Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dan Choan on Sharing "Common Ground" With Your Reader

I recently finished reading Dan Chaon's superb collection of short stories Among the Missing, which I would highly recommend. The stories are thought-provoking, funny, heart-wrenching, and beautiful. Nathaniel Hawthorne famously said, "Easy reading is damn hard writing," and Choan's stories manage to seem both effortless in their reading and masterfully complex in their execution. My favorite stories tend to be those that leave me with a sense of inevitable surprise. Choan's stories certainly evoked that feeling within me.

I was delighted to find an interview with the author in the back of the book, and I really liked what he had to say about his process and intent:

I think one of my main interests as a writer are those moments that are unpackagable, and, conversely, trying to remystify the stuff that's been already packaged. I feel like we already live in a society that is too constantly encapsulating and explaining and summarizing itself, and that we're often too quick to find easy insights, themes, and messages. I'm not particularly interested in the idea of Truth, or even of "epiphany" in fiction. Instead, I think the thing I value most is the stuff that shakes us up and makes us question our solid ground. I don't feel like I can stand up on a stage and preach anything convincingly; I'd prefer if the reader and I were standing together on common ground, both of us puzzling and wondering in the face of these moments that can't be explained. (Among the Missing, 267.)

What do you puzzle over in your everyday life? What are you obsessed with, curious about, interested in? Maybe you can take inspiration from Dan Choan and write about what puzzles you. It's okay if you don't have all the answers -- in fact, maybe that's a good thing!

I'll leave you with a quote from Dan Choan to give you hope and inspiration whenever criticism
or rejection knocks you down:

Many of the stories in the collection that went on to win prizes were flat-out rejected by any number of magazines, and even when I personally feel confident that something I've written is the best that I can do, I can't hold on to more than a hope that someone else is going to like it. It's always a shock when a story gets attention or wins a prize, and it doesn't seem like it will be less of a shock as time goes on, because it always feels to me like I'm starting over every time I start new work. (271.)

So, onward and upward, and remember -- you're in good company!

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