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122 Marina Lewis Talks with Dorothy Allison Marina Lewis/2006 From Other Voices. Reprinted by permission of Marina Lewis A few years ago I was sitting on my couch at eleven p.m. just having finished a novel—I don’t remember which one—when I picked up Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina. I’d intended to read the first page or two, go to bed, and continue it the next day. I stayed up until four. As the saying goes, I could not put this book down. What held me, though, was not just the compelling saga of Ms. Allison’s protagonist, Bone, but the novel’s immaculate construction and language, which is not only lush and precise, but utterly without ego. Dorothy Allison brings her talent, insight, and hard-won craft to the task of allowing her creation to speak her own truth. The author, and the family of her South Carolina youth, is more overtly present in her story collection, Trash. As a reader I am as moved and disturbed by the memory of this collection’s characters and images as I was upon first reading it. Here, I feel, is a writer using herself fully, yet still creating and selecting as an artist. I spoke with Ms. Allison at her office at Columbia College in Chicago, where she was a visiting writer in the fiction writing department in the spring of 2006. Much of what she and I discussed was grim. What this interview does not reflect, unfortunately, is how lighthearted and mirthful a subject she was. Granted, I could have parenthesized (laughs), but I would have had to do that so many times that it would have bored you, Dear Reader. Marina Lewis: What are you working on now? Dorothy Allison: A novel. MARINA LEWIS / 2006 123 ML: Do you want to tell me anything about it? DA: Actually, I rarely want to talk about novels in progress. It’s complicated. ML: When you work, do you work from a template or an outline, or is it a process of discovery? DA: At best it’s a process of discovery. Sometimes it’s a process of Please God send me the discovery—so no I don’t use outlines or templates. It’s a huge and constant battle amongst writers. I have all these friends who work from outlines but mostly they tend to be genre writers: mysteries, designed novels. Most literary novelists that I know just sit down and go. ML: What strikes me about Bastard Out of Carolina is how beautifully constructed it is—almost like a three-dimensional object—every sentence in its right place, marvelous accumulation and interaction of detail, setting, and character. DA: That’s the revision process. ML: In your short-story collection, Trash, there were some passages and sections that made it into the novel—how did you revise the material as you moved it from story to novel? DA: It took me a long time to teach myself how to write a novel. I was writing stories, in part, to find the voice. And at one point I think the count was thirty-nine drafts. It took a long time to get the voice right, and some of the stories I published along the way were attempts to get the voice right—some of them worked, some of them didn’t. I wrote a version of one of the stories for the anthology High Risk, but that is actually a variation that didn’t carry through to the novel—it was a variation of the voice and if you put them side by side you can see the difference. Actually, it’s hard for other people to see this; it’s easier for writers because we’re used to doing this kind of thing, and seeing small changes in voice. It’s very difficult to write, because the trick of the novel is that it’s all being told to you by a thirteen-year-old girl who’s just lost her mother, but you don’t know that when you’re hearing the story, and I didn’t figure out that that’s where and when she was telling it until about halfway through the process. And then there’s the work—the work is to take apart and pull out all the stuff that doesn’t work and all the stuff that’s excessive and wanders. There are hundreds...


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