Ask Me Anything 2017: What about politics? Do I know the endings of stories when I start? London v. Austin?


Kris Calvin asks:

How is the current “noisy” political environment affecting your writing (ability to write and/or content), if at all?

The current political environment is — let’s call it intrusive. It’s omnipresent. Pervasive. And thanks to 24-hour news channels, the net, and social media, it’s ridiculously easy for someone who works at a computer to be distracted every ten seconds by the latest eruption from Washington.

That’s unhealthy for both my equilibrium and my ability to concentrate on my work. The solution, as far as getting writing done, is to shut down the television, turn off social media, and only check the news a couple of times a day. Because writing — like painting, composing, or writing code — requires uninterrupted concentration.

What I’m writing will probably be affected as well, because I write about America, and ignoring the political climate would lead to unrealistic fiction. We all write about our times. Our work should reflect and explore that — not in any didactic or propagandistic way, but to shine a light on the world we live in.

As for politics itself: I urge everybody to educate themselves, get active, vote, or run for office.

Doug Moring asks:

S. King says when he starts a book, he has no idea how it will end. John Irving says he knows how the last page will read when he starts writing. I was wondering which of these groups you are in. And also which is your favorite, London or Austin?

I have to know how a story ends before I write the first word.

A novel, any story, is all of a piece. The seeds of the ending are planted on the first page.

And I know from rotten experience that if I don’t wrestle out the entire story — beginning, some turning points in the middle, and the climax — I end up with a soupy mess of a story that goes nowhere. Except into a folder in the bottom of my filing cabinet, marked, Do Not Open Under Pain of Excruciating Embarrassment.

I think Stephen King has such a strong, deep understanding of story structure that when he starts a book, it’s going to go someplace rewarding, someplace right.

London or Austin? London for theater, pub food, and long, lingering summer evenings; Austin for Texas swing, tacos, and football.

Artwork by Ami Plasse (Instagram: @amirocks73), illustrating my talk to CreativeMornings/Austin.

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