SL: So I guess I’m wondering how you navigate that conceptualization of fiction and allow the writing to go without too many thoughts getting in the way?
CB: Well it’s hard. And I think the distinction is between the first and the second, maybe the third, drafts. When you’re writing a first draft, you’re getting it down on paper any way you can. You’re not using any of that stuff in BDTH or The Art of Subtext. I’m not using anything that I’ve ever learned about writing. I’m just trying to make these characters breathe. I’m trying to make the scenes breathe. I’m trying to make the story come alive. And once I have a draft, then I can go back over it and I can look at a passage and say, “Well, this is very abstract. Maybe it’s more abstract than it needs to be. Maybe I need more of the physical world in this.” And I’ll try to revise for that. I mean if it feels as if there’s something wrong, then you can ask yourself, “Well, what’s wrong? And what can I do to fix it?” But that’s second or third draft. That’s when that comes in. It’s not in the initial draft, I don’t think.
SL: What was it that initially impelled you to write these essays so in depth about the craft of fiction?
CB: I had to give talks. I was working as a faculty member at the Warren Wilson Low-Residency MFA program. I started as a faculty member down there around 1985. And they ask for lectures. So I had to give these lectures on writing. And that’s where those essays eventually came from. They all took the form of craft talks that I had to give somewhere. I still have to give them.
SL: Did you perceive fairly significant problems throughout fiction, throughout the contemporary stories you were reading? Problems you felt needed to be addressed?