Author Photo: Jesse Browner ©Nina Subin
Ten Breaths of Inspiration for the Writing Life
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CORINNA BARSAN
Jesse Browner is the author of the novels Conglomeros (Random House, 1992), Turnaway (Random House, 1996) and The Uncertain Hour (Bloomsbury, 2007). His The Duchess Who Wouldn’t Sit Down: An Informal History of Hospitality in Western Civilization was published by Bloomsbury in 2003. His latest novel, Everything Happens Today, will be published by Europa Editions in September 2011.
Browner has also translated books by Jean Cocteau, Paul Eluard and Rainer Maria Rilke, as well as Frédéric Vitoux’s award-winning Céline: A Biography. Most recently, he translated Frédéric Mitterrand’s The Bad Life (Soft Skull, 1997).
His freelance writing includes contributions to Nest magazine, Food & Wine, Gastronomica, New York magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and others.
Browner lives in lower Manhattan with his wife and two daughters.
Author website www.jessebrowner.com
The Magazine of Yoga On The Lit Mat Interview
Who or what was your greatest influence in picking up the pen?
To be perfectly honest, all I can ever remember wanting to be was a writer, and where that started is lost in the fog of memory. But if I had to choose one moment, it would be the scene in Great Expectations when Wemmick invites Pip to his home and they take tea and toast by the fireside and their faces glisten with butter. Even as a teenager, when I read Dickens deep into the night, I must have recognized the great glory of being able to compose a scene like that.
In what ways do you make room for the creative process in your
I have a rather demanding full-time job in the international civil service, so I tend to write very early in the morning. It’s not as much of a hardship as it might sound, as I’ve always felt most awake and sensitive in the pre-dawn hours. I’ve also been doing it for the past 20 years, so I’m basically able to leap out of bed at four in the morning and be at my desk 10 minutes later, raring to go. Of course, I’d prefer to have more than three hours a day to write, but altogether I’d say I’m very lucky to be doing as well as I am.
Which one word, image, sound, feeling, or memory defines the act of writing for you?
I’ve been writing on the computer for some time now, but I used to write everything in blue ballpoint in composition notebooks. When the books were full, the pages got so crinkly and puffed up that you couldn’t close the notebook. The sound of those pages rustling as you flipped through them one by one was as close to nirvana as I could imagine getting. I miss it, but my mind thinks like a computer these days.
Where do you find inspiration when the well runs dry?
To be perfectly honest, the well doesn’t run dry. I have the opposite problem, which is that I have too many ideas stacked up over the airport for landing, and not enough runways. I could quit my job tomorrow and spend the next 30 years just working on the novels already waiting to be written.
Is there a tidbit of writing advice that has stayed with you over the years?
“Stop bitching and write.” My father told me that.
What is something you know now about writing that you didn’t know when you were just starting out?
I wrote my first novel when I was barely 20. Somehow, it found its way to the editor-in-chief of a prestigious British publishing house, who called on me when he came to New York. We went for a long walk, in the course of which he told me that he wasn’t going to publish my book. But he gave me some heartfelt advice.
“You could probably find a publisher for this book,” he told me. “But if I were you I’d put it in a drawer and get started on the next. You should never publish prematurely.”
The idea of essentially throwing away years of work was horrifying at first, but I took the advice and have come to see its wisdom. Nothing in writing is indispensable, and every word and every sentence have to justify themselves; if they cannot, they must be sacrificed. The writing is not about your ego; it is about the words on the page.
Whether you do yoga or another form of physical or spiritual practice, how does it affect your work?
My usual form of exercise is walking the two miles to my office every morning, and home at the end of the day, weather permitting. In the morning, it draws a dividing line between my writing time and the workaday world, helping me to leave the one behind without bitterness and accept the other with equanimity. In the evening, the slow pace heightens the anticipation of returning to my family.
What is your most favorite guilty pleasure?
I don’t have guilty pleasures. I take great pride in every self-indulgence.
If you had to pick one book to recommend as a must-read,
which would it be?
Skylark, by the Hungarian novelist Dezso Kosztolanyi. Deborah Eisenberg called it the “perfect novel,” and she’s right.
What is on your nightstand now?
Independent People, by Halldor Laxness, and They Were Counted, by Miklós Bánffy. Late at night, I can hear them bickering and jostling for top position.
The pause that refreshes! You can find Corinna Barsan’s musings and discoveries on her blog at Shiny White Page.
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.