New England Born & Bred: A Q&A With Rick Moody
We’re so pleased to announce Rick Moody as one of our featured readers for Hollihock 2019. Moody is the award-winning author of “The Ice Storm” and his newly released memoir, The Long Accomplishment: A Memoir of Struggle and Hope in Matrimony. He will join us as an instructor and featured reader at Hollihock Writers Conference on Friday, August 23. Read on to learn about his connection to New England, his love for Hemingway and more.
Hollihock celebrates writers with a connection to New England-- those who have lived, worked or studied here. Elaborate on your connection with New England. Has this region inspired your writing? I am New England born and bred, excepting my time in New York City, and I live there now (in Rhode Island), and its writing and sense of place have affected me enormously. In fact, my family goes back to the 1680s in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially in what is now Maine where they farmed for centuries. I sort of could not total up the influence on my work because it is so pervasive. New England is who and where and how I believe myself to be.
How did being mentored by experimental writers at Brown impact you? This would take a long time to answer. I think Brown taught me to be willing to both employ and question every “rule” of well-made writing, so as to know why the rules got there in the first place. This I feel I understand now: what a story is, what are its qualities, why a story is useful. I owe my understanding to the iconoclastic way Brown engaged these questions.
The theme for Hollihock 2019 is “Nature vs Nurture.” What can you say about your innate desire to write and your raw talent for writing and how you have fostered those through education and practice? I probably only have the one skill—the language-making skill. I am bad at a great host of other things, cooking, for example, or sports. So in some ways I perhaps possessed of some inborn tendencies. But it could easily be cultural too. My grandfather was in the newspaper biz, my mother has written and is a voracious reader, and my father was an American Lit major in college. I really believe in the culture of books and in reading as a way of life and hope to pass these onto my own kids and nieces and nephews. In a way, it doesn’t matter how I got to books and writing, it matters what I do with it, which is, I hope, to spread the word.
You are, perhaps, most well-known for your 1994 novel The Ice Storm, but you have published novels, short stories and memoir. Which of your published works are you the most proud of and why? I have a new book out right now, The Long Accomplishment, a memoir, which I am proud of. I like my last novel, Hotels of North America, pretty well. I like my collection of short stories, Demonology, from 2000. It is true, however, that I don’t look backwardly that much. I look forward.
What would you say is the greatest difference between the process of writing fiction vs memoir, for you? There isn’t a significant procedural difference between the two, there is just the responsibility to the truth in memoir. I find that responsibility of accuracy exhausting in some ways. I’d rather make things up. But sometimes the truth calls out and wants to be told, and I must go with whatever theme takes hold of me.
What would you say to other writers about how to handle criticism? How to handle success? Each writer has to find her own comfort level with the criticism issue. I am pretty hard on myself, and I try to surround myself with people who will not flatter me. As a result, I don’t feel a need to read criticism from outside much, if at all. I am aware of its general parameters and can find use in some general ideas for future course corrections, if necessary. But I believe in creativity as a journey of the self and so it doesn’t matter, really, what you think. It matters what I think.
As regards “success,” it’s not a word I use or understand much. I think Graham Greene said “Success is an interval between failures,” and that often seems right on the money to me.
Did you ever imagine that you might see a novel of yours come to life on screen? Tell us briefly what that experience was like. I hoped for it, because I felt like adaptation was, unfortunately, a sign of credibility in the writing world (alas). Then I was adapted a couple of times, and in one case was very well adapted. But: I think I am a book person, not a movie person—what I care about is books. I wouldn’t even put movies in the top three art forms of my life (books, music, painting, photography, dance). So it was interesting and uncanny to be adapted, but I am not waiting around for more of the same. I just want to write more.
I read that you’re a Hemingway fan. What is your favorite work of his? What have you learned from his writing that you’ve applied to your own work? I like his really early work, The Sun Also Rises, e.g., and the early stories like “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” His early work is deceptively simple, implies a lot, and is really beautifully crafted. There’s not a word out of place. The sentences are so delicate and perfect, they operate at a cross-current running in the opposite direction of all his masculine blather. I like that tension. The gossamer, tender, feminine qualities of the line, which he owes in part to Gertrude Stein, and the allegedly masculine themes. There’s a lot of paradox and contradiction there, a sort of non-binary literary practice, and this paradoxical surface often feels very genuine to me, very insightful and wise.
If you could have dinner with any three writers, living or dead, who would they be and why? Hmm. Michel de Montaigne, the inventor of the essay form, because of his tremendous insight into the writing of self; Virginia Woolf, the greatest writer of consciousness and subjectivity; Herman Melville, because he wrote Moby Dick.
Meet Rick at Hollihock 2019. Tickets available here.