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July 15, 2005

Author2Author: Adam Langer & Andrew Winston, pt. 4

by Ron Hogan

Check back this weekend, if you get a chance, for a special bonus round of conversation between Adam and Andrew in which they'll discuss the impact of parenthood upon writing...

langer.jpgAdam Langer: How did the structure of Looped help or hinder you, particularly the idea of sticking with the events of one particular year? And, how much of the idea of "loops" directly or indirectly informed the construction of the novel and the characters within it? I'd also add that it's really interesting to think of these shapes in relation to Chicago, which is such a flat city of criss-crossing straight lines, as opposed to one of loop-de-loops.

winston.jpgAndrew Winston: You're being modest, I think, about the sophistication of your structural vision and how it informs the work. I agree that such ropes and wires are not to be seen lest we become (shudder) post-modernists. (I guess if I had really wanted to pound the loop theme home I could have done it la Finnegans Wake, beginning and ending the book with halves of one sentence. Nah.) But those underpinnings are always in the background of the best novels, and it is never less than fascinating to learn these things after reading a book and having a new light bulb flick on.

I don't have anything as geometric in mind with my work (you're verging on fractals, my friend), but I do believe very much in structure and limitation as necessary forces in the creative process. Limitations are what give a work its energy. Why one thing rather than another? Whether or not the reader always senses it, the choices that result in a finished work only make sense if they are controlled by a larger vision.

Since I wanted Looped to have the feeling of a cohesive work created out of many threads, I created a sort of literal tapestry for plotting the novel. I took the various stories and plotted them out over a giant wall calendar, each story with its own color, trying to see the movements and patterns of the whole book. I came back to this visual aid over and over again, revising as the book changed, trying to hold the shape together. I think my approach to this is a holdover from my long years of writing poetry and being so concerned about shape in the lyric form.

The other main constraint was keeping the chapters very brief. That started out as part of a plan for the book to be serialized in a Chicago paper. But I realized that I was able to work much more easily with the shorter form, revising and polishing them as I went. Again, I think, this goes back to the habits ingrained by writing poetry. I had a hell of a time working within that chapter length as the book went on and there were more characters and plots to move forward with little room to work. It caused me a number of bad days. And while I think it was a useful rigor, I want to work with more narrative room in the next book. Still I am finding that I need firm chronologies and other tools to create the spaces in which to write.

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