Peeking into another writer’s mind and way of working is always exciting for me, especially when it’s an author I really admire. Fortunately, I just came across a long, meaty interview with the writer Cynthia Ozick, author of the amazing novella, The Shawl, and the just recently published Foreign Bodies. Here are a few nuggets about the writing life from Cynthia that offer a peek into her craft and how she comes up with ideas:
At age 17, she read Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle” and thought to herself, “This is my life.” The book sparked a long love affair with James, which played itself out in her new novel. As a freshman in college , she read E.M. Forster’s The Longest Journey, which she has returned to “time and time again.”
Her favorite short story of her own is called “The Pagan Rabbi.” It was inspired by another writer’s tale, which she felt compelled to transform and make her own because she “had never read anything so mysteriously enthralling.”
How she constructs a story: “As for the relation between subject matter and character: an idea produces a situation, and a situation produces a character. Some writers begin with a character, which then leads to a situation, but for me, it is usually a wider notion that narrows into a conflicted condition. For instance, I have been mulling a story about two elderly poets, childhood friends, whose minds have acutely diverged, yet are compelled to meet after a lifetime of estrangement. One has achieved some celebrity as a modernist; the other is in eclipse, charged with archaism. What will happen at this crucial meeting ….I won’t know until I begin to find out through the act of writing. Will it be a comedy? Possibly, though tinged with sadness.”
One other tidbit gleaned from the interview: Cynthia has a lifelong habit of writing in the middle of the night — a fellow night owl!