“I suppose the truth is I became a little self-conscious about people telling me how much they loved my sentences,” says James Salter in his interview with Jonathan Lee. “It’s flattering, but it seemed to me that this love of sentences was in some sense getting in the way of the book itself.”
“Mining and incarceration are both looming presences on the West Virginia landscape—both willfully obscured and misrepresented, their growth slopes neatly inverted. Mining is an industry in decline; incarceration is on the rise. The number of inmates in West Virginia has quadrupled since 1990. People with political influence and powerful economic interests allow the state to be exploited by new industries in order to repair the damage old industries have caused.
In the false American imagination, West Virginia is a joke or else it’s a charity case; but more than anything it is unseen, an invisible architecture of labor and struggle; and incarceration shares this invisibility, hidden at the center of everything; our slipshod remedy for an abiding fear, danger pinned to human bodies and then slotted into bunk beds you can’t see from any highway.”
From “Fog Count” by Leslie Jamison
I spent six anguished days working virtually nonstop to squeeze out barely 900 words. Most of that time I spent in a high pulse-rate pace around my apartment, waiting for conditions to clear just enough to let out a sentence. I realized that my writing at age 28 was a lot like my golf game as a teenager: a single gust of wind and it went to Hell.
During various periods of my life I have succumbed to the siren call of sleeping pills. It is hard to resist their promise: one tablet, and your night will be purged. Your brain may be in overdrive, its receptors working away, hungrily awaiting more images and information, but like a computer it is forced into another mode. Yet the little white disks with a dent down the middle are no panacea; whenever I take one of these thought guillotines I feel trapped in a grey zone, seesawing between mid and shallow slumber, mind and body dulled but not of their own accord. I sleep, but it is nearly always a vacant, songless sleep, as if I were even more distanced than usual from the apparatus that generates dreams.
Even Einstein couldn’t get very far if three hundred treatises of the higher physics were published every year, and several thousand others in some form or other were hanging around in excellent condition, and being read too. Hemingway says somewhere that the good writer competes only with the dead. The good detective story writer (there must after all be a few) competes not only with all the unburied dead but with all the hosts of the living as well. And on almost equal terms; for it is one of the qualities of this kind of writing that the thing that makes people read it never goes out of style.
WHEREAS, the hardest situation for humans to understand is that they cannot understand it all but thatA. where there is no water, there is no life; andWHEREAS, that is the one situation true & in all instances & therefore theA. one sole phenomenon—humans understand; andWHEREAS, 10-16% percent of the earth is true desert & evaporation of the seas goes on all the time,A. enough to drain all oceans completely every 3 thousand years
In this world of synthesis and absorption, we feel confident that we are just as likely to find newness as when our ancestors lived in the world of undoubted — or less doubted — individualism.
This is where sequels and prequels fit in. Not only because their very nature amounts to an admission of dependency — sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. But also because they can make claim to being a port in a storm. As readership drives itself half crazy with sampling, hypertexting and interacting, sequels say to the reader: here is continuity. Here is stability. Here is something you know — taken on a step, sure. Adapted as it’s adopted. But at a certain fundamental level, familiar.