Richard Russo on writing

Discussion in 'The Writers' Block' started by Charlie Bernstein, May 23, 2020.

  1. Charlie Bernstein

    Charlie Bernstein Poster Extraordinaire

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    As we've mentioned here a few times, some artists make art to go into themselves and others make art to get out of themselves. (There are other reasons, but those are biggies.)

    Novelist Richard Russo wrote the cover story for this month's Harper's Magazine, "If I Were You." Like me, he writes to get out of himself. So I thought I'd share a few of his lines here:

    I came to storytelling late, and like many writers, painters, musicians, and other artists, I fell in love with the process long before I was any good at it. As an English major in college, I'd begun to understand why I'd always loved to read. Getting lost in a good story is an antidote to sel-consciousness. But writing stories, it turned out, was even more rewarding . . . . Deciding to become a writer had little to do with whether I might one day exhibit any talent. The activity was its own reward. I no longer felt quite so trapped. Yes, I'm me, I remember thinking. But for a time, I can also be you.​

    He ends:

    Okay, granted, it's not possible to be somebody else. We're stuck with who we are. But this only means that when we pretend otherwise, both as readers and writers, we're playing a very important, very serious game. We can't be sombody else, but we have to try.​

    I don't know (or care) how important or serious my game is, but Russo gets me. I write to escape, to put on other shoes, to let my imagination take me away. As he says, it's its own reward. Outside of laughing gas, I can't think of a better way than art (for me, mostly song writing and playing guitar) to forget about me for a while.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2020
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  2. claes

    claes Tele-Afflicted

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    I can put my self in others shoes, but I feel that it is me that does it. I think it is important to have your personality in it...or someone else can write it.

    Bruce wrote about his sister and her husband in "the river" but it was true his eyes.
     
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  3. teletimetx

    teletimetx Doctor of Teleocity

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    I’m working on trying more than one approach. The story-telling song with a “plot” seems to be the hardest, most unnatural approach for me.
    TVZ’s Pancho & Lefty, along with The murder ballads and history songs are what I think of first when I think of story telling - Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, yes?
    But I really like the idea of songs outside of my point of view, so I’ve been working on some songs that are character studies, based on a specific period of time and place. I play my songs in a local brewpub for tens of people, so...?
    I have a band mate/friend I’ve worked with for 18 years and he’s really good at history based songs - I call him Mr. History Channel! All in good fun.
     
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  4. Charlie Bernstein

    Charlie Bernstein Poster Extraordinaire

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    Yup! You can't keep your personality out of what you write. You're the person writing.

    It was good to read an essay by someone who works from the same place I do. He doesn't do it to be a good writer, although, as it's turned out, he's become one of the best. He does it because it gets him out of himself, which, to him, feels good.

    Again, that's not the only reason anyone writes. It's just the reason that I relate to.
     
  5. Charlie Bernstein

    Charlie Bernstein Poster Extraordinaire

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    Yeah, I do historical songs, too — especially labor history. My three favorites are about the Molly Maguires, the Ludlow massacre, and the Lawrence strike.

    And lots of character studies — which to me are stories, even if there isn't a narrative arc.

    Lots of cowboy songs, too. I was a wrangler in a past life.
     
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  6. teletimetx

    teletimetx Doctor of Teleocity

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    If you’re writing about Ludlow, you’re in really good company. :)

    I grew up in Colorado and didn’t find out about it until college. There’s a road marker now on I-25 (IIRC), south of Pueblo, which was the steel town that used the coal from Ludlow (along with the coal mines in the Trinidad area).
     
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  7. Warren Pederson

    Warren Pederson Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    I really like Richard Russo, I've read every book he's written.
     
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  8. Charlie Bernstein

    Charlie Bernstein Poster Extraordinaire

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    Yup. Move over, Woody!

    I drove through Walsenburg once. It was easy to picture.

    A woman I used to work with grew up near Ludlow. Had a huge falling out with her family over who the good guys and bad guys were.
     
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  9. Charlie Bernstein

    Charlie Bernstein Poster Extraordinaire

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    Yup! I've read most of 'em. Haven't gotten to the sequel to Nobody's Fool, but if it has Sully, it's bound to be a hoot.
     
  10. johnnylaw

    johnnylaw Tele-Afflicted

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    I started playing guitar because nobody wanted to play my songs, and I needed somebody to do the dirty work.
    The "three minute song" format is practical because it imposes limitations, or opportunities for brevity and density. If I were to attempt a novel, it would run on for a thousand pages. That's asking alot of the reader. With luck, a decent song delivers the spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down. YMMV
     
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  11. Charlie Bernstein

    Charlie Bernstein Poster Extraordinaire

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    Yup. Short is sweet. Mine can be more or less than three minutes, depending on how many people want to solo.

    Once a friend of mine and I played Little Red Rooster at a pub, and a bassist having dinner came over to shake our hands because he'd never heard it played with just three vocal verses and one guitar verse.
     
  12. Dukex

    Dukex Tele-Holic

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    Thanks for the post, Charlie. I need to check Richard out. Since retiring I've been writing fiction as well, and he hits the mark. I get out of myself when writing fiction or songs, and I've always been able to "become" my characters. And...yes, there's part of us in everything we write.
     
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  13. Charlie Bernstein

    Charlie Bernstein Poster Extraordinaire

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    It's all great stuff. I think his biggest hit was Nobody's Fool. (Paul Newman starred in the movie.) My favorites were The Risk Pool and Straight Man. Let us know what you think!
     
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  14. Charlie Bernstein

    Charlie Bernstein Poster Extraordinaire

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    PS - Just remembered.Speaking of historical character studies, I also have a nice little three-chord rocker about Evel Knevel getting ready to jump the Snake River Canyon.
     
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  15. P Thought

    P Thought Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I've only read Empire Falls, but I liked it very much. I jump around a lot in my reading, but I'll read more Richard Russo soon, I think.
     
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  16. Charlie Bernstein

    Charlie Bernstein Poster Extraordinaire

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    It was good. I've been on a non-fiction binge lately, but I do want to get to Everybody's Fool soon.
     
  17. teletimetx

    teletimetx Doctor of Teleocity

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    Just reminded me, tangentially, of a song I wrote about a woman in the town where I grew up who was called the Goat Lady. She raised goats in a place just on the edge of town and carried a rifle as she made her rounds around her goat pasture. Typically wore a long black dress - her husband had died in WWII - and she scared the living daylights out of the kids who had to pass by on their way to catch a school bus.

    But as it turns out, she provided goat milk to families for free if they had children who were allergic to cow's milk - and she left a scholarship fund at the University of Colorado for first year women students.

    I played this song at a songwriting circle and one of my friends reminded me that in the Charles Frazier book, "Cold Mountain" there's a Goat Woman - somewhat the same as my goat lady, but 80 years earlier.
     
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