On Genre in Writing

I am interested in the uncertain borderline between fiction and memoir in the works of many writers. Do you find that line increasingly blurred in contemporary writing, and where do you see your work on this continuum?

—Monika Zagar, Ljubljana, Slovenia

This an interesting area of inquiry in many ways, Monika. The last twenty years or more certainly have seemed to be a flourishing era of memoir, and memoir of a different kind from what you and I first encountered as adult readers. Read more…

The structure of Suite Harmonic is shaped by the content of the letters it is based on; Time Stamp is composed of two narratives that don’t truly join until the close and written in chapters that could be read as individual stories; Clare Loving is composed of three related novellas. In these books, do you feel you are violating assumed rules for what a novel should be?

—Carole Flint, Colorado Springs, Colorado

If I were interested primarily in experimenting as a writer, I think my answer to this question would be yes, that I hope I am violating rules about what a novel is assumed to be. But the fact is that I never start from the point of wanting to do something unusual in terms of structure or really anything else. Read more…

I’m reading your stories from the Watching Oksana collection and am struck by the range of your subjects for your fiction. After you finish a story, how do you decide what you are going to write about next? Is it something you remember having seen walking down a street in New York? A middle aged man with a young girl, for example? An account in a newspaper about an Irish Catholic woman with dementia who starts speaking Yiddish? And beyond that, when you have an idea, when do you know what genre you’ll use to explore it?

—Darshan Perusek, Menomonie, Wisconsin

Darshan, it’s the luxury and the curse of someone who writes primarily fiction not to have an assigned subject to write about. And you are right that subjects can be suggested by random things—Read more…

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