“We take our ability to think, to test, to decode everywhere we go”: A Micro-Interview with Ron Carlson

Ron Carlson’s most recent novel is The Signal (Viking). He directs the graduate program in fiction at the University of California???Irvine. His story, “Esther Donnally,” appears in the Summer 2011 issue of The Kenyon Review, available here.

Is there a story behind your KR piece? Talk about how the books you are reading influence your writing.How do you anticipate what your reader’s imagination will bring to your work?

You can see in the story that I just let that first sentence unreel and draw me toward the first moment: she asks who he is. Of course, that was puzzle enough for me, a challenge, to see if I might see who these people were and what they were up to, what she was up to at this point in her life. I think I’d had the idea for a while: a man comes home from work and his wife wants to know who he is.

What internal or external factors have the biggest influence on your creative process?

Oh, are not the days delicate instruments? I try to tap in early in the day to the smallest moment in my story, nothing big, great, or grand. I’ve learned that writing a sentence closely can lead to another and rescue the morning. On the days I write, I try not to let much of anything in the morning come between me and my starting.

What exactly is (poetry/fiction/nonfiction) good for?

Oh, this little question. Reading fiction and writing fiction are ways to experience life logarithmically. First they double the hour, but they contain the force to raise it to the power of six. This is the exact answer. If you were here I would write the formula; I’ve always had chalk in my pocket.

In the spectrum of entertainment and media (music, movies, television, Internet, art, etc.) where does the literary pursuit fit?

We take our ability to think, to test, to decode everywhere we go, like magic glasses. Understanding how to read well enables us to parse entertainment, etc. instantly and pursue remarkable work in all genres. It helps us mightily to avoid being duped by the great forces of duperism roaming the land.

What advice would you give yourself five years ago?

Hey, Dude, go outside for a little while.