Writers and writing

Subscribe to Writers and writing

Alex Belth interviews Gay Talese about his 1964 Esquire profile of boxer Floyd Patterson, including how the writer worked with the fighter to make his quotes perfect: "I said, 'Floyd, what’s it like being knocked out?' Then he started talking and I said, 'Wait a minute, you can do better than this. Tell me again.' And we’d go deeper, deeper, deeper. The quotations that [are in the story] are not what I first got — they are what I got after I badgered the guy."

In 1934, Arnold Samuelson hitchhiked from Minnesota to Key West in an unlikely — but successful — attempt to become Ernest Hemingway's protege. Samuelson recorded his experiences in a manuscript discovered after his death and excerpted by Maria Popova: "The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop."

Maria Popova writes about how the novelist found the courage to turn her back on an editor's job to focus on fiction: "Cather was excellent at the job, enjoyed being called an 'executive,' and couldn’t deny the gratifications of the attractive pay. But she eventually came to feel that the hamster wheel of journalistic productivity drained her creative capacity, steering her further from her calling as a literary writer. And yet she remained unable to tear herself away."

Paul Elie reconstructs the making of One Hundred Years of Solitude by interviewing Gabriel García Márquez's agent, editor, translator, and others involved in the 20th century classic's creation: "How is it that this novel could be sexy, entertaining, experimental, politically radical, and wildly popular all at once? Its success was no sure thing, and the story of how it came about is a crucial and little-known chapter in the literary history of the last half-century."

Michaelangelo Matos marks the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra with a story on Gay Talese, author of the famous Esquire story "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold," which has just been reissued as a signed, limited-edition coffee-table book that sells for $200: "Neither Sinatra nor anyone from his camp ever responded to the feature, Talese said. Nor did he ever actually speak with Frank: 'If he'd said, "Let's get some pasta together," I wouldn't know what to ask him.'"

April Reese analyzes a Craig Childs story about the Glen Canyon Dam's future: "By guiding the reader through the story himself — alone, floating down a tributary toward the reservoir on an inflatable kayak — Childs creates a much more intimate, immersive story. He tells the tale from the perspective of an explorer, navigating between evocative scenes of drowned canyons and churning rapids and the surprising facts of Lake Powell’s imminent demise."

Ricki Morell interviews Amy Ellis Nutt about her book on a family with identical twins, one of whom is transgender: "They always invited me to stay with them. If I had been worried that I wasn’t getting to know them well enough, maybe I would have considered it. But I felt they had opened their lives, and I was able to see them in many different contexts. And I didn’t want them ever to forget that I was writing a book and that some of this was going to be difficult."

Dan Carpenter interviews Tracy Kidder at 70 as the Soul of a New Machine author returns to his Pulitzer-winning roots: "Kidder just finished a book of heavy-lifting journalism that revisits the tech industry to which he introduced many of us back in the ’80s, and he sounds on the phone more like the irrepressible kid Richard Todd took under his wing a half-century ago than an aspirant to a fishing boat off Cape Cod." More from Jack Limpert.

Ted Geltner writes about a “confused and disoriented” novelist Harry Crews, dropped into Valdez to produce his first work of journalism at the start of the 1970s oil pipeline boom: "While Crews the character plays the novice, Crews the writer expertly fills in the holes. The details paint a picture of a way of life being disrupted by outside interests. He describes the 400 miles of steel pipe waiting to be laid by the thousands of men that will be streaming into town."

Maria Popova quotes from David Foster Wallace's correspondence on subjects ranging from the importance of dictionaries to the structure of a story and what it really means when readers describe a passage of good writing as effortless: "They’re not saying effortless in terms of it didn’t seem like the writer spent any work. It simply requires no effort to read it — the same way listening to an incredible storyteller talk out loud requires no effort to pay attention."