JP. Good question. I think I discover my characters in combination with when a story comes to mind. The story usually comes to me by having an idea – almost an image – nothing more, of what I want the story to be about. For example, I had the idea that I wanted to write a story about a man whose favorite activity was standing in line. Crazy, I know. The story is called The Open Door and it’s about a man who lives vicariously hearing the experiences of others in line. That was the character in mind that came essentially with the story idea. He is timid and struggling with the conflict of who he is, himself or a product of everyone else.
The protagonist of my novel, Jellyfish Have Eyes, is an Argentinean scientist who studied jellyfish eyes (yes, jellyfish do have eyes and I have published several research papers on them). My protagonist, Ricardo Sztein, is partly my alter-ego in a world of science, mixed with large doses of fantasy as well as issues about basic science — the world I inhabited for so many years. It’s the classic first novel – one with autobiographical meaning.
The characters from my latest short story collection, Notes Going Underground, are pure fantasy. The character in the title story gives a eulogy to himself as he watches his live body slip into the coffin at his side. He developed as I wrote, and he changed personality a bit this way and that as the story unfolded. This story also includes a question of identity, as well as the fantasy of a porous nature between life and death. So, there is no one way that I create my characters: They are all a part of me, but none completely me. They are also my imagination, and sometimes have a foil for contrast and sharp relief.
JP. Although a science major at college, I loved literature courses and took quite a few and wrote a bit, ideas and such. While science dominated my life, I still liked writing, so I was prolific writing science. Then, at 46 and fully engaged as a scientist, I started writing a short story on vacation in Maine and loved creating an imaginary world. On returning home, I took writing workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, kept writing, more and more, and here I am, a writer.
Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?
JP. Interesting question. I think the characters come to me first since they are all embedded in me in some form or other and I can’t run away from myself. Then, the story or situations I put them in follow from who they are.
Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?
JP. Yes, on good days. Sometimes, however, my mind just doesn’t click and it’s a struggle to write anything I like. I think it’s important when that happens to not to push it, when to take a break and do something else. But on the good days, writing is like quicksand. I sink and get absorbed, time suspends, and I forget to take a break now and then. I just write. I love when that happens.
Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.
JP. I have blogged on my website and on Facebook for the last four years. The blogs are disorganized ideas, free associations in a way, about writing, creativity, personal experiences, Inuit art, whatever. I thought of the blogs as a foundation to expand and develop later. Now I’m at home sheltered in self-quarantine like the rest of the world, which gives me time to do just that. I’m putting together my collected thoughts in organized short essays grouped in themes. It’s coming along. Stay tuned.
Q. When did you begin to write seriously?
JP. I began to write seriously when I returned from a vacation in Maine, where I wrote my first (very) short story. I loved doing that and wanted to continue. However, science still sapped my time when I returned, so I only wrote short pieces now and then, in cracks of time as I called it, nothing with publishing in mind. I also took writing workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, for about 10 years, until I closed my research laboratory to devote my time to writing. It’s been ten years since then and I keep writing.
Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?
JP. Certainly not in my lifetime (I’m 80!). But I think paper books will continue for a long time. There’s nothing quite like a tangible book that can be held and read. I read electronically from time to time, but I don’t like it. It’s not the same as holding the “real” book. They last generations and are not dependent on the operating system in vogue at the time. I can’t imagine we would have the dead sea scrolls if it were only as an ebook!
Don’t Miss Part 3 of this Fascinating Interview ~~ May 29th
MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with best-selling AUTHORS! March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May: Joram Piatigorsky
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