It’s easier for me because at this point a number of my books have been printed, and some people have liked what I’ve done. It’s hard, I think, when you’re trying to get your foothold as a writer, to write something that you think people may not like. But if you have a feeling of inner necessity, you have to do it. You have to write it.
SL: Yeah, you can’t lie.
CB: You can’t lie.
SL: Do you think the workshop model is effective?
CB: Depends how it’s done. If you’re in a workshop and people spend a lot of time simply trying to describe what they think the people’s intentions are, and what form it’s taking, and what they notice about it, then it’s always useful, because you can say, “Well, this is what I think it wants to do, and this is what it actually has in it. And this is where, if I’m right about the work’s intention, the piece may cross purposes with itself.” I mean that’s helpful.
If you say, “There’s an owl in this story, and I don’t like owls,” that’s not helpful. I’ve written an essay called “Owl Criticism.” Workshops can do a lot of harm, but they can do a lot of good if they are done well.
SL: To touch briefly on publishing, there’s a recent essay in the New York Times called “Midlist Crisis” by Phillip Lopate. He talks about how the process of getting recognized is entirely random as far as he can see. It’s entirely chance-based who gets published and who gets popular, which is basically horrifying to writers like myself who haven’t really broken into the publishing world. I’m wondering about your thoughts on that matter.