Tuesday, July 26, 2005

a conversation with michal viewegh - part four

Q: Can you also cite the work of other artists - filmmakers, painters, photographers - as other influences on your fiction? You mentioned your short, film-clip style passages. Do you believe there’s a connection between your books and film?

A: Some people have written that I do write in a film-like style. I don’t do it consciously. Maybe I do it subconsciously, but the scenes are visualizable. I think, in general, that’s just influenced by the way we live today, just the attempt to say something precisely, briefly, humorously. It comes from the fact that I’m aware we live in a time in which no one listens to anyone else, no one reads anything, and every day a thousand different people tell us something. We’re surrounded by millions of words in newspapers and magazines, and if I want to attract attention to my work, I have to say something interesting, make people laugh. I think a good author can’t be a bad storyteller in a café or a pub. If I gave people who were sitting around in a pub ten pages of a contemporary Czech novel they would just get up and leave. They’d be bored. That for me is an important influence. For example, in cafés and in pubs I test the stories which I later use in my books. I test the patience and the attention span of my potential readers.

Q: You said earlier that you planned to write Bringing Up Girls In Bohemia for about a year and then you wrote it in about a quarter of a year. What were you doing at the time? Were you working as an editor or a teacher? How did you fit writing into your schedule? Can you give me an idea of how a typical day was spent while writing Bringing Up Girls In Bohemia?

A: I was working as an editor at the Cesky Spisovatel publishing house. The Wonderful Years of Lousy Living had already sold about twenty thousand copies. It was a modest success. Cesky Spisovatel needed a best seller to make some more money and I said, Give me two months free and I’ll write a best seller. It was an exaggeration, of course, but I wrote the book in two months. Now I know that maybe I shouldn’t have rushed so much and maybe I should have done the end of the novel a little bit differently, but so far it’s sold over eighty thousand copies so it fulfilled my promise, if that doesn’t sound too self-centered.

Q: But they really gave you the two months off?

A: Yes. This is an interesting detail, maybe, for American readers. I got from the Czech Literary Fund, which is a non-profit foundation to support Czech Literature, in lieu of my regular monthly pay, a monthly pay of not quite a hundred dollars, but it was actually enough to pay the rent and it was enough that I didn’t have to go to work for two months.

Q: I assume that you were writing fiction while you were a schoolteacher. Did you only write in the summertime?

A: I wrote all of my first pieces of work while I was at the university. I had a system that for a year in advance I would think about the book and then during summer vacations I wrote it. So I actually wrote The Wonderful Years of Lousy Living in about six or seven weeks during summer vacation, and that was during the time that I was teaching.

Q: I want to ask you, briefly, about the year of planning. Is this researching, taking notes, writing rough drafts or is it more passive, literally sitting and thinking?

A: I’m probably too lazy to go to the university library and study certain streams of literature and that’s also probably why I’m never going to write a historical novel. I have two basic stages for the preparational work. For one thing, I read a lot. I try to read a lot of other writers. I don’t hesitate to interrupt my reading at all when something inspires me. If a mood or a certain scene leads me to certain thoughts, I’ll stop and make notes. And without even planning or organizing for the next stage, I go about it quite pragmatically. I sit down and make coffee. I take two or three hours to go through all of the notes I’ve already made. I might try writing six sentences in first person. Sometimes it’s completely unproductive, those hours, but I don’t complain about it because I know that in the end it will all be for the good of the finished book. Because during the hour that I’m drinking coffee I get seven or eight key ideas for the novel and during that hour I think or invent the scenes that later appear in these anthologies. I wouldn’t say that it’s a muse or anything that mystical, but it’s sort of an hour of fortunate inspiration.

Q: Now that you’re full-time writer, is the procedure the same? Do you take off a year to take notes and plan and then follow it with an eight or twelve or sixteen week burst of actual writing?

A: I’ve always had more themes than time to write about them. I’ve got all kinds of different notebooks full of potential ideas for novels. It usually happens that within a matter of months one of those ideas will start to stand out from the others and become more interesting to me. I try not to rush or hurry it. For example, I just published my last novel in April and so even though I knew that I wanted to return to short story writing, I intentionally put it off. More or less I invent other projects for myself - for example, right now I’m working on the reconstruction of my new apartment - because I know it’s not possible to write two books a year. The theme needs time to mature. I need to leave it for a while.

Q: So even if the next book is short stories rather than a novel, the collection will fit together within a unified theme?

A: Yes. The working title is Stories About Marriage and About Sex, the two being mutually exclusive of course. I read somewhere that, according to the World Health Organization, the average man thinks about sex every eight minutes and that will be the theme of the collection.

Q: I have no idea how quickly Czech publishing works. If Fatherly Love was published in April, when did you actually hand over the manuscript to the publisher?

A: Before the revolution it used to take a year to go through the censors and then another year going through production, typesetting and all that stuff, which placed unbelievable demands on the author’s patience. Even today no one is able to imagine it. They would say, Yes, we liked your novel and we’re going to publish it, and from that point it would take two or two and a half years before the novel was actually published. Today it’s different. It’s a lot more flexible system. My publisher is a private one. I give him the manuscript in February and in April the book is published.

Q: So if you finished writing Fatherly Love in February then you should begin writing the short stories around the first of the year?

A: I don’t have any definite time frame but I’m planning to start writing in the fall and if it’s finished maybe we’ll publish in the spring. And if it’s not, then no problem, we’ll just put it off until the following fall.

Q: Now that you’re no longer editing or teaching, I know you have the advantage of more time to write, but what does it cost you? You said earlier that the novels are made up of your daily life experiences. Do you feel a lack or a void not having another job besides writing?

A: Yes. I realize that that problem does exist. Hemingway was a fisherman and he had a metaphor. The fisherman needs worms for fishing, and they keep their worms in a can. Hemingway said that writers are like worms in a can. They don’t have any earth, background. They live only from their mutual relations and they don’t know anything about real life. They’re closed up in this can and they don’t have a relationship with real life.

Q: Let me ask you two short, biographical questions. Do you own a dentist’s chair?

A: No.

Q: Do you arrange your books on the shelf by the nationality of the author?

A: Yes. It’s an effective method. There’s no hierarchy. It’s not like I keep the Americans above the Germans or anything. It’s just a practical method of arrangement. For me the nationality is just a helpful organizational device. For example, if a book by a Romanian author is published, and he’s a Romanian dissident, then I am able to better visualize what it might be about.

Q: So at least in that respect you view authors by nationality?

A: I do, in that respect, yes.

Q: Do you see yourself as a Czech writer?

A: Yes. Definitely.


a conversation with michal viewegh - part one
a conversation with michal viewegh - part two
a conversation with michal viewegh - part three

No comments:

Post a Comment