come to anything, the origins of “A Pursuit,” The Open Curtain, maintaining surprise, text sources vs. personal experience, writing fiction moments that hit two simultaneous emotions, grisly moments and descriptive detail, the reader’s imagination, revision and rhythm, not showing work to people, the surprise of audience responses, Bjorn Verenson, certain similarities with characters in “Ninety Over Ninety” and publishing people, Morgan Entreiken, determining the precise moment in which a story ends, open endings and critical theory, story concepts as building blocks for novels, similarities between “An Accounting” and Last Days, conversations between stories, bureaucratic language, investigating religious communities, solitary figures being pursued by men vs. the recurrent theme of community, expanding on conclusions from Ryan Call’s Collagist essay, literalisms and tributes to pulp, challenging the assumptions of “human,” translating, Antoine Volodine, how a line from The Savage Detectives inspired a short story, dwelling upon consciousness, intertextual aspects, absurdity and violence, characters who plunge into dark chambers to experience horror, being the dungeonmaster at 12, knowing the environment, Evenson’s concern for numbers and scales, Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, postmodernism and theft, and the satisfaction of genre literature.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: Do you need to have a source text more than, I suppose, a personal experience? I mean, I could inquire as to whether you had sex with a mime. I don’t know whether you have or not.
Evenson: No, no, I didn’t. I did meet someone, after I read that story aloud, who had had sex with a mime. It made me think that maybe I could have gone even farther in that story than I did. But not a lot of it is from personal experience. I mean, I think the things that are from personal experience are not the things that you would expect. So in “Younger” and in “Girls in Tents,” you know, when I was a kid, I used to make tents out of blankets. Which I think a lot of kids did.
Correspondent: I did myself.
Evenson: Yeah. But my daughters never did. So there is a kind of personal thing there. There’s a moment in one of my stories — I think actually that it’s in The Wavering Knife, in that collection — in which someone is taking bread and squishing it until it makes a ball of bread. And that’s something that’s incredibly vivid to me from my childhood. But the main thrusts of the plot and those sorts of things are not personal experience so much. But they do respond to a lot of other things.
Correspondent: But then you’re also dealing with a lot of mutilation and violence.
Correspondent: Like, in particular, Last Days. I mean clearly, I see that you are a zero according to that particular scale.
Evenson: Right, right, right.
Correspondent: Unless there’s something you’re not showing me.
Evenson: No, no, no.
Correspondent: How do you get into that particular mind set to make a narrative along those lines real when you have not personally experienced it?
Correspondent: There’s the old famous story. Well, Stephen Crane never experienced or witnessed any kind of war. So how does reality come about for you? When do you know it’s real when you haven’t experienced it? Or are we underestimating verisimilitude and not always capitulating to that wonderful imagination?
Evenson: Well, I really do think a lot about how things would feel. Even if I haven’t experienced them. I really see myself as partly a — I don’t know quite how to describe it, but I want to create a world that the reader experiences as if they’re living through it more than something that they can see as a representation on the page. And to do that, I spend a lot of time thinking how things would feel, how things would occur. What would happen to a limb if you did something to it in Last Days. And I read a fair amount and try and figure things out that way. But mostly it’s just trying. What you say. The primacy of the imagination. Trying to imagine yourself into a space where you really are experiencing something on the page in a very visceral way. One of things that people say about my stories, both for better and for worse, is that there are stories that you don’t forget and there are stories that you feel like you’re suffering through them in some ways. While the character suffers. And as a writer, I think that’s very much what I do. I try to put myself very much in the position of the characters in the story. So in Last Days, there’s all these moments in the hospital bed. And trying to figure out how you see around the curtain if you have one kind of mirror and another kind of mirror. If you can’t move this bar to your body, then what do you do? And I took a lot of time thinking very seriously about that and trying to figure out what would I do.