Trevanian's desk/Question and Answer Session - part II
Q: You obviously had a remarkably active imagination as a boy. When did you first harness that gift with the discipline and craft of writing?
A: As a director in theater, I would often shape the characters towards what the actor or actress had to offer, and when necessary I did this by re-writing his lines. I know that all playwrights will cry foul, but I was a thorough-going theater man in that I usually designed my own sets and lighting, controlled the music (even writing some, when that was necessary), and designed all the advertising...can you imagine that a swollen ego like that would leave the lines alone? Even Shakespeare has had the benefit of a bit of tightening up and sharpening at my hand.
Writing ... an essentially instinctive business, and therefore difficult to teach. Over the years (and against my better judgment) I have twice done one-week master classes for young professionals, and in both cases I found one week adequate to tell them and show them all I know. Writing is both an art and a craft; both gift and skill. The art/gift is not teachable, but some bits of the craft/skill can be transferred from one writer to another, either by careful reading and analysis of good writing (matters like language, structure, devices, etc.) or by having an old pro walk through good writing beside you, pointing things out, so you don't waste time re-inventing the wheel (or, more commonly, looking for the wheel on a sled).
Of all there is to know about good writing, only a small amount can be learned. Of that, only a portion can be taught; and of that, only a bit can be taught by me to this particular young writer. That's why a week is usually sufficient.
Bright, gifted young writers don't have to be taught all the structures, all the voices, all the devices, all the shadings of point of view; they only have to learn that such things exist and are useful, not for writing something in the first place, but for correcting, reshaping, refining what you've written. (You will recall the old, but valid, saw: Novels are not written, they're re-written.)
And even though we only had a week together, the young writers usually wanted to show me some good stuff they'd recently written, rather than do the drills I thought would help them.
What is sadder than the teacher whose advice is not heeded?
The teacher who bitches about it.
Q: Were you ever angry at your father? You seem to write of him (The Crazyladies of Pearl Street) with a certain humor and fatalism that might be covering up anger and resentment. How were able to forgive him for never coming back for the party at 238 N. Pearl or, in fact, into the rest of your life?
A: The scene at the end of the book between the kid and his father about twenty years later is psychologically accurate, if tidier and more compact than the real event.
It's he who never forgave me. About a year after that event, I received a telephone call from him. He told me had taken something before calling me. After a few minutes, he began to ramble, and I'm pretty sure he died. At any rate, I got no answer after calling his name sharply several times...so I hung up. And I've not heard from him since.
(Note: I'm pleased you remembered that scene between me and my father. It was one of the better-written passages...the result of some twenty to thirty drafts. Another such passage was meeting the train on the bridge; and another was the description of the chewed pencil on the Trevanian website, where the book's cybernotes are available of anyone who wants to read or download them.
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