An Interview with Andrew Stone. Interviewed by Pat Hayworth
Disappearing Into View is your second novel. Your
characters have been so realistic and your dialogue has been described as gritty
and street-wise. Has this always been your writing style or something you have
honed and perfected over the years?
I'm always working towards perfecting my ability to create rich, believable characters. For me to get the most enjoyment from a book - whether I'm reading or writing - the characters have to be real people. Often I find that "beautiful starlets" and "handsome leading men" can be too cartoonish, too one-dimensional. I'm more interested in the types of people we meet everyday. A story is much more engaging when told by a real person - for instance, the entire impact of the plot and theme will be much stronger if the narrator reminds you of the guy next door rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger is superman and anything he does is automatically going to be fantastic. However, if the everyday guy down the street can do the same fantastic thing - tell the same story as Arnold Schwarzenegger -- the implications of the story become much more vivid. This type of realism will always bring the story to a higher level.
What would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?
I have Tourette Syndrome (TS), which is a chemical imbalance that causes various motor and vocal tics. The severity of TS varies from person to person, and my case has always been in the middle. I grew up feeling very isolated because I felt that my TS was never bad enough for people to come up and ask me about it, but it was severe enough for people to keep their distance. I blamed everyone else for not understanding what I was going through, and as a result, I became emotionally numb. Over time, however, I understood how I had segregated myself, and took responsibility for this. That really freed me up to understand that we all have something in life -- something that, at one time or another, makes us feel uncomfortable, different, even abnormal. This directly affected my writing as it allowed me to explore the realities of the human condition.
I'm glad you discussed your battle with TS and how it affected your writing. So many people are struggling with TS and I'm sure it helps to hear when someone else who has TS has used their determination and a positive attitude to create a successful career for themselves.
The title of your book is so fitting, what inspired you to write a book about the homeless?
In Boston, where I live, there is an unfortunate large homeless population. There use to be this one guy named Mr. Butch who hung out in Kenmore Square (this is going back 15 years or so). He would always shake your hand as you walked by, and he remembered everyone - he became quite an institution! I used to wonder about the circumstances which put him on the street, because he didn't fit the stereotypical "homeless profile" -- he wasn't a drunk or mentally ill. I used to fantasize that he came from a very wealthy family, and lived in a big white house on a hill - I could see it all vividly - and had, for some reason, left it all behind. When I started writing the book, years later, I remembered Mr. Butch, and began asking myself why someone might choose to live homeless, and it all started there. My hope is that the novel has helped give a human face to the homeless; its too easy to walk by them and forget that they are people
I'm glad I've never eaten squab! Where did you get the idea for such a food "business"?
An old urban myth from the same time as my acquaintance with Mr. Butch. I used to hear about homeless people who would catch pigeons in the Common and sell them to restaurants which would then pawn them off as squab. I don't think it's true, but then again, I've never eaten squab, either! I found the metaphor of the pigeon/squab really worked with the theme of the book. Colin believes he has dropped out of society, but in reality, he has just moved from one of its layers to another. He's the same basic person but because his circumstances have changed, he's viewed differently. The same with the pigeon - it's still a pigeon, but it's viewed differently when perceived as a squab.
Does your writing begin with a general plot or do you perceive a character, such as Colin, and build the plot around him or her?
I begin with an idea/theme - what do I want to say? Then I figure out the way to best convey this theme, which is the story, and finally, I come up with the people who will best tell the story. I don't plot too much out beforehand, other than ideas for the beginning, middle and end. This helps me keep the writing really honest. I think of writing a novel as an exploration. My theme always revolves around a question I want to explore and if I plot it out too much, I'm not finding my answers. With Colin, I was asking myself why a man would consciously decide to live homeless, and the story developed from there. During the writing, I saw that I was really exploring the layers of society rather than homelessness. However, I wouldn't have gotten to that realization had I plotted the whole book out beforehand.
Before writing your novels you worked in television and also wrote a comedy script for The Golden Girls. Tell me a little about this experience.
It was a great time. I loved working on the show and I actually learned a lot about fiction writing from the TV writers. I worked as a stage page, which meant that I answered phones on the stage during the rehearsals. This was great because the stage phone isn't listed - people couldn't just look up the number and call Bea Arthur! So, I had a lot of free time, and I used this time to write. I bought an old laptop and wrote every day, which taught me the discipline of writing. Also, because TV writing is all dialogue, it really helped in that respect. Finally, The Golden Girls was a really wonderfully written show - the writing staff was topnotch, and I learned much from them. If you watch the show, you'll notice that there are always two plots going on -- the A and B stories --at the same time. A lot of TV shows will dedicate the first scene to the A story, then the second scene to the B story, then the third scene back to the A story, and so on. But on GG, the writers really married the plots wonderfully, and this is a skill that can be directly applied to fiction writing. I owe a lot to those writers, and will always be grateful for their guidance.
Do you plan to write more of these and if so will they be comedy or will you stay with the fiction genre?
No, I have no more plans for comedy writing. It's really hard to stay in that business if you're not in LA. You really have to be there and in the scene to do it, and I truly prefer writing fiction.
What are the differences in television script writing and writing fiction novels, and which gives you the most satisfaction?
TV is completely formula. You plot out - beat out, is the term they use - each scene beforehand because you have stringent time constraints. Also, it's all dialogue and the characters are already established. You just come up with a story to fit the specific show, which isn't as easy as it sounds. I used to think that if you took every script from a show and put them together, it might read almost like a novel, because together, all the scripts would be telling the story of the characters life. But that's as close as TV writing gets to fiction, and as I said, I really prefer fiction. It was always my dream to go to LA, make a million dollars and come back East to write fiction. That entire dream came true with the one exception of making the million dollars!
What advice would you give novice writers about the publishing process?
Don't write what you think will sell. Write honestly (truly, like Hemingway would say). Readers will buy into a story if they make an emotional connection with it. This can only occur if they believe in it, and for that to happen, the writer must believe in it. When we start thinking in terms of what will sell, we tend to move towards formulism, and this not only dilutes the story, but decreases the chances of a reader making a real emotional connection. So, don't think about selling the book until it's finished. There are dozens of ways to publish a book, but only one way to really write it.
Who are your main literary influences?
Dickens, Salinger, John Irving, Roberston Davies. I also love the Southern writers - Harper Lee, Faulkner, Flannery O'Conner, but my main influences are those writers who are really concerned with what I think of as the three big elements of literature - theme, plot and characters - and who give equal weight to each.
Are you currently working on a new novel?
Yes, I'm about 60 pages into a first draft of a book that takes place in Hollywood. But no gorgeous starlets. I promise!
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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