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An Interview with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris / Kay Bonetti Interviewer: Can you tell me what word you two would choose to describe the relationship that you have as writers and how what Mr. Dorris does is different from anything that a good editor would do? Erdrich: We're collaborators, but also individual writers. Michael and I plunge into each other's work with very little ceremony. We plot together, we dream up our characters together, we do everything together, except write the actual drafts, although even the writing is subject to one another's deepest desires. We go over every manuscript word by word. Then we argue over whatever we feel should be changed and we try to come to some sort of agreement on everything that goes out. Dorris: And we succeed. There hasn't been a word from Love Medicine, or The Beet Queen, or Yellow Raft which has not been concurred upon in this process. Erdrich: There was one word we didn't agree on in Love Medicine. Dopplered. I know it's true that Albertine would never have made that word up right out of her high school science book, but I couldn't get rid of it; I just loved it. Dorris: One can have poetic excuses but the other person is the ultimate arbiter as to what this character, given her background, would say. We have been known to look at catalogues and decide what our characters would select, or look at menus and decide what they would eat, so that we get to know them in a very wide-ranging way, not all of which actually appears in the books. I continue to think Albertine wouldn't say Doppler, although as a poetic phrase it works. It was interesting working on the two novels at the same time because there came a moment in which there was a phrase that I really liked in The Missouri Review · 79 Yellow Raft and a phrase that Louise didn't, and a phrase that she really liked in The Beet Queen that I didn't and we traded, we got rid of each other's phrases. Interviewer: How do you decide whose name to use when a piece is published? Dorris: It's whoever actually puts the words down on the drafts. Yellow Raft will come out under my name, but we plot them together. For instance, in the first draft version Yellow Raft, the main character was a young woman whose mother dies, and we decided to spend our time driving out to Minnesota talking about the plot. By the time we got here it became the story of a young woman whose mother lives. It's an evolving process, this collaboration; it's new to both of us. More and more we feel free to inject phrases, words. I think what has really astounded us is that we totally trust each other's judgment. When you finish a draft and it seems to you very good—it might be a draft of a paragraph, a page, or a whole chapter—and you take it into the other person and that look crosses their face that says "It doesn't cook," you might, or I might, get angry or frustrated, or argue, or whatever, but at this point in our working relationship I think we feel in our heart of hearts that it has to be changed. Erdrich: A grim certainty passes within you; you know that no matter how hard you resist it, if the other person truly does not have the reaction you're looking for, then usually it gets changed, and long afterward I've looked back with a sigh of relief and said "Thank God I didn't hold on to that." Interviewer: When did you start writing, Louise? Erdrich: I was in college and had failed at everything else. I kept 80 · THE MISSOURI REVIEW Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris "More and more we feel free to inject phrases, names . . . It's an evolving process, this collaboration." journals and diaries when I was a kid, and I started writing when I was nineteen or twenty. After college I decided...


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