tv Discussion on Community CSPAN April 28, 2019 1:00pm-2:19pm EDT
>> and booktv and prime time wraps up at 11:30 5:00 p.m. eastern with our recent interview of james donovan on the space race and the apollo 11 mission. check your cable guide or visit booktv.org for more schedule information. >> and now on the booktv, the recent tennessee williams new orleans literary festival. later today, you will hear discussions of writing memoirs, memoirs and optimism throughout american history. but first, a conversation about
creating a sense of place in writing. >> good morning. welcome to the 33rd tennessee williams festival. and to this panel, take me away celebrating a sense of place. as a reminder, please turn off your cell phones. in the box office, the intel text - - desk, merchandise and where you can get your book signed can be found on the mezzanine level here at the hotel. i'd like to introduce our moderator, dave benedetto will proceed. thank you. >> thank you rich.[applause] thank you all so much for coming up this saturday morning.
i know where having a good streak of weather and i'm glad you're inside. to start us out, i want to introduce the five panelist sitting next to me starting with joshua wheeler whose works appeared in many places including the iowa and missouri reviews. he has a buffet of nonfiction writing. "acid wash" was released in 2018 point he hails from new mexico. lives in new orleans and currently teaches creative writing at louisiana state university. silas house is the best-selling author of "southernmost". a creative work of nonfiction and in three plays. his work appeared in the new york times. the american narrative in several anthologies. - - [indiscernible]. he is one the last award. the abolition book of the year and many other honors. moving on, hannah pittard is a
professor of english at the university of kentucky where she also directs the nsa program in creative writing. her writing has been featured in the new york times, oxford american, among other species the author of four novels. most recently, visible empire which came out last year. robert olen butler has published several novels including paris in the dark and works of - - as well as a guide to the creative process from where you dream. in 2013, he received the fitzgerald world for outstanding achievement in american literature and he's a distinguished professor holding the chair in creative writing at florida state university. finally, malka older is a humanitarian worker. and she has more than eight
years of experience in humanitarian aid and development. she is the author of - - both are which part of her series. the sentinel cycle. think you guys are being air. our you feeling today? good? [inaudible conversations] [laughter] >> that's good but i'm glad you could all make it. to start us out talking about please. a sense of place. what are the myths we put into that. all of your writing today in a vein that deals with these questions. i want to start off with the really basic position. and what in your opinion makes for a memorable setting in a piece of fiction? anybody can take this by the way. >> i would just say generally,
we used to do this thing when i go to church in southern new mexico. it was here's the church, here's the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. a place is people. you've got to know the people. if you don't know the people, then you never know the place. the setting i think comes out of them as much as anything else. >> i grew up in atlanta but when i was 14, i moved to the eastern shore of maryland. having grown up in georgia, maryland was one of these places. silas has heard me say this before. we've been put on panels quite a bit. we are also neighbors. but having grown up in georgia, maryland was one of those places that exists on the map but nobody actually lived there. boy was i wrong. when i got to the eastern
shore, it was just revelatory place. i've never seen anything like it. i was introduced to the idea of the crabber and therefore am calls, that will be out because i was lucky enough to live on the one i got to see this great disparity in wealth and poverty. where a lot of the politicians from dc had their summer homes in the summer homes with the former forms of families that had lived there for hundreds of hundreds of years. that was the first place i ever started paying attention to place. i wrote about it and it's what got me into grad school. writing about the shore of maryland. when i got there, my professor pulled me aside quickly and said, now you've got to stop. no more place. i went away from it. then i had an old teacher from high school read my second book that had nothing to do with place. it takes place in atlanta but you don't get to know the city at all.
he said boy, i missed the way used to write in high school. the stories about the eastern shore. i went back to it frankly because of him and i went back to atlanta this fourth book and really focused on place. it was a completely different process. for me, it had to do with seeing the striking differences. the way that different things can exist so close, so side-by-side. if you've never been to the eastern shore of maryland, i highly recommend it. it's magical and strange. >> i think i'd like to point out the expansion of that notion of place and location as well. we have to do is step out the front door of this hotel. that location is indeed the physical place, landscape . be it rural or urban. but it's also that landscape bears the marks of and the dna
of the history of that space. the cultural reality of that space. on the macro and. but also, especially for writers of fiction where we inhabit a character in the moment through their sensual being. in their bodies. location for us working moment to moment, maybe has more to do with the granular details of the space around the character and the multiplicity of granular details that are selected out of the landscape by the emotional climate inside the sensibility of that character. especially when you move out of
time. which my last book is set in 1915. in paris. it becomes - - the biggest challenge is the location of the place. the place in those ways, in an authentic way. maybe we have a chance to talk about the joys and challenges and opportunities of research in the sensor. we are researching new orleans every time we step out the door but i need to research paris and i've been there many times myself but never in 1915. and that's the rub. to create reality of the human condition through the reality of the present moment. that's the challenge of the artist and it's a fascinating one. i'm sure we'll get on to more of that. >> did you have any thoughts?
>> yeah, i agree and i want to follow up on what both of them said. it's very important when writing that place be multi-sensory. we need to make sure were getting not just the sites but the smells. the smell of the air is the first thing i noticed coming off an airplane in a new place. the food is always super important in building yourself in a place. i think as was mentioned as well, when we are writing about a place, we have to write about something different than what we know. we notice the things were not already used too. even if for writing about place we know very well, we have to write it as if were coming from far away because many of our readers will be. for me, it was a bit easier to do that because i write not in the past but in the future. so i don't have to do research but i do have to imagine what - - will look like in 2070. and it helps to get that extra
bit. to say there's going to be something about being in this place that's foreign to every single person alive now and how do i convey that as a specific sense of being?>> i think when you're a writer from the south, you get asked about this a lot. however, any good writer i can think of is a good writer of place. but, i think one thing that beats me as a writer of place is that growing up in a place where i had to constantly defend being from their bid we notice the things to be proud of more. but then as a novelist, of course, you want to get into that complexity and write about what's good and bad about it. so i'm always thinking about, i can't separate the person - - the characters, from the place. they are one and the same. also, i'm from appalachia and
we always talked about how, when you're from a place and you walk out your door. and there's a mountain in front of you. or the mountains and the river dictate where you build your house. it's going to take you an hour to get to that place just across the river that you can see. to go through this - - of routes. you can't deny places are part of your everyday life. >> definitely. silas, want to go back to what you said where every good writer is a good writer of place. the clichc that interviewers always ask is, is the place like a character in this novel. of course it is, right? one of the things i'm more interested in is digging deeper into that statement. i want to hear your ideas of what the exact relationship is between characters and place. how do they feed into which other and what can you learn from these specifications of each of those things and how does that help you as a writer?
>> these are hard questions. >> i know it's early too. i'm sorry, y'all. >> i'd like to maybe follow up to what you quickly alluded to earlier. the thing about fiction. it's only artform that moves forward inside the sensibility of the characters. all the other forms, movies, wonderful moving objects but we have to be observing from outside the inner workings of the mind and sensibly in brain and heart of that character. we are inside that character. even if it's a third person narration. that voice has an internal existence in the text as well. making decisions all the time.
but it lives to dip into the inner lives of more than one character. but landscape is character because as i mentioned, the landscape around us at any given moment. there are thousands of central cues. i can be responding to that chandelier back there or this lovely woman's light tunic. or the exit sign. or that iphone staring at me. [laughter] but, i'm not taking all of this in at once. and what makes those moment to moment sensual choices. which are the precise, clarified, tightly selected choices we put on the page. the choosing entity is the character state of heart.
fiction is the art form of human yearning. we are every character at the center of every great work of fiction but it's yearning for something. after something. so the same driving - - what do we always after in the center of a work of fiction. we learned that, by the way the which the landscape has selected itself. the cultural, human landscape. the things that the character is choosing to take in, collects itself around a core. and that core is what we are after. but the character is yearning for and how that will drive the narrative forward. >> i would say too when people see the location or the setting is the character. they mean to say they are
giving some kind of prominence to location or place that's not normally given toit. they say you've written it so well almost like it's a character. i think that's minimizing the importance of location or setting. to me , it's like the location or setting is so on the present. this trillions of - - around us right now but we can't see them. i put my hand out and 1 billion go through my hand. i feel that location and setting is that important. it manifests itself in characters. it manifests itself in landscape. it manifests itself in the chandelier or tunic. to say it's a character i think minimizes the importance it has. and the way in which we experience life and tell stories and share stories. >> for me, one of the great pleasures and also difficulties of writing this last book,
which takes place in 1952 in atlanta. is that because it is atlanta and because it is 1962 and this is not the heyday of racial and cultural revolution. this is the beginning. which meant i had to limit what the characters, even the better characters. they're all pretty lousy people in the book but some shine brighter than others and some have a chance for it tiffany that others don't. - - ep. i had to make sure they existed within the parameters of possibly for atlanta 1962. you can be as liberal and forward thinking as you wanted. there was still a limitation to keep it believable. so in every character, and there are about five who remain characters in this book.i had to find the different ways that the city had affected them from the minute they were born.
whether they were born into privilege or whether they were born into poverty. that was a great pleasure but also a difficulty. but it was also a way for me to, having spent 14 years of my life in that city in the 80s. during a time when - - i don't know how many are familiar with atlanta but, it's one of these cities where money is something everybody's thinking about but no one is talking about. as a child, that was very perplexing for me and i didn't have the vocabulary to be able to ask questions but why don't we talk about some things. why do we only talk about that there's one black student in my middle school and he's the son of nba player. but i had questions because i saw a lot of black people on the streets and i didn't know where they were going to school. but i didn't have the vocabulary to really ask my parents about that. so writing this book allowed me to dig into some of those things.
it forced me to consider my own privilege and it forced me to consider the many things i love about the south and the many things that still trouble me to this day. but it was also really just fun to see the way one city can be responsible for so many different personalities. >> i think the main connection between character and a place for me is that place reveals so much more about the characters. the character is always the main thing for me. i've learned everything about a book through its characters. for instance, in my latest book, it's about a preacher who kidnapped his son and runs often that preacher is from tennessee, near nashville. in this river community. he kidnaps him and runs off to key west. place is so important because he basically is going into the offset of where he's from. in every way.
the values of the people. going from an oppressive place to a really open place. the climate. from a river community to an ocean. culture. etc. that juxtaposition works really well for a novel to have that. those two places rubbing up against one another. that works. >> my book, they are quite global books. - - has 17 locations. each of the sequels have more. if the place of the character is an ensemble cast. it was a very specific choice to do that because i was trying to show a different kind of global order in the future. and i needed to play that out in a lot of different places to
show that there is not just one way of moving into the future. this not one way of moving into a new system of governance in the world.also because of the characters, some of them are quite bruited. but most are ones that work for these larger organizations and travel all over the world all the time. it was very important for me to show the relationship with place. coming in for short times and the way they get attachment sometimes the most important place for them is their small rv style airship where they have a bed and they travel from place to place and they get very connected to this object. which is a whole. and have this tenuous connection to the different places they go to. so for me, the places were really important because i
wanted to make sure we did get that sense of travel in the sense that each of these places was different in the way they were interacting with the politics of this system was different. but there was also that sort of movement. in the sense of the whole worl . >> i love that. it's really interesting to that balancing act are doing. one of the things robert said at the beginning and i think all of you touched on in a way, is the way character and place is tied to the characters perceptions. we are in new orleans right now. new orleans has a history of being depicted poorly in both small and large ways. in some ways it served the narrative. and in other ways that don't make any sense whatsoever. i'm wondering as writers dealing with different places. all of these things are juggling, how you deal with the object of presenting a place in an authentic fashion versus what serves your characters in your narrative.
>> since authenticity is crucial to me and in all that i write that granular authenticity is where we all start. it's a matter of how to research 1915 paris. my central character is a war correspondent and also a spy. as many correspondents were during the war. and so, i probably should be dedicating all of these books to google books. and/or internet archive. there are so many places out there that now have millions and millions of books and millions of bound volumes of magazines and newspapers that have been digitized and are word searchable.so the
interaction then is important. not only is the character inextricable from a place point but my process and what the book will become is inextricable from the tiniest thing. for example, in the very opening chapter. i know that a terrorist bomb is going to go up down the street. it's nighttime.my guy is sitting at a sidewalk cafc in paris. down the block is - - as he sits there, the thing i do know is a bomb will precipitate much that's going to happen. and yet, i have to know what is his sensual experience sitting at that table. and how do you do that. i went to begin to go after paris and sidewalk cafcs and so forth. all kinds of word choices. without giving you all the sources, temporary magazines,
contemporary newspapers. people from the early 20s, memoirs of paris. but i was able to begin to come up with facts. one of them is that all the motorized vehicles that might have been passing in front of them in the night had gone to the front. there were varying soldiers to and from. what had been reading has associated - - resuscitated with the horse-drawn carriages. looking more closely at a horse-drawn carriage, that's not sufficient. they had steel rimmed wheels. looking at the streets, there are cobblestones in front of him. and looking at paris at large. beneath those cobblestone streets are the catacombs. now, those elements begin to combine in that moment to moment research i have to have
i did not know when i began to write that first scene and began to research the place. in its time, in the body. i did not know how the book would end. and i still wouldn't let myself look forward to much. but i can put my finger on the moment when i knew that this book would end in a scene in the catacombs. that in the moment concentration on location. >> listening to the answer is something i love about fiction in general. i love reading nonfiction too. but i love when fiction becomes educational, accidentally. because your job, and you do it beautifully. is to take all of these things you've researched and learned and make it read in this beautiful fictional way. and not like a history book. it's so much fun for you to get to do that research and for us to get to read and take advantage of it and to learn a
little bit while also being completely transported without having to do the epic work behind it. [laughter] >> and i think that's also a really good answer in terms of the question of how the character and the place - - it really is a working together and sort of back and forth. you don't start with one of the others come out. as you're building up the character and plot. as you're building up the book. sometimes the location suggests something for the plot that works out well. sometimes you need something from the plot and when you do research, you find exactly the right thing there that will make that happen. similar with a character. you see where the location is playing and feeding into them and vice versa. >> that makes me think about how much more we have to know
than ever shows up on the page, too. for instance, in my novel, there are only in key west during one summer. so it would have been easy whose never been to key west to just put my own experience in there. because he's seeing it that way too. he's not familiar with it. however, i needed to get to know key west to pull it off properly. even though he's seeing it from similar eyes that i have. someone's who not very familiar with it. i read the whole history of key west i took a subscription to their tiny little newspaper that was like any small-town newspaper really. and billy researched the plant life, etc. even though that doesn't show up on the page too much, it really makes the novel much richer in those little
moments that do show up that the readers gather along the way. that's one of my favorite things about writing. that you are supplying those things for the reader to gather and sort of be a participant in the reading of the book. it's what i love about literary writing. >> i do want to say i don't think you have to be an expert about a place to write about it. if you had to be an expert about a place tounderstand something about its sole . then we wouldn't be interested in traveling, as people. we want to engage in tourism and visit places. that said, i visited southern new mexico and my family's been there were 8-9 generations. i feel like i'm an expert on those places. as a writer, it becomes about choosing. which details do you want to give to your readers. if i'm telling a story about a guy who's a drunk and spends time at a bargain i might tell you - - is used in urinals to
make the bathroom smelled better. right? but if i'm telling you a story about somebody who is sort of experiencing a renaissance in their lives and is being reborn but i might tell you the - - bush when it rains is fragrant. if i'm telling you a story about a family who have connections not available on the first surface, i might tell you the - - bush is a push that clones itself and becomes larger but putting more of itself around it like a fence or defensive manner. i can go on about the - - bush because that's what you see in southern new mexico. i'm just going to give you the details that are going to illuminate most the thing the character is struggling with in that particular moment in their life.
so, i think you can write about a place if you don't know it. i tell young writers, don't feel like you're not allowed to write about a place just because your family hasn't lived there for generations. th lord is a good example of a writer who would show up for a week and write a 300 page novel about it. some people hated him for that and some peoplewould say, he kind of figured it out . he understood it. i think it's an important way to go somewhere as a writer without having that knowledge. but if you do have the knowledge and all of this research, you also have to make sure you're choosing those echoes. that will really allow you to tell the story that you want to tell rather than just unloading everything you learned about that place on your readers. >> - - if your family live in the same place for generations. you have that gestational sense of place. on the flip side of all this,
somebody may be an expert on the place but could never write a rich novel about that. my brother knows about the places we grew up in. he certainly couldn't write a good narrative about it. so it's a balance of that. >> right. and you don't go into the research in pursuit of expertise. indeed, that would be overwhelming. in a way, you go into the research while inhabiting the characters so that you are looking at the research as if it were the landscape around you and only the things in the research that need to be about you, the character are the things that jump out at you. but you are absolutely right. >> josh made me think of a fighter who led meyer.stephen dixon. he taught at johns hopkins for many years. he has this one narrative i think published by - - is called i. in it as a young
writer, he goes to paris and he lives above a chinese restaurant. and it is such a sensory compelling description. when asked about this, how he came up with paris in the 90s. a chinese restaurant in the 90s. he said, it's fiction. i made it up. i imagine paris bit i imagined a chinese restaurant and i imagined living above it. there's also that mode and it can be compelling and successful. but it can also be really fun to get to know a place. >> slightly easier to do in the 90s. [laughter] >> true. >> that's interesting. the idea of creating a space in a convincing way. i know you do this from scratch. because you are doing speculative and trying to breathe into that. one of the things i'm interested for all of you again, what are telltale signs of someone who has not done their homework?
and has not represented a place well? >> that's a great anecdote about just imagining the place and the situation. i think that's so legitimate. i think what you want to be careful of is it's not about knowing the place really well. it's about avoiding secondhand descriptions that have been used 1 million times. if we take the example of new orleans, we can think of specific things people could easily say to signal you are in new orleans without actually putting you there. it's fiction and we are all on earth. me, because how people feel in specific situations but we have to be specific about what we are imagining. and clear enough in our own hands so we get all of those
senses. that we make sure we think through all of the implications of what it is to live above a chinese restaurant. we need to be concrete and specific. we need to not rely on the proxy signals that everybody already knows. >> my students favorite go to is starbucks. i will tell them, do not start a story in starbucks. i will see the words coffee shop. it's not because i have anything against starbucks, or just coffee. it's because they're trying to cheat.they don't want to bring me into the place.i have this anti-starbucks rule
in class and they will still do it in the winter take it apart and tell them why they're wrong. for me, it's starbucks. that's the number one crime committed these teams-22-year-olds. [laughter] >> my favorite example of new mexico, a couple years ago nike made a new mexico shoe. they put a big - - on it. if you're from new mexico, you know there are no - - in new mexico. that's the idea that people have of the west. the clichc of the west. so anytime i see a - - in a new mexico film or story, i know it's not true. that being said, there are - - on the cover of my book "acid wash". it's sort of an inside joke because in the book i talk about how you'll never see a saguaro in mexico, sure drunk. if you're resorting to clichc, you probably really don't understand the place as will as you should. >> i think what i see a lot and beginning writing is the stories just happening in this
void. there's no sensory description. it's just inside a vacuum or something. so i'm always pushing them. put me there, etc. just a complete lack of place of course.>> i agree. the lack of place. and on the other hand as well, as long as it's vivid and it feels real.ultimately, it's not that i'm going to go into google books and verify the authenticity. if i am persuaded. if you make me inhabit a character who convinces me on the level of our shared human condition. and that's really where we are writing to all of us. what we are sharing is not location, no place, not culture, not history, not ideas, not none of that. we are sharing our experiences
of the human condition. if i'm convinced there, then that's fine. i have no interest in checking you out. but it includes regular moment to moment experiences. the talk we did prior to this question is how do we feel comfortable with creating the object from the readers point of view. you convinced me and i am with you. but you've got to convince me it's real. we are inhabiting a character. the real point - - i will check the authenticity of this scrupulously from something i deeply know.is this my sense of what the human condition is. hoping you will illuminate me in a convincing way about what that is. >> josh, this is directed towards you. >> writing "acid wash", one of the things i liked most about
that book. is your way of bundling those little fragments and perceptions about the place. and how your family has been there and how people receive it on top of that. i love how you put it out there for the reader to see in all its complexity. drafting these essays, how do you balance that and how do you manage to bring that topic to life in such a way containing those multitudes of contradictions? >> there are two things i talk about in the book. the place is southern new mexico and i talk about having a chip on our shoulder. because when you talk about new mexico, people say - - and santa fe. recall that - - which is a good shorthand for what we love and love to hate. it hurts us we love it so much and we kind of like that. [laughter] they dropped the
first ever atomic bomb on us and that is awful and it's hurt a lot of people. and the cancer is though flowing through the generations as a result. but that also brought a military-industrial complex that has employed generations of people in a way they wouldn't have been able to be employed. at the land right up and there were no longer able to make money on cattle. so there's that. theatomic bomb was terrible but it's brought this industry that's been useful . so understanding both sides of it. there's also, i call the people in the book that are very paranoid about the government but also very patriotic. a lot of those in new mexico and most of them are my family. [laughter] so i sort of have to understand or try to understand them because i love them.
i think that's one of the reasons i try to present both the good and bad about the place.but in terms of the writing process, it's a matter of me trying to show i guess me coming to terms with what the place is. growing up, it was of course all i knew. so i didn't think it was that strange. but the older i got and the more i startedtelling stories , i wanted to present all of those things. there's one essay in the book about - - in alamogordo, the town i'm from. there's tens of thousands of et cartridges. the town needed to get rid of them. so they took him to our town and bury them. i was at this sort of film shoot where a documentary crew from xbox went to dig up the games because they became this
urban legend. it's part of some conspiracy about the lizards running the government or something.when they dug up these games, there was just decades of my town's trash. children's toys. women's clothes. tools that men had used. they were just throwing that aside to get these videogame cartridges that nobody cared about.i was like well, when i write this book, i want to look at those things that they're just throwing aside. that they're digging up in order to cast aside yet again to just look at this trash. that a company came and threw in our landfill. i guess it's an attempt to get the trash in the air and look at it at once and make sense of what it means for who we are and where we are going. >> i love that. i want to position over to you
hannah. one of the things you mentioned earlier is the things people don't talk about.right? kind of going on that theme of contradictions within works and people. you are dealing with the modern myths of this event that has happened and all of the events become mythologized. due in both researching and working on that book, trying to dig past the myth that people made out of this airline crash and find the humanity and experience there? >> that's a really good question. the book begins with a real incident in 1962. a chartered air france flight crashed on takeoff at orly. and it was chartered. it had been chartered by more than 100 of atlanta's wealthiest citizens. these were game changing citizens. many of them were not forward thinkers. they were the reason though that culture was coming into the city. they believe the lot in art. so they'd all been over in
europe on this three-week expedition. in the three-week expedition had been successful. money had been raised. and i think that there's a lot surrounding the details and the specifics. the fact that it happened at the end of the trip and not the beginning. the fact that crashed on takeoff. the fact that the witnesses of the crash didn't immediately understand the plane had crashed because of the way it occurred. there are different accounts. some say the plan was about six inches off the ground before it came back down. something about six feet. one of the men who witnessed the event was the husband of a woman on the plane. they always flew separately because they had three boys and their boys meant everything to them. also on the plane was his wife's mother. so he was there.
he saw this crash that didn't immediately look like a crash. and then they started to see the smoke and the flames. that man and his legacy - - i think there's a lot surrounding his lure in atlanta. it's difficult to not hear that story and immediately to imagine if you have any capacity for empathy, what that must have been like. i know when i heard about him, it haunted me. that idea. and also just the simple fact of having to get on a plane later that day and get home to his children. i couldn't imagine what that would be like. but i wanted to try. i'm very good at not answering specific questions. and just talking about the things i want to talk about.
i do think getting back to the things we talk about in the things we don't talk about the things that are uncomfortable and comfortable, the book is called visible empire. that name is a corruption of the kkk's full name which is the invisible empire, the knights of the ku klux klan. that full name points to the power of the kkk. its power was in its invisibility. its power was when you walked on the street in the afternoon, he didn't know if the man you are saying hello to would later that night be wearing a white cap. and that's a very scary power. what i hoped with this question or with this title, a visible empire. i hoped that it would force us as readers to begin a conversation or to ask questions about, what about the things we can see? what about the power that so
ingrained and right in front of us that we still don't talk about it? what is our responsibility to begin to actually address the things that are in front of us and that we can see but we are not talking about. i'll just stop they are.>> no, i love that. kind of your statement about talking around questions here. that's my favorite part about panels like this because we are dealing with holes. answers are voids. we are trying to basically make a donor so we can hold them up. so i appreciate all of you dealing with my questions and talking about them sometimes and addressing them directly. silas and for all the writers that have addressed the idea of southern literature. it is directly tied to place. i think that idea of southern literature in the 20th century meant something very different than it means now. where that place was more of a staunch power stance. it's our place.
and why does it matter so much. how do you think that's changed in your own writing and generally as we move into the 2020s almost. >> will my book is called "southernmost" not only because it's set in key west but because i wanted to write about the changing south how i think the south is a microcosm for the rest of the country. and it's always sort of held up by the rest of the country as the other. but instead i think it's a mirror, always. really just put all the bad stuff on the south. that lets the rest of the country off the hook, and that's dangerous. to just always have somewhere to push all the blame. so in the book, they're making this journey from tennessee to key west. so they're moving across the new south.
mostly set in 2016. along the way, they are encountering people who would be the other with a capital o. they encounter hispanic workers in a cherokee woman who's been harassed in a truck stop parking lot. all of these people from other countries in these roles of servitude. even though they may have come from very professional background in their home countries. so i'm trying to show the cells is a really changing landscape were lots of different people are living together in a way they haven't before. and that's one of my favorite aspects. on the surface, it's a lot about lgbtq issues but i'm also trying to say that there's lots of kinds of other.
the south always gets blamed for all that. but really, again, it's just a mirror to the rest of the country. if that makes sense. >> anybody else have any other thoughts on that? the name of our panel is sense of place.rights? the idea of that term deals with almost like a mystical thing. set onto places that makes them special and people connected to them. do you buy into that and also, what do you think makes a place special? >> i mean, i buy into it a little bit just because i wanted to buy my book. [laughter] so i want you to believe that southern, new mexico is magical. i think it is though but also
because it's home for me. it's magical because after my people are. that's where my blood's been running for a long time.i think it comes back to people more than anything. i live in new orleans now and i love this place. my blood hasn't been running here for a long time but it certainly does boil on occasion. i think there's something to say in a place is magical but i don't know if it's ever more magical than any other place. you just have to find what that magic is.>> i would agree that there's magic in places. i think that if we - - if we are prepared to say, some of the diversity and its magic and what have come up again and again is seeing the places through the characters. different characters will find different places magical. or places they feel a strong connection to for whatever reason. whether it's something they constraints specifically through actions and experiences. something that comes at a
nowhere. there's that important character aspect too. i think if we are prepared to say any land is sacred, we have to be prepared to say that all land is secret. and there is that possibility in any place we go to, depending on what they're open to it and how they see it, depending on how it's different. i think often what makes a place stand out is what is different than what we are used to. and the danger there, if you build a starbucks on the - - and it becomes the same. >> the magic can be a dark magic, number one. number two, that sense of location in the broader sense. your question reminds me of why
i was drawn in this series of four books i've been doing. why i've been drawn to that so strongly. it has to do with the big issues. the - - of 1914 and 1918 era. i've got a cheat sheet because i want to give you the list in full. i want to tell you the big issues. the - - of 1914 and 1918, okay? drastic new technologies expanding the capabilities of mass killing and destruction. the appropriate place of america in the world. the ravages of war. waves of immigration, often desperate in motive. the struggle for a viable free press. violent acts of terror. the thrashings of governments under siege. the clash of ideologies, both political and religious.
racial oppression and gender oppression. dictators and would be dictators gaining and asserting power. those were the big issues. from 1914-1918. do they sound familiar? that's the dark magic for me. of that period. having to write those books. because these books are the story of our times as well. it is the story of our times. dark magic is the human condition. we keep replaying and replaying and replaying. our deepest sins, our deepest falls. but hopefully our deepest capacity for stepping back, creating works of art. finding a way forward. as grim as that might seem and
there's a possibility at the moment. nonetheless, for me, that's the real magic of our and the whole human condition. >> i think what makes a place special for me is if it's a complex place. the writer's job is to reveal that complexity. i think so often the bad writing i see is the place is very romanticized words very vilified. we latch onto the vilifying it is just as bad to romanticize place because it simplifies and takes that complexity away. >> have y'all heard this article about the bridge that the dogs have been jumping off of in scotland? i think it's scotland. i want to say it is. something like that just
catches my attention immediately. as i was reading the article, my first thought is, i'm going to write about this. but that stories already been written. written by the times but a man has been a much longer book about open that's a magical place. this bridge. and there are explanations. scientists say it's because berman live under the bridge and dogs can smell it. yesterday, as i was watching by, is it jackson square where they have the horses? which is a difficult place for me to be. i grew up with horses and i always forced myself to walk down that strip into the horse . i try to make eye contact and send them love. but there was a man walking by with the dog and it's a little puppy and the puppy wishes trying to lurch himself at the horses. i remembered faulkner and the smell of horses and how important that is to him. the way he's able to walk this fine line between romanticizing the south and also illustrating it. so in thinking about all of that. i was also thinking as i was
listening to everyone else respond, a place can be magica . a hotel room can be magical. we are talking a lot now about geographical spaces but i think it's also important to talk about a hotel room in chicago on the 18th floor when is a snowstorm outside. perhaps the person within the room is a man who is not your husband. that becomes a magical space. you become aware of the way the light comes out of the bathroom when he closes the door. and you become aware of did he turn on the light before he closes the door. is he considerate like that or less considerate than your husband. sometimes it's about finding the magic in the space that can again speak to the character and the importance of, and the relevance of this place in the larger work. >> i think that's great. you kind of brought this idea of home and perceiving that
aspect of your answer. - - you mentioned earlier how all of your books are dealing with 17-18 locations across the globe. so the smaller places mean more. i'm really interested in your own opinions. what does homing to you how does your definition of home - - is not influencing your characters or do they have different opinions of what home is? >> i can follow up on what i was saying earlier about my characters. a lot of the main ones moving around a lot. they certainly have an idea of home that's sort of contained within those spaces in which they live and travel temporarily. i'll try to put some in interaction with characters that are very routed. my second book, quite a lot of it takes place in darfur, suda
. it's pretty remote and hasn't changed somewhat over time. there are people there were very routed and these outside travelerscome in . that interaction the people move around a lot and see different places versus people who barely travel and really stay in one small community. was a really interesting thing to work with. especially when there's romance. ... >> feeds all the great writing and there is a yearning in there. it's one that gives me -- as a writer the yearning, as a gay
man, i have this deep love from where and from and i will have this year end for her to love me just as much as i love it. and for some way some of my writing is about that. >> when i was still in my 30s i did account of how many houses i lived until i was born. and it was something like 32. the last time i did account as part of my parents got divorced when i was really little. but the other part of that that they were both unstable people who really like moving around. the favorite pastime to this day is going to an open house anyways try to make sure somebody accompanies her because there is a chance she will put an offer on it. [laughter] and her second favorite activity is rearranging the house she lives and so whenever i returned home from school and never felt like i was going back to the
same place twice. it is a real pathology in an interesting one to go up with. so on top of that, on top of the divorce and the 12 year custody battle, for me which existed in atlanta which is where i was born in a place i love and hate and part of the custody battle and i am unable to divorce myself from the experience i had there. when my parent left, when my mom and my stepfather left from the eastern shore i left for boarding school in massachusetts. which meant whenever i went home either to atlanta remember biological father was living or to the eastern shore i had no friends. and now in atlanta we had gotten the olympics when is a middle school, which meant the city had changed, overnight, and engineer conditioning was everywhere. it means now when i go back there are very few landmarks that are the same, the cathedrals, the duck pond,
fellini's, the pizza place i used to go to looks different. so atlanta cannot be home, but it is where parent. i think of the eastern shore as a place i would learn to write in the place that i actually started thinking. and paying attention to other people and paying attention to the place. but i got my education in massachusetts and from there i moved to chicago and every time i moved one of my family members moved. and now, and this very bizarre twist, everyone in my family is suddenly living in kentucky again with the exception of my brother who lives in denver and he will call me every once in a while and say, you know i'm never coming to kentucky. [laughter] and we say yes we do, but in the course of five years and moved to kentucky, my mom moved obviously two years ago, my sister moved last year my biological father from who my mom had been divorced for 35 years, he packed up and left and
moved up to lexington we still don't know why he's there. but he is, so suddenly we are all in this mile radius and my mom said the other day, it is the damnedest thing that i divorce that man 35 years ago and i'm going to die and he is probably coming to my funeral. [laughter] i said mom he's going to talk at your funeral. i don't know where home is but i think it has to do for me with family and the people in my family there and the people you are close to and refined interaction. >> in one very specialized but very real sense, my home is wherever the spaces where a right. even if it's at the hotel for the last couple days, in summary away that is where home is.
were you daily go into the compost of your imagination and tried to figure out what the hell this is all about. >> i want to piggyback off of this because right before i started we had a chance to talk and we were both -- we are both in the middle of new projects and is really exciting to be in the middle of something, it's what we do for as writers. and last night, yesterday i walked there and back and managed to get a sunburn, and by 6:00 o'clock rather than being on the city i was back in bed writing. i was writing and working on the last chapter of this book which will be my fifth novel and i will always think of being here and being in the hotel room because i remember the place where i worked on every single book in endings are so special. and where he finally -- even if you are missing the 40% before you get to the ending, where you know that you've got the final
one like in musical terms, you know you've got the end. it is such a special place. i will never write about the hotel but i will always remember it and associated with how the last chapter magically came to be. >> i love that. sadly, it is time to stop for discussion. but happily, it is time to let you participate a little bit in the audience with questions for about ten minutes. if you have a question for any of the panelist appeared just raise your hand and i will point to you and please speak loudly because they will not be a microphone being passed around -- other is. speak not quite as loudly into the microphone. but wait for the microphone until we call you. >> if i walk at the front door, my senses will be assaulted by sights, sounds, smells of new
orleans. but if i was a local, those things will not register with me because i've seen them so many times. so my question is, how do you give a sense of place when your point of view character is blaée about the place that they are living? >> i think even if the character is blasé about it you as a writer cannot afford to be. you have to be aware, you have to balance between the character and the experience of the reader coming in. and even dashing depends a lot on what kind you are doing and how you're pursing the narration and so on. if the characters not making a big deal noticing something, you can the sub because just collapsed something for the reader that will communicate a lot. it is okay for the characters to not notice or not mention everything, that means you as a writer had to be really on top
of what the small things that are going to get the granularity and make sure that they find away whether it's in the characters contrast. we are still interacting with them and it is pulling the right ones out. >> even if it is a point of view character, your reader needs to know what it is they are not noticing. so bob is depressed walking down the street and he's not noticing the bomb in the gutters, and the beach in the trees and the streetcar rattling. so we get the sense of the blaée but the reader also get to see for the pieces. >> the character i probably would not put in first person. so i have a different. >> that makes me think of one of my favorite stories, each bullet in the brain, it is just a stunning trick of narration. here are all the good things that he does not remember. and then we get a true page list of the experiences that this
cynic is dying as we read, there's a bullet in his brain, but we get his life condensed, here are the things he doesn't remember, he doesn't remember the birth of his child, he doesn't remember watching a woman jumped to her death from the building next door, he doesn't remember et cetera et cetera et cetera, this is in third person so that's one of the tricks. we get to know him really, really well and then the beautiful twist in the story is the one thing that he will remember and i won't tell you because you have to read it on your own. it is so good. >> i think the thing that they love it challenge like that. one of the things we like to do is to figure out how to say stuff like that. >> if your writing, and the character's summary you should be writing about through, he's not blasé about something, you gotta focus on what is deeply engaging that point when you're
in touch with that then when he notices and what he doesn't notice and what he may notice is for every day of his life support any notices for the first time that those things should begin to emerge quite naturally from that driving force in the narrative. >> if he's really clueless you can have them trip over something or bump into someone. that is a good way to bring it to his attention. >> twice today different. if he is walking in a place that is totally familiar with him, something has to be different about today and that means today is the day he does noticeably. and then his life is probably ruined. [laughter] >> i have a question about millennial's in technology,
since most of us in the audience are little older, i know a lot of millennial's his sense of place sheet by video games and by virtual reality, i feel this is going to change the way they look at literature in flight. i am interested in how you all reacted to that. >> the experience of literature in the consciousness of the reader. word used in the order you put them in. and whether i read in a book and amend better in books and for, i have never read a book i did not stick on my face and smell. but i am mildly crazy about carrying a thousand books around me. and in both extremes, the reality of literature if you're reading the book in the way your material within seconds of beginning to read the pages that you can smell in the glowing screen fall away, experiences here, invested their by the artist ability to put words --
the right words in a certain order. they are the same thing is seems to me. >> seventy-five years ago people could have asked the same question about movies. fifty years ago they could've said the same thing about television changing and people sense of space, and that time as well radio drama is changing the way people experience, even if we go back 500 years we can talk about the way books are becoming widely available can change the way people think. i know that i write sometimes in a very different way even though i'm not hoping my books will become movies but i have a certain visual sense of the idea of panning or zooming the people did not have before they became a common way for people to experience narratives. so i doubt things will change but it's not the time to help. i think there is some exciting possibilities as well with video games and virtual reality in
different ways to tell stories. i don't think and i finally hope they will not books, and radio and other non- visually narratives. >> district court, the film director, innovator was credited with inventing water film technique, he credited one person would teaching him everything that he knew. in the person he credited was charles dickens who died decades before film was invented. all of those techniques were at the cinema of the mind and when there were no books and when we were telling stories around campfires indicates, the same experience was going on in our consciousness. >> may be to look at it from a
different angle, can a kid really understands other men mexico if he is spending all his time looking and sugar. i think that is a good question. one of the ways in which you become an expert about a region is knowing its uniqueness in about a place in relation with other places. i think that young people have a chance for the now more than other to understand other places because of social media. i certainly know that my students range in age from 18 to 25. they know more about the world than i did when i was 18 to 25. that is because the opportunity that they have to communicate with other people in other places instantaneously, through social media and because they have the opportunity to travel more than ever before. i heard that while airlines just went bankrupt which is airplane taking people i sent for like
$80. but 90% of my students have been dyson because they can get a round-trip ticket for $80. and that was not something that was available to me when i was younger. but it is something that is available to people now. yes, there is a way to look at it and say he will only see the insecure post, it's about places and seeing the exotica cliché way in which they're portrayed. but i think you can also say now more than ever young people have the opportunity to understand how unique places are in relation to where they're from. that will help them better understand. not only other places and other people but also whether from. and help them communicate that to others as well. i am definitely on the side of not being to scared of social media and what the internet is doing. >> , i'm terrified by my students in my social media.
i think there is a real interesting dichotomy at work for the people who are my classroom and like josh was saying, they are the most global generations that we have on ever seen before. there are also the most tolerant that i have ever taught before. they're very open to different points of views. at the same time, at least what i'm encountering, they are very hoisted because of a lot about communication that is happening is in the privacy of their own room, they are looking at screens, and i recently was talking to to my students and they told me, these are grad students and they were telling me about what they talked about when they went to bars. and it didn't sound like anything of substance, and i said when you're so close, you so intimately connected, and they said those conversations only leave the bar and were texting, and is really
fascinated about the idea of spilling your guts you your phone versus going to a bar and having the whites of the eye contact. so there are completely different beast in their really interesting, and in spite of my fear, i absolutely loved by the words, if you don't change with the times the times will change you. i am working on that. >> as possible we have different students, because you take fiction and i teach nonfiction and journalism, the difference is you can hold up in your room and stomach you are, but in journalism you have to talk to people right? >> i'm going to steal something, but ants pd told me that could be in a personal shot in in anchorage my students to get out of the classroom, look up. because otherwise i never want to read what you have to write.
you will not write fiction that anybody is interested in reading. i think we have to call it there. i want to add one thought. in reaction to your question the digital can be just as vibrant as a landscape anything outside of it. writers today and filmmakers are just learning how to dive into that. but now we are at the end, thank you so much for being here, thanks so much term panelist. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> now from the recent tennessee new orleans lar