"I've been stuck in the elevator, suspended in utter coffin blackness somewhere between the third and fourth floors—listening to the cables quiver, and every so often hearing the distant shouts of emergency workers saying, Hang in there buddy! or what sounds like a very heavy wrench clanking on assorted beams as it tumbles into the abyss—and even though my laptop’s on, it sheds no light...”
That’s one of Ed Park’s ever-suffering office workers trapped inside an elevator and typing a long love-letter in the void. It’s a single block of text banged out on a busted laptop-computer, the breathless conclusion to his first-novel, Personal Days.
In addition to dreaming up this surreal fable about contemporary cubicle culture, Ed Park is a founding editor at The Believer and literary blogger over at The Dizzies. He’s our special guest this week, explaining how he wrote his this book and giving us a glimpse into the mind of an editor.
Welcome to my deceptively simple feature, Five Easy Questions. In the spirit of Jack Nicholson’s mad piano player, I run a weekly set of quality conversations with writing pioneers—delivering some practical, unexpected advice about web writing.
The final third of your book makes use of one of my favorite literary forms--for a lack of better term, I'll call it the long, one-sentence stream-of-consciousness slam-bam prose style. As far as I know, no writer has ever given specific advice about how to handle this tricky form. How did you do it?
The final section is both my favorite part of the book and the one that caused me the most agony. I knew, relatively early on in the composition process, that the final portion of the book would be, at last, in the voice of a single, identifiable character. Continue reading...
The rest of the book is pretty honed—short sections, often ending with a punchline of sorts. I knew the book—and the reader, and the writer!—needed a different voice, for balance if nothing else. I wanted a torrent of prose, but I also needed to have some rules (grammatical, punctuational)—hence the idea of an e-mail written on a damaged laptop.
Basically I wrote and re-wrote and re-read that section, making sure the rhythm pulsed throughout, attempting and scotching and reconstructing various passages. I could be digressive but I couldn’t be boring. I also had to make sure the tone was right—that someone in this particular situation could write something like this.
Molly Bloom’s chapter, which concludes Ulysses, is the famous example of this kind of rhapsodic, blow-the-top-off-your-head writing. I was also inspired by the intense, claustrophobic novels of Thomas Bernhard, several of which are one paragraph long.
W.G. Sebald’s novels also feature enormous, discursive, associative paragraphs—when a voice clicks, you don’t want it to stop, you want to extend it forever. I didn’t really study them while writing this section—they were already part of my mental library.