Writer's Block Festival Feature: Q&A with Brian Leung
1) Your workshop is about lingering, “Giving Your Reader All the Time in the World.” What’s one of your favorite examples of lingering in fiction? Why do you think that lingering in writing is important?
Let’s think of text as a gift. Each day most of us gift our friends, family, and colleagues with lots and lots of gifts—bite sized—a text here, an email there, a tweet in between. How much thought do we put into these gifts, I wonder? By lingering I mean two things; being a patient writer in producing one’s prose, and offering the reader the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of one’s prose. The world is in a different kind of hurry than our prose needs to be. Even Hemmingway and Virginia Woolf lingered, Carver too. Morrison and Diaz linger in their own ways and we are better off for it.
2) Do you feel that electronic communication – emails, texting, tweeting – can hinder or help the writing process?
I live in this world and spend much of my day with my face looking at a glowing screen. My life is enhanced, largely, by quick access to family, friends, students, and etc. Then again, wouldn’t we all have been better off with the U.S. Ebola news had we gotten updates days apart so that we weren’t set in a frenzy by every news crawl and internet update? It’s a paradox because electronic communication assists us in being concerned for the welfare of others across the globe almost in real time. But, in our own time zones there’s no time for processing. For young and/or new writers, I’ve observed, there’s a turn toward “reaction” writing. “My first thought must be a good enough thought because I’ve got to get to my next thought.” Anecdotal queries have taught me much, if not all, of this turn stems from the mode of writing we’ve turned to for personal communication. I’m not anti-technology. I’m anti-impatience.
3) You’ve said that you write slowly, reading each sentence out loud. Why is this writing process so important to you? Reflect on readings you’ve attended, perhaps even a reading by a writer whose work you admire.
They get up on the stage and seem not to be able to orally reproduce the music of the language they put on the page. Let’s give them a pass. More often, it’s because there’s no music on the page. The writer has written for the page but not the reader’s ear, and I connect that with impatience to get to the next sentence. Again, even the Modernists luxuriated in the language on the page. How can we situate ourselves as writers between the texts of Whitman, Melville, Bishop and Baldwin, let’s say, and Perez Hilton, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber? Shouldn’t we linger to the left of that sentence rather than the right?
4) You recently became Creative Writing Director at Purdue University, after teaching at the University of Louisville. How has moving to a new location and teaching in a different capacity affected your writing – if at all?
I had and have a huge affection for the University of Louisville and the city. I already miss my colleagues, students, friends, bourbon, Louisville Literary Arts, Waterfront Wednesdays, WFPL . . . . In the most immediate, the move and new position nearly mortifyingly have upset my writing schedule. Plus, I’m married as of 9/20. The novel I’ve been working on for two years seems frozen in ice and only now have I been able to create enough melt to get to the pages. That said, the current novel is set in Kentucky, and, as I experienced with my move from Los Angeles to Louisville, I’m discovering that my memories of the novel’s location are creating more imaginative possibilities than when I had direct access to setting and place. I suddenly feel less “bound” though no less dedicated to fidelity.
5) You apparently embrace both long and short fiction forms, having published award-winning novels and a short-story collection. How do you approach the subject of “lingering” in short versus long fiction?
I suppose even a tweet might have a form of lingering. “Saw Grdns of the Glxy today. Awesome flick” vs “Guardians of the Galaxy: Best Rodent anti-hero since ‘Ratatouille’.” What I think I mean here is attention to fullness. The first tweet shuts down. The second conveys the same enthusiasm but invites its reader into two worlds, which requires consideration. So it’s not short versus long fiction. It’s about curating gallery space where your reader is invited and encouraged to step forward and step back as they engage the art you’ve hung on the walls of your pages.