introducing readers to writers since 1995

July 14, 2005

Author2Author: Andrew Winston & Adam Langer, pt. 3

by Ron Hogan

The conversation takes on a new shape--a few of them, in fact!--as we move from setting to structure...

Andrew Winston: Both of our books involve lots of subplots and interweaving plotlines. Given the free-flowing approach you described in your previous answer, I am interested to know how you managed to arrive at such an intricate structure. Feel free to get technical. Or theoretical, as the case may be.

crossing.jpgAdam Langer: Although I always wrote stories, when I was a kid, my best subject was math--once I got to trig class in high school, that all changed. But I'm still fascinated with geometric shapes, and often, I keep the idea of a particular shape in mind when I'm writing to make the structure clear and coherent to me. I'm briefly reminded of an old interview I did with the late Chicago improv guru Del Close, who was flattered when I called him "The Ted Kaczynski of Comedy." During our interview, Del mentioned that sometimes in his improv classes, he liked to see if his students could perform using the idea of geometric shapes and or patterns, such as a checkerboard, to structure their improvisations.

Coincidentally, when I was writing plays in Chicago, I was interested, as you obviously are too, in loops, which, to me, imply a sort of circularity, but not necessarily a closed circularity. The structuring idea of several of my plays was that you would end up where you began, but it wouldn't necessarily be the same place anymore, kind of like the last of episode of that cult 1960s sci-fi TV series The Prisoner, in which the character named Number 6 finally returns to his home, but, because of what he has experienced, he no longer sees it at the same place. In this way, for Ulysses, the Odyssey is a sort of loop too. I really like your title and the multiple definitions the word "looped" implies--the dictionary one, the Chicago Loop, of course, the synonym for "schnockered," and so forth. And, given that you start out with the image of a Ferris Wheel, and, toward the end, at State and Madison, you have a character offering a statement that speaks to the circularity and/or looping quality of life ("It is here. The end. The beginning. The beginning of the end"), it seems that you were working with a particular shape in mind as well.

Early on, when I was working on Crossing California and learned that I would be writing about three families, the geometric shape that came to mind was a sort of triple helix, and if you made a graph of the characters in the order in which they're presented, which I did during a particularly obsessive moment, their interactions would actually look like three interwoven strands. What I liked about this image is that the shape recalls both the specific idea of DNA and the general idea of lives that overlap. When I was writing The Washington Story, which is coming out in mid-August, I wanted to expand beyond the idea of West Rogers Park into the world at large and all the way out to the Milky Way, which was why the idea of a spiral shape came to mind. The image I'm working with now--I'm maybe forty percent done with a first draft--is of concentric circles orbiting around a specific point, suggestive of a solar system.

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