My first novel YOU ARE ONE OF THEM was published by The Penguin Press in 2013. My writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Virginia Quarterly Review, Guernica, The Millions, and the 2011 Pushcart Prize anthology. elliottholt.com
I usually hate prologues. To me, it seems like the writer’s undercutting their own authority; like they weren’t confident in their story’s beginning so they slapped on an extra coat of icing. You Are One of Them, Elliott Holt’s debut novel, has a prologue, and despite my long-standing dislike of them, I loved it. It drops you into a cultural and atmospheric icebath—the American Sarah Zuckerman, our lead, during her time in Moscow, in winter, in the 1990s.
It seems impossible that you don’t know me. What I mean is that I know your work so well—intimate, is the only way I can describe my relationship to your stories—that I feel like I know you. I consider you a kindred spirit and a teacher. I’ve reread your stories so many times that I know I’ve learned more from them than I have in any writing class. I once spent an entire day deconstructing “Friend of My Youth,” diagramming its structure, its story within a story within a story, to try to understand how you pulled it off. When you won the Nobel Prize, I actually cried with joy. And all day, after the Nobel committee made the announcement, friends emailed and called and texted: “You must be so happy that Alice Munro won!” My adoration of you is so well documented that people were congratulating me on your win, as if you were a member of my family.
"I’ve been told many times that I am too forgiving. Of the college friend who started sleeping with my boyfriend, of the boss who presented my ideas as his own, of the lover who made so many promises he couldn’t keep. ‘You’re too forgiving,’ they say, as if it’s a character flaw. But I’m not sure I’m forgiving enough. And I have come to believe that forgiveness is the key to survival. It does no good to see everything as a struggle between opposing factions. Few things are that simple."
— Elliott Holt, You Are One of Them (via emmaylor)
"When I was adjuncting at Columbia, I remember calculating the maximum number of hours I could spend on my class before I reduced my pay rate to under $15/hour. It was less time than I would have liked to spend, but I couldn’t work for less than that. So I taught differently: I assigned fewer drafts, I held shorter and less frequent conferences, I read student essays faster and homework assignments hardly at all. When I realized I was not going to be able to do right by my students, I stopped classroom teaching."
Rachel Riederer, Guernica's own Daily editor, also spoke to the New York Times Op-Talk, saying: “Universities are under increased pressure to provide amenities along with a college education. I would love if students and parents, when visiting a campus and asking representatives what’s available, when asking about the gymnasium and dorm rooms, would be informed enough to ask what kind of teachers would be teaching different classes.” Read the rest of the NYT feature here.
Thanks to Elizabeth Mitchell for inviting me to participate in the MY WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR, a path linking writers’ blogs in a discussion about approaches to fiction and non-fiction. Mitchell’s third book, Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty, will be published by Grove Atlantic in July 2014. You can find her answers to the MY WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR questions here.
2. How does your work differ from other writers of your genre?
This is a hard question to answer! I write literary fiction, and my work is a product of my worldview and sensibility. I think irony is always present in my work, because I have an ironic view of the world. I’m more interested in characters than in plots or concepts. My work tends to be fairly compressed (I’m a concise writer), and it tends to be rich in sensory detail. And I love writing dialogue, so you’ll always find that in my work.
3. Why do you write what you do?
I write about things (or people) I can’t stop thinking about. I have a lot of ideas, but I usually don’t write about something until months (or even years) after I first think about it. If I can’t let an idea go, I know it’s worth exploring on the page. The characters and ideas that burn into me and obsess me are the ones I write.
4. How does your writing process work?
It involves a lot of self-doubt and self-loathing. But also, I frequently make myself laugh. I write best in the mornings. On a good day, I can write for four or five hours, then take a break, and then revise in the afternoon/evening. When I’m starting something new, I work in fits and starts, but once I find the voice on a piece of fiction, I work for longer and longer stretches at a time. When I’m in the zone on a draft, it’s hard to tear me away from my desk. I love revising, but starting a new piece is always hard for me. When I’m starting, I write longhand in a notebook. But once I find the voice, I type up what I’ve written and then keep going on my computer. (It’s a MacBook Air, if you’re curious.) Once I find the voice, the process becomes far more pleasurable. And as I work I always read my drafts aloud, so I can hear the flat, weak spots.