Tuesday, March 29, 2011

12 or 20 (second series) questions: with Etgar Keret

Born in Tel Aviv in 1967, Etgar Keret is the most popular writer among Israel`s young generation and has also received international acclaim. His writing has been published in The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, The Paris Review and Zoetrope. Over 40 short movies have been based on his stories, one of which won the American MTV Prize. His feature film Wristcutters (2006) also won several international awards, and $ 9.99, based on a number of his short stories, was released to critical acclaim in 2009. At present, Keret lectures at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He has received the Book Publishers Association`s Platinum Prize several times, the Prime Minister`s Prize, the Ministry of Culture`s Cinema Prize, the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize (UK, 2008) and the St Petersburg Public Library`s Foreign Favorite Award (2010); he was also a finalist for the prestigious Frank O`Connor Short Story Collection Prize (2007). In 2007, Keret and Shira Gefen won the Cannes Film Festival`s "Camera d`Or" Award for their movie Jellyfish, and Best Director Award of the French Artists and Writers` Guild. In 2010, Keret was honored in France with the decoration of Chevalier de l`Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His books have been published abroad in 29 languages in 34 countries.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I'm not sure it had changed my life, but it certainly made me feel less weird. The fact that you write about your inner feelings and people understand and identify with them makes you feel more confident that you are not that different from the rest of humanity.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

Fiction is almost instinctive for me. Whenever I see something arbitrary I can't comprehend the only thing that can relax me is to make up a story that will put this arbitrary action into some sort of context that will make it less arbitrary. I've been doing this since childhood.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It changes from story to story . Some come easily and quickly with very few drafts. Some take literally years to write . The strange thing is that there are no rules sometimes the easier one are actually better and sometimes it is those which take a long process and twenty drafts that are not good enough and vice versa.

4 - Where does fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I also begin with just writing stories until at some stage I write a story that becomes some reference point and turns the bunch of stories I've written so far to a book in process. It is strange, but there is always this story that seems to be like a junction to other stories I've written and future ones I'll know I write. When I point those stories out to friends or to my editor they don't necessarily see them as any different, but for me, subjectively , they are the ones who had made the book possible.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love readings. Unlike a film maker who can see the audience at a film screenings I don't get to see people reading my book. Seeing them in a reading is the closest it gets to that and I really like this kind of interaction.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
My latest collection "suddenly a knock on the door" (not out yet in English) has a lot to do.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
When you write you celebrate your individuality . Every person writes from a different place and for a different purpose. So it is strange for me to speak about some rigid writer's "role".

If anything, a writer's role is to share a part of his mind and soul with the reader, and minds and souls come in all different shapes and colors.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I, personally, really need an editor. Not that I necessarily except her opinion. But the meeting with this first appreciated reader is a necessary station on the way to a published book.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Loving what you do is more important than doing it well. You are going to fuck up anyway.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to non-fiction to filmmaking to graphic novels)? What do you see as the appeal?
It is very natural for me. I like telling stories and every medium that allows it interests me. Since writing is a very solitary business, it is a great benefit to be able to take part in collaborative medium from time to time.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I don't have writing routine, I write only when I have a story.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don't do anything. Just wait for it to go away. Would have loved to share some tricks with you but I don't know any.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Children's sweat.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I read a lot and love music and films but I think the greatest inspiration for my stories comes from life around me, it could be something my five years old son said or a fight between the cashier in the supermarket and her boss or a text written on the side of a cereal box. Whatever it is, it is usually just a trigger. The story itself seems to come from somewhere else. A place I can't really name.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I think that the writer who had the greatest influence on my writing was Kafka. Reading his short fiction had made me want to write.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I'd just want life to keep being the adventure it had been so far.

17 - What do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Being unhappy.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I wasn't very good at living.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Winter life by Israeli writer Orly Castel-Bloom is a wonderful story collection and I really loved The Social Network.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I've published a new story collection less than a year ago, I'm now at the stage in which I write a lot of different things but still don't know what will come out of it.

Etgar Keret reads in Ottawa through the Ottawa International Writers Festival on April 3, 2011.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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