Knocking on Carver’s Door

There’s an old story about short story master Raymond Carver that he’d write his real life distractions into his stories. Most notably of these is the “knock at the door.” Supposedly, while Carver was writing, a porter knocked on his door, and by the time Carver got rid of him and returned to his work, he couldn’t remember his train of thought. So, instead, the porter’s interruption became part of the story. I really want that to be true, so I will present it here as fact.

Last night, I had a dream in which a friend of mine from childhood was telling me a very long story about… well, something. I can’t remember the actual story, but thinking of it now, it makes sense that the story itself was beside the point. What I remember about the dream is that our location kept changing and her story kept getting interrupted by pretty banal things. In one scene, we were at my apartment, but she decided she was hungry, so we ended up in a pub. Then a bartender took our drink orders. Just when she started the story for a third time, we suddenly took a trip to the bathroom (the way girls do). It was bizarre and, frankly, would have been very boring had I not been so aware of what was happening.

I woke up with a number of questions; namely, why would I dream about someone who I’ve known since birth, but was never really close friends with? More than that, I wanted to know why my subconscious kept interrupting her narrative.

This got me thinking about life’s little distractions and how they influence the way we tell stories. How often have we sat down to write, only to remember that we need to take out the trash or make a phone call or, for those of you with kids, tend to a crying baby? If we, like Carver, can’t avoid real life, as unexciting as it could be sometimes, do we have no choice but to let “the small things” infiltrate our work?

You tell me: Have any of you been inspired by seemingly insignificant real life events while working on a project? As a side note, have any of you ever changed a story midway through writing as a result of something more significant?

Playing Favorites

Everyone has their favorite author, favorite book, favorite genre, or even their favorite opening line. I’m not talking about grand and often pointless debates of what is “the greatest.” I believe that a person can simultaneously recognize that his or her favorite might not necessarily be the “best” of something. (e.g., my favorite Harry Potter book is #3 while it can be argued that either #4 or #6 are “the best.”)

All that aside, I’ve been thinking about favorite paragraphs. These are the paragraphs that I just had to read over again immediately, and then again even after I’ve moved on. Here is my list, which I won’t call my “all-time” list because I never know what I might read tomorrow.

Favorite opening paragraph: “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson – accomplishes everything an opening should: establishes the narrator (who happens to be my favorite type of narrator, the wise-beyond-her-years, outcast youth) while letting us in on the darkly comic story we’re in for. 

Favorite ending paragraph: “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” by Michael Chabon – like most things Chabon writes, this particular ending makes you wonder how one person can create such a brilliant group of sentences, all at one time. 

Favorite general paragraph: In which Raymond Carver describes a hideous baby in his short story, “Feathers” – if Carver didn’t have fun writing this, then I doubt he’s ever had fun in his life.

Does anyone else have favorite paragraphs? If so, please share!

Enjoy the long weekend,