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Bare-Knuckle Writing


September 3, 2013

The acclaimed novelist & art critic on dismantling notions of gendered writing, the pleasures of translated texts, and “the clear divide between art and politics” in contemporary American fiction

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Image Hari Kunzru

Katie Kitamura’s debut, The Longshot, was set in the world of male fighting. Peter Berg of Friday Night Lights fame is currently developing it into a movie, and in 2010 it was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s prestigious Young Lions Fiction Award. Kitamura’s second novel, Gone to the Forest, was a finalist for the same award a few months ago, and she’s currently working on a third novel while writing two screenplays with her husband, the novelist Hari Kunzru. One is a Western and the other is about the life of Bruce Chatwin, the travel writer.

When The Longshot hit shelves in 2009, its cover art challenged the imagery female writers often get stuck with—a discarded high heel, a woman at a window. Instead, the cover gave us a photograph of the title words tattooed across a man’s knuckles. The knuckles belonged to Kitamura’s brother; he had the tattoo done as a favor.

Gone to the Forest picks up thematically where the first book left off, both in its interest in masculinity and varieties of power and in its commitment to risk-taking writing. Kitamura’s characters tend to be interesting rather than “likable,” her paragraphs impactful rather than elegant. In short, punchy sentences, the book brings us the story of an old man dying in an unspecified year in an unnamed colonial country. Outraged by the first stirrings of revolution among natives, the myopic ruling class to which the old man belongs sit in candle-lit rooms, shaking their heads, saying comically vague things like, “It is the government’s responsibility to take some kind of action.” Meanwhile, the political world is changing. It’s only a matter of time before it intrudes on their perfectly prepared dinner parties.

Kitamura is interested in the shirking of responsibilities, but she’s not a writer who judges. Her brand of empathy is too cool and wide-reaching for that. As she explains in the interview which follows, “When you’re inside history, living it, you really have no idea if you’re on the right side of events and opinions.” In other words, people are always the unreliable narrators of their own lives, and if the book offers a solution to this partiality of perspective, it is that we should all look a little harder at one another. In one memorable passage it’s noted that the white land owners like to use the word “inscrutable” when describing the natives. Instead of holding this up as derogatory or discriminatory, as many more obvious novelists might, Kitamura chooses to shoot the idea down on the grounds that it is “not accurate.” She writes, with winning understatement, that the natives are “as readable as any of the white settlers, if the white settlers took the time to do the reading.”

The Longshot didn’t contain any major female characters. Gone to the Forest contains only one. Over coffee on a sunny day in Brooklyn, Kitamura explained to me, in a soft, warm voice my recorder barely caught, that she is interested “in dismantling the distinction between masculine and feminine writing” and that she believes “a really good, interesting novel will often let a little ugliness get into its words.” She also posed some provocative questions. Why, she wonders, aren’t American readers consuming challenging works of fiction to the same extent as readers in Spain or Norway seem to be? And why does it often seem that there’s such “a clear divide between art and politics” in the United States, whereas writers in some other countries are right at the heart of “a national conversation?” Her thoughts on writing are, like her books, compelling and unusual.

Jonathan Lee for Guernica

Guernica: There’s something very interesting in the language of Gone to the Forest. A stripped-back style with careful, perfectly-formed sentences and then—all of a sudden—breakages in the flow. You’ll start a line, unexpectedly, with a word like “who” or you’ll cut a thought short.

Katie Kitamura: With Gone to the Forest, I was especially interested in trying to make some of my sentences uglier than they needed to be. To introduce into the text certain lines that were awkward in some way. I do break sentences in half. I try to create a flow to the prose and then have a line that cracks.

I’m often a little perplexed, when I read a review of a book, by the quotes that are pulled out as evidence of excellent prose. I don’t think great novels are necessarily composed of great prose, or that there’s a correlation between beautiful prose and the quality of a work of fiction. A really good, interesting novel will often let a little ugliness get into its words.

There’s a perception that good writing is writing which runs smoothly. But smooth-running prose can work against what you’re trying to express in a novel. I wanted the writing in this book to be much more punchy and jagged, to occasionally alienate or unsettle the reader in some way. The book doesn’t take place in a contemporary setting, but I wanted it to take some of its feel from the Internet. There’s something fascinating about sites like 4 Chan—I wanted lots of voices to come poking through, a sense sometimes of abbreviation or fragmentation.

I’m often a little perplexed, when I read a review of a book, by the quotes that are pulled out as evidence of excellent prose. I don’t think great novels are necessarily composed of great prose, or that there’s a correlation between beautiful prose and the quality of a work of fiction. A really good, interesting novel will often let a little ugliness get into its words—to create a certain effect, to leave the reader with a certain sense of disorientation.

Translated literature can be fascinating. There’s something so intriguing about reading the text second hand—a piece of prose that has already been through an extra filter, another consciousness, in the guise of the translator.

Guernica: Does that connect in any way with your interest in translated fiction? In a Q&A with your publishers, I think you said that “unsuccessful translations are almost as interesting as successful ones.”

Katie Kitamura: Yes. I don’t speak any languages well enough to make an expert assessment on writing in translation, but since I’m interested in awkwardness in prose, I find I like the way translated texts can sometimes acquire awkwardness in the process of translation. There’s a discordance translation can create which I think is sometimes seen as a weakness but which I think can be a really interesting aspect of the text.

Translated literature can be fascinating. There’s something so intriguing about reading the text second hand—a piece of prose that has already been through an extra filter, another consciousness, in the guise of the translator. At the moment I primarily read literature in translation. I’ve been reading Karl Ove Knausgaard, Enrique Vila-Matas. A lot of work by the Icelandic novelist, Sjón. Javier Marias, who I love. And some of my favorite writers who have written in English were doing so without English being their first language, so there’s a sense of distance or of distortion there, too. Conrad. Nabokov. These writers were employing English in interesting ways.

Guernica: Do you feel that fiction by the likes of Knausgaard and Marias is offering something you can’t get from American novels?

Katie Kitamura: Karl Ove Knausgaard is so interesting because there is staggeringly beautiful prose in his books, but there’s also lots of what might technically be called “bad” prose. If you were a certain kind of reader you could pull out these so-called bad sentences and conclude that maybe he’s not such a great writer. But you’d be missing the point. I think he said in an interview that life isn’t perfect, so why should his prose be? He’s completely right.

I’m intrigued by cases like the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante. Her writing is challenging and confrontational about women and sex—her books have sold millions of copies in Italy. In the same way, it’s fascinating that a risk-taking writer like Javier Marias has sold millions of copies in Spain. I don’t know who the equivalent writers in the English language are. Who is the great American novelist who’s writing novels that are strange, and bold, and challenging, and which also happen to be selling six million copies?

The point about sales is relevant because it suggests there are cultures out there that are supporting and consuming, on a vast scale, challenging works of literature. Works of literature that in the United States would sell only a few thousand copies, if they managed to find a publisher at all. The success of these texts in Spain or Italy or wherever contributes to a kind of national conversation that we’re perhaps not having here in the U.S. Again, to talk about Knausgaard, I’ve heard that one in ten Norwegians has read the seven volumes that comprise My Struggle. One in ten of the whole population has read this odd, challenging, sprawling set of highly literary books, and they’re talking about it, arguing about it. No recent literary book has that reach in the United States, not that I can remember.

Guernica: There are challenging literary novels being written here, of course. If it’s a question of reach, why do you think they aren’t finding big audiences?

Katie Kitamura: I don’t know. But I do think that when people see that there is an audience for that kind of “difficult” literature, it becomes self-perpetuating. Everyone involved—writers, publishers, readers—gains confidence. When Marias sells millions in Spain or Knausgaard in Norway, I can only imagine that writers become less nervous of writing certain kinds of books, publishers become less nervous of publishing them, readers of reading them. We might be missing some of that confidence here in America.

Evidently, there are many great American writers. But sometimes it can feel as though American fiction is dominated by relatively linear narrative form, with a heavy emphasis on psychological realism. If you limit yourself to a certain kind of American literary fiction, it’s easy to forget about the different kinds of books that are being written. You can forget to be ambitious, both as a reader and a writer.

Guernica: The point about writers feeding into a national conversation is very interesting. I suppose in a lot of the European countries we’ve talked about, fiction writers are social commentators—social or political figures—in a way they perhaps aren’t always in America. Turkey is an interesting example. To be a literary novelist there comes with an expectation that you will engage not only with culture but with politics. Writers like Elif Shafak have newspaper columns and are go-to people when the press wants the big issues of the day explained or examined.

Katie Kitamura: Yes, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the case in America. I had a friend who did a reading recently in Germany. He said the German audience asked him a stream of questions about politics. He was expected to have an opinion because in Germany, he thought, novelists have the status of public intellectuals.

I think that’s also the case in the United States, but often there is a clear divide between art and politics. Many novelists say, “I’m not a political novelist”—myself included. That’s a standard, even a default position. Whereas that divide between art and politics simply isn’t possible in many countries. In Hungary, you couldn’t be a fiction writer and then, when asked about politics, put your hands up in the air and say “But I’m not a political novelist.” If you’re a Chinese novelist, a novelist in a country where censorship is such an issue, how do you claim that politics has nothing to do with your writing? It’s in your writing, it’s shaping your words.

Guernica: At one point in Gone to the Forest, a minor character called Mrs. Wallace says that that someone needs to deal with the unrest among the natives. While her husband is described as sitting silently and knowingly in the candlelight behind her, she says, “It is the government’s responsibility to take some kind of action.” I wonder, in the context of what we’ve been talking about, whether you feel it’s a writer’s responsibility to do something, whatever that might be, as opposed to merely saying something? Is it important to you to engage politically with the America around you?

Katie Kitamura: I can’t define myself as a political writer—I don’t think I’ve earned it, and I don’t function as a political writer in the way that many of the writers I admire do. It’s not simply a question of context, of where I’m writing from—there is much in American society that urgently needs to be written about. Nevertheless, I’m not writing a novel about drones, or the NSA, or any of the issues that I care very much about.

At the same time, I think your work is always engaged with politics in the looser sense of the word—and that looseness is itself a kind of privilege—because politics and culture are evidently intertwined.

I write some art criticism, and one thing that’s clear to me is that politics is fashionable in the American art world in a way it maybe isn’t in American fiction. Your work of art becomes fashionable the moment it has some political objective or offers some kind of political commentary. I think this has its dangers—the equation between fashion, politics, and art is problematic for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, the notion of politics as being de rigueur in the world of fiction is almost unthinkable. It’s as though there’s an anxiety about being overly earnest or pedantic—or maybe it’s the simple fear that you’ll bore people. In fiction in America at the moment, the escape into whimsy is far more prevalent than the political.

Guernica: Your first novel was about mixed martial arts. Your second is about male characters in an unnamed colonial country on the brink of civil war. One thing that seems to connect the two books is an interest in masculine power.

Katie Kitamura: Yes. The first book doesn’t have any female characters. It’s entirely populated by men. The world of fighting is a very male world, and I ended up exploring male relationships through that context. But it’s not only the context of the sports world. The male voice is everywhere around you. It’s in the fiction that you read, the news you consume. So I was interested in taking that voice and making it my own. I guess it seemed to me that ventriloquising the male voice was something that was potentially interesting to do as a woman.

In terms of subject matter, Gone to the Forest is really at its heart about a father and son relationship. I re-watched Blue Velvet recently and I found myself genuinely moved by the plight of the younger man subjugated to a cripplingly powerful father figure. I’m interested by what it means to become male. And by what happens when a son, expected to ascend to the role of being a father, fails to do so.

Guernica: There’s one prominent female character in Gone to the Forest. In a very powerful, wrenching scene, she’s raped by a group of privileged men. Men who’ve kept the natives at bay for years. Was that a tough scene to write?

Katie Kitamura: It was. It was exhausting to write that scene. That sounds really pretentious—I’m only writing—but I wanted to try and ventriloquize the language of misogyny. It’s easy in a way—there’s so much misogyny still, you find it all around you—but it was exhausting to try to capture it in the passage. But it was an important scene to me because it got at one of the things I wanted to explore in the novel: a woman trying to step into these distinct male power structures and being brutalized in the process.

In a sense, what the female character in my book is seeking isn’t even equality as we would think of it. She just wants to be allowed entrance into this male world, to be permitted to splinter the male dynamic in some way.

Guernica: She’s a complex character. Wily and vulnerable, powerful and powerless.

Katie Kitamura: She’s by far my favorite character. I was thinking of the male characters as silhouettes against this highly mutable female character. For her to be changing and inconsistent and—in a way—free. Even though these terrible things happen to her and she is often at the mercy of the men, she has a complexity, a mutability, which the men don’t have. The men have all the power but what they don’t really have is freedom. And Tom has neither power nor freedom.

I’m interested in dismantling the distinction between masculine and feminine writing both because I think it’s a false distinction and, I think, ultimately an insulting one.

Guernica: I’ve heard you say, in an interview with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, that you’re interested in dismantling the supposed difference between masculine and feminine writing. The idea of there being a distinction out there to dismantle comes, I suppose, from V.S. Naipaul’s claim that he can see straight away when a piece of writing has come from a woman’s hand—the implication being that there’s inferiority there.

Katie Kitamura: I’m interested in dismantling the distinction between masculine and feminine writing both because I think it’s a false distinction and, I think, ultimately an insulting one. It’s as insulting to men as it is to women. I’m not sure what masculine writing would look like—I assume some combination of Hemingway and Carver. Writing can’t be gendered in that way.

Guernica: The cover for your first book, The Longshot, seems to work to challenge any gender preconceptions before we’ve even read a sentence. It’s a picture of two sets of knuckles, isn’t it, and across the knuckles the title of the novel has been tattooed. It’s a far cry from the the discarded high heel or mournful woman at the window that many literary female writers complain they get stuck with.

Katie Kitamura: I feel like I got a bit of a free pass with my first book. It was exempt from the impulse to use the kinds of images associated with so-called “women’s fiction.” It was a book about mixed martial arts, so a high heel wasn’t really appropriate.

Guernica: I heard the tattooed knuckles on the cover might belong to your brother …

Katie Kitamura: That’s right. The picture on the cover is of my brother’s knuckles. He’s a professional tattoo artist and he introduced me to fighting. We’ve watched and been to a lot of fights together. When we were coming up with cover designs for The Longshot, my publisher suggested my brother might like to do a design. He did a few but nothing was quite right. And then he got “Longshot” tattooed on his knuckles, we took a picture of it, and that became the cover.

Guernica: A pretty big gesture.

Katie Kitamura: It was a lovely gesture. Although bear in mind that he has a lot of tattoos! Apparently there’s an X-Men character called Longshot, so when he goes to get coffee people say to him “Right on, that’s my favorite X-Men character.”

It’s strange, the impulse to put supposedly “feminine images” on books for fear that they won’t otherwise sell. The U.S. cover for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is black with a graphic and the title, isn’t it? It’s not feminized at all, but that hasn’t stopped the book being a huge bestseller. And on the other hand, there are male writers who are now being packaged in a feminized way. Did you see the U.K. paperback cover for The Pregnant Widow?

Guernica: It looks very much like an airport novel, right? Girls in bikinis by water.

Katie Kitamura: And the cover for Hisham Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance is a picture of a woman in a bathing suit. It’s possible the drive to use these female-friendly images comes not only from certain gender stereotypes about female novelists, but also from a deeply patronizing attitude toward female readers, who constitute a majority of the market. There’s this assumption that the kind of book they will want to read is the kind of book that has a woman in a bathing suit on the cover. That’s not the kind of book cover that makes me want to buy a book.

Guernica: Going back to your interest in jaggedness and awkwardness at the level of the sentence, I wonder whether that interest extends to your characters. Whether you want to make them sometimes less accessible, subverting the idea of psychological realism or likability.

Katie Kitamura: Yes. I wanted at times to put a barrier between the reader and the characters. I want my characters to make decisions that are frustrating, that are on the surface inexplicable—because in life I think we behave in a manner closer to this than to one of perfectly rational legibility. I think our decisions are often mysterious to ourselves. We do things and, with all the psychoanalysis in the world, we don’t understand why or how we came to do them. That not-knowing feels to me like real experience.

I didn’t want any of the characters in Gone to the Forest to be easy to identify with. Tom is at the center of the novel, but he’s formulated as a non-character, as an absence. His passivity is essential to the book. He can’t make any decisions for himself. He’s unable to act. Maybe some readers will identify with him, but I don’t think the purpose of fiction is to allow readers to identify with your characters. I don’t think the purpose of fiction is necessarily to offer the reader a series of neatly-packaged experiences that give vicarious pleasure. I think the purpose can sometimes be to alienate, to unsettle assumptions and provoke questions.

You probably saw Claire Messud’s recent interview where she was asked about her characters not being likable. She gave a great response. The question of likability is an insult to readers, really. It’s not what the readers I know are looking for. I don’t think likability or psychological “depth” creates a more interesting read. An easier read, maybe, but not a more interesting one.

Guernica: You’ve written before about the temptation, when you’re writing, to be liked.

Katie Kitamura: Yeah. It’s terrible. The desire to be liked is acceptable in real life but very problematic in fiction. Pleasantness is the enemy of good fiction. I try to write on the premise that no one is going to read my work. Because there’s this terrible impulse to grovel before the reader, to make them like you, to write with the reader in mind in that way. It’s a terrible, damaging impulse. I feel it in myself. It prevents you doing work that is ugly or upsetting or difficult. The temptation is to not be true to what you want to write and to be considerate or amusing instead. I’m always trying to fight against the impulse to make my readers like me.

It’s difficult. Fiction always reveals a lot about the person who is writing it. That’s the scary thing. Not in a straightforward autobiographical sense. But the flaws in a piece of fiction are, unhappily, so often also the flaws of the writer.

Guernica: Can you think of an example of that?

Katie Kitamura: Well, it’s a hard thing to examine and difficult to speak for other writers, but when I look at my own writing there is often too much reticence. And that’s a flaw I have as a person as well. I’m too reticent. I’m non-confrontational to a fault. And I’m risk-averse, which probably shows in my sentences. The aversion to long lines, the tendency to strip things back and be spare. My writing is an act of erasure that’s tied up with my personality. I can easily produce a ninety thousand word chunk of writing and then cut back and back until I’ve only got ten thousand words. Or nothing.

Guernica: Do you think that erasure comes from the fact you’re constantly asking yourself what needs to be said, and that, when any writer asks that question often enough, hardly anything passes the test?

Katie Kitamura: I wish it was that. But it’s more like a combination of self-loathing and anxiety about putting myself forward. When I receive a box of my books, my impulse is to hide rather than display them. It always makes me very anxious that they send so many copies, because I have to think of lots of different places to hide them.

Guernica: What was behind the decision to leave the colonial territory in which the book is set unnamed, to erase our ability to recognize the place? I could see elements of perhaps Zimbabwe and Kenya in the setting, but—as reviewers have remarked—there seem to be incongruous details where you deliberately unsettle the reader’s sense of place. Was there a universalizing impulse behind that?

Katie Kitamura: There was, in a way. I hoped the story might have some of the power of an allegory. To create a place that was made up of the rubble of the colonial era. And as I was writing the book, I became interested in the ways in which, by not giving my novel a recognizable setting, I could create jarring moments, moments of inconsistency. To take an obvious example, characters will have Spanish, then French, or English names. I found those inconsistencies, and inconsistencies of period, had unsettling effects that worked towards what I wanted to achieve.

The setting goes with the language of the book and maybe the characters too. I was also nervous of doing a historical novel with a capital “H.” Something that would feel like a definitive narrative of a place. I was more interested in writing something that didn’t belong to a specific place. That left the reader alienated in a way that colonialism was capable of alienating. I’m interested in subjugation, and colonialism is one of the main instances of the subjugation impulse over the last century. Perhaps if I’d lived in Kenya, I would write a colonial novel set in Kenya. I might have the lived experience to bring my fiction closer to that place.

I believe writers should be able to write about anything—anything—but there is also a sense in which your lived experience shapes what you write and what you don’t write.

Six years ago, there was no question what we thought Obama’s presidency would look like from a future vantage point. It was about a more equal America, a fairer America. Now we realize we don’t know what perspectives hindsight will offer.

Guernica: I wonder why were you worried about writing something that might feel like a definitive narrative of a particular place. Does it come from a fear that you’d be enacting your own form of colonialism? A cultural colonialism by appropriating a story that’s not yours?

Katie Kitamura: That might be part of it, though I don’t think an author necessarily enacts cultural colonialism by writing about a place that they don’t have direct lived experience of. But you have to be careful when you want to tell someone else’s story. You have to pause and think about the impulse behind that.

I think it’s also just something I’m interested in more generally. I’m currently writing something set in an American town. And although I’m not quite sure how to do it, I have a note to myself that says “Make it the literary equivalent of Lars von Trier’s Dogville.” I’m interested in places that seem representative or recognizable in some way, but at the same time aren’t known places.

Guernica: Something that came through very strongly in Gone to the Forest is the sense of the male characters’s myopia. The degree to which they willfully shut out the outside world. A volcano erupts, and there’s a drinks party.

Katie Kitamura: The thing is, you don’t see history as it’s happening. You see it retroactively. When you’re inside history, living it, you really have no idea if you’re on the right side of events and opinions—whether history will judge you to have made the right judgments. Perhaps this is a silly example, but in the last election I voted for Obama. There was no way I wasn’t going to exercise my right to vote, and there was no way I was going to vote for Mitt Romney. I stand by that, but with the recent revelations about the NSA, you have to ask how Obama’s presidency will be viewed thirty or forty years down the line. What will the lasting legacy of it be? Six years ago, there was no question what we thought Obama’s presidency would look like from a future vantage point. It was about a more equal America, a fairer America. Now we realize we don’t know what perspectives hindsight will offer. We’re living through history. We can’t see how it will look later on. We have no idea how the present will look when it is the past.

As a writer exploring historical legacy, you have to ask yourself: “Could I have made an error of judgement as to what was right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable?” Which is just another way of saying, “Am I infallible?” And the answer is, I’m very fallible! And I’m interested in what happens to people who find themselves cornered in a given situation as Tom does in the book, when it’s too late for him to leave or come to another view. What kind of behaviors are unleashed in that moment? That interests me.

Guernica: Talking about being caught between cultures, I’ve seen you referred to as a Japanese-American novelist. Is that an accurate or helpful label?

Katie Kitamura: I’m not sure where it comes from. I’m an American novelist, not a Japanese-American one. Of course, I look Japanese. When I was growing up I spent summers in Japan. All of my family except my immediate family live in Japan. But I’m American and I see myself as an American writer.

Guernica: Have you felt at any point an expectation that you’ll write something set in Japan?

Katie Kitamura: I haven’t ever found a story I want to tell which involves Japanese characters. The only subject matter that sometimes tantalizes me, in relation to Japan, is professional baseball. You know when you get that tingling sense that something would make a good novel? I get that sometimes when I read about Japanese baseball.

I wouldn’t die if I couldn’t write fiction. Actually keel over and die—it’s unlikely. But quite quickly writing has come to feel like the only thing I really know how to do.

Guernica: That tingling sense—is it why you write? What is it that makes you want to make novels?

Katie Kitamura: I don’t know why I write. The honest answer is that I don’t have an answer. I wouldn’t die if I couldn’t write fiction. Actually keel over and die—it’s unlikely. But quite quickly writing has come to feel like the only thing I really know how to do. And I go a bit stir crazy if I don’t write more or less every day. But that makes writing sound like a mood-regulator, a way to regulate anxiety or depression, and it doesn’t really come down to that.

I really like beginning a novel. And I love tinkering. I love being on a schedule where I have to edit five pages a day, and I’ll tab down paragraphs and re-type them from scratch, looking for anything which doesn’t feel right the second time round. What I really hate is the end.

Guernica: Can I ask what you’re working on now?

Katie Kitamura: Another book, and also some screenwriting. I’m working on a couple of screenplays with my husband Hari [Kunzru]. One is about Bruce Chatwin, the travel writer. It’s based on the Nicholas Shakespeare biography, which is wonderful. Some producers optioned the life rights and brought the project to us. In a way it’s much more difficult than a straightforward adaptation from fiction. We’re also working on another script together, a Western, which is an original idea.

Guernica: Is the Bruce Chatwin idea the first time you’ve worked with Hari on a project?

Katie Kitamura: Yeah, and it’s been really great. The things I’m interested in as a writer are different than the things Hari is interested in. So it kind of works. Every morning we sit down and go over the scenes we need to write. Then we divide the scenes and go away and write on our own. Then we swap and edit. So it isn’t like we sit on a couch together and labor over each line. We divide the scenes and I don’t think there’s ever been any argument about who would write which scenes, because it’s so plain to us who is better suited to which scenes.

It works because with screenplays there’s not the same sense of ownership over the material that you might have with a novel. You’re producing a piece of writing but it’s really just the first stage, it’s not the work itself. Many other voices are going to come in and you’re responding to directors, producers, executives. It’s possible to be less precious about a screenplay than a novel. A novel is your whole world. You need to control it.

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Read our excerpt of Katie Kitamura’s Gone to the Forest here.

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One comment for Bare-Knuckle Writing

  1. Comment by Douglas Robbins on September 14, 2013 at 11:40 am

    I’m a writer with one published novel and a few short stories. My novel is socio/political in scope about the individual’s struggles in America. Not one of my writer friends has encouraged political commentary in fiction as if they were mutually exclusive things. “Never try to say anything” I have heard numerous times. I think that is a mistake. Writing like any art should freely flex the muscle of race, politics, and change as long as it falls within the paradigm of the novel and is organic to the characters. If not, art is simply belittled into a box of retreat. Ideas change the world and we all have a responsibility in that conversation. I write to communicate not just a story “about others” but about the impulses we all share. Thanks for the interview. I needed it today.

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