Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Anthony’

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Tara Laskowski Interviews Jessica Anthony

August 31, 2009

I’m pleased today to host an interview between two great writers — and to present this interview as the first post of my recently redesigned site. Here, Tara Laskowski, the Kathy Fish Fellow at SmokeLong Quaterly, talks to Jessica Anthony, author of the highly praised novel The Convalescent. The two writers were classmates in the MFA program at George Mason University, and Anthony returns to Mason on Wednesday, September 23, for an alumni reading as part of the 2009 Fall for the Book Festival. Tara introduces the novel — and the interview — here:

Jessica Anthony’s debut novel, The Convalescent, hit the shelves earlier this summer to rave reviews. (Check out this one at the San Francisco Chronicle.) Anthony was the winner of McSweeney’s Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award and graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. As McSweeney’s proudly writes on their web site about The Convalescent: “It is the story of a small, bearded man selling meat out of a bus parked next to a stream in suburban Virginia . . . and also, somehow, the story of 10,000 years of Hungarian history.”

I’ve been a big fan of Jessica Anthony’s work ever since we shared a fiction workshop class in grad school, and I can see why Barnes & Noble chose the book as a recommended summer reading pick, part of their “Discover Great New Writers” series. It’s a sharp, smart book that’s as weird and charming as its main character.

Tara Laskowski: In many writing classes, professors will say, “Write what you know.” You obviously haven’t stuck by that rule with this novel. What are the challenges of that, and what are the benefits?

Jessica Anthony

Jessica Anthony

Jessica Anthony: When I started writing fiction, I often struggled with real life and invention. I felt bogged down by all sorts of things: whether I was being unfair to a person I knew; how I could use something interesting that happened to my advantage—but as soon as I let go of writing what I “knew,” as soon as I began aiming for pure unadulterated invention, the boundaries suddenly disappeared. There was no need to sort out what in my life was useful to fiction because it was suddenly all useless. It was a very freeing, happy feeling not to have to rely on experience to tell a story. So I don’t see much benefit for ‘writing what you know,’ whether in fiction or non-fiction. I have never had much interest in heavily autobiographical fiction, because I always found myself asking: “Why isn’t this an essay?” And what do we know of anything, really? If you have a character who has lost a parent and you have also lost a parent, you and your character experience that loss in wildly different ways (usually for the story to work, the further you are from your own experience the better, otherwise you may suffer defending the weaknesses in your story with that embarrassing insistence: “But it actually HAPPENED that way…”). If you are an essayist, memoirist, journalist, or fiction writer, it seems to me that you’re probably better served by writing what you learn, observe, or investigate. Reading what a writer has sought out in truth and fiction is far more interesting than reading what a writer knows.
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