Gabriel Tallent has shocked the literary world with his debut fiction My Absolute Darling, causing a reaction from people one way or another.
What you’re reading: The Rainbow and Woody Plants of Utah. I live out of a dichotomous key. That tells you how bad my memory is. I should probably know them all by now, but I spend a lot of time reintroducing myself. I ought to buy a wildflower guide for July in the high country here, but I haven’t. Wildflowers are tough.
What you’re listening to: The Black Keys. Dorothy. Fiona Apple. Nirvana.
Favourite word(s): “Let’s go climbing.” Or maybe hunker. Scale. Culvert. Choss. Gripped. Not “gripped” in the conventional sense, but in the parlance of climbers, signifying terror, signifying that one is deeply and terribly affected by the situation in which one has found oneself, that one is high above one’s gear and safety is far away yet and one is running out of strength.
The book you wish you’d written: There are books I am thankful for. Beloved. Glass, Irony, & God. Neuromancer. In Search of Lost Time. The Golden Cell. Not books I wish I’d written, but books I am grateful to have read.
Writing ritual: I am suspicious of rituals as a vice and a crutch. It is better to take each day of writing as it comes, without getting sentimental for some other, easier day of writing. It’s no good, to start saying you’d like such-and-such things in order to work, because those luxuries quickly become prevarications. I get myself to my desk and get to work and sometimes drink coffee. I try and keep the desk clean. I keep the room empty.
Best advice ever received: Be courageous and unsparing in your commitment to the craft, be ruthless in making the time. That’s the best advice I ever received. I was writing MAD and had just realized what I’d have to do to make it into the book it wanted to be, how long that would take. When I saw that, for the first time, I wanted to pull the ripcord. I thought, I could spend another three or four years at this, and if it doesn’t work, what then?––I’ll be almost thirty, a server at a ski lodge, and I don’t even like skiing. Better to get out, I thought, and find a career. I called my mom and told her that, and she said, just go for it. She said, take the risk. If you fail, then you fail, and you’ll be a few years behind where you wanted to be––and in a decade, you won’t even notice the setback. But give up on this book now, and you will regret it for the rest of your life.
The most memorable sentence you’ve ever read: The final paragraph in “The Whiteness of the Whale” in Moby Dick.
‘And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues- every stately or lovely emblazoning- the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge- pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him.
Best place to write? I’ve written at the bar between shifts at work, and in empty hotel rooms at the ski lodge, and I wrote most of this book on my living room floor, because that is what I had. I think the best place to work is wherever you can, and the more wishful you are about that, the less you will get done. It is better to take pleasure in the work than to long for some other setting, which cannot help you. If the people in your life don’t take your work seriously, then perhaps you need a place to go and be alone. That is it, I think. Other people will tell you that you need such and such for you writing, but all you need is to work, and the rest is not very good for you. I do think that it is important to live somewhere you love. I think it is important to feel for the place and to belong there. But I don’t think it’s important to seek any particular conditions save for that.