Chat with Zoetrope’s Michael Ray

Currently in the eighth week of a ten week Zoetrope/Gotham Writers Workshop fiction writing class and last night four of us had a one hour chat with Michael Ray, Managing Editor of Zoetrope: All-story.

Following on comments he made in our chat, this is an interesting comment of his from another interview given to, Story In Literary Fiction’s, William Coles. Click here.

Michael Ray:

“Something I talk to writers about during the editorial process is reserving room in the story for the reader to participate in its understanding. As a writer, if you immerse yourself too much in the story, you risk standing between your story and your reader. The best stories stand outside their authorship, becoming interesting and powerful to people who don’t know the author, or really care about the author—or the fact that the author wrote this.

With the present educational system for writers—workshops, M.F.A.s—stories can get too worked over. In that environment, writers can become disproportionately focused on one particular impact they intend for a story to have upon a reader; they work the story to have that impact. They workshop it; other people give them advice; and they work it over and over and over.

These stories can be really polished but ultimately unsatisfying, as they lack any true sense of discovery. As a reader, you can watch the story’s various mechanisms working toward one end; and I think you then instinctively resist that end, or that feeling the writer is working so hard to create. And you know you can read the story again and its only potential is to affect you in exactly the same way. It’s been so sharpened to a single point, and that’s not the way life happens.

Think about great music. You can listen to something over and over and discover something new every time. Part of creating that [as a writer] is not working so hard to have one impact . . . not leading somebody to one specific understanding. It’s like putting blinders on somebody in trying to get them to see this one purpose, and in the process you’ve blinded, or blunted, that person’s capability to see all the other impacts the story might have.

This is something I talk a lot about with writers; especially if you’re publishing in a magazine like ours, you can rely on a sophisticated readership—people who really want to engage in stories; and if you can write the whole story to the point there is only one way of understanding it, [you may need] to strip back that exposition to a point where the does become a little bit of a risk [of understanding]. The more that process of understanding can happen off the page, in the reader’s head, the more the reader internalizes the story, imbuing it with emotions beyond anything you could fully describe.”

This morning I read, The Serrambi Case, by Francis de Pontes Peebles noted as a favorite by Zoetrope’s Managing Editor, Michael Ray.

One event, apparently a homicide involving two young girls, as told by fourteen POV first person characters including birds and sugar cane, each in their own conversational tone and titled scene. For me the final narrative by the sugar cane POV sums up the theme. Similar in concept to my story, The Obélisque, in some ways, but so much more sophisticated. A serendipitous lesson for me, when the student is ready the master will appear, perhaps.


~ by jmforceton on May 13, 2011.

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