Chat with Nina Revoyr

A few of my friends from the Flying Fists Collective + I met Nina Revoyr today, the author of the socially-conscious, historical literary novels Southland + the Age of Dreaming. She gave a short talk at SC about her own writing process, how intensely she researches the historical background of her novels, her own opinion about MFA programs, the politics of publishing with a big publishing company v. a small one, the double-edged sword of being a writer of color (even if not phenotypically so), her own policy of characterization + how much she lets her characters breathe on their own, the challenges she has faced as a biracial, gay, female Asian-American literary fiction writer.

Among some of the things she said, which resonated, particularly with me:

1. California is a place of forgetting. People come here to start a new life, which is its own cultural amnesia + the problem with that is that people lose sight not only of their history, but of California's history, which is just as rich

2. She doesn't like to do too much research until she's already written a draft first. Otherwise, she'll feel compelled to use everything she discovered during her research, even if it doesn't quite work within the framework of the book. Where she + I differ on this point, is that she described historical accuracy as a sort of ceiling that her characters don't trespass. And while I respect that, I don't think history has to be a ceiling unless a writer is writing historical fiction, + even then, so much of what I find personally compelling in fiction are things that are historically specious, that is, persuasive, convincing (even logical) narratives that aren't actually true. Personally, I wouldn't want that barrier. Or said another way, I cross back + forth across the boundaries of versimilitude like a motherfucker

3. The internet has the ability to kill inspiration. Since so much of the impetus for her (+ writers like me) is often in the questions we pose to ourselves, not having an answer often pushes us to create something that makes sense to us creatively, even if it's not true. But now it's possible to verify so much information + mystery, which is often so helpful as a muse, can get lost in the information highway

4. Writers should have the freedom to make mistakes, especially in their first draft. The revision process is where you come down to earth + start to get your shit together. To me, that's just like starting a foreign language. In the beginning, you just want students to speak. Once they've gained confidence + linguistic ability, then you start teaching them various tenses, idioms + conjugating, fine-tuning their grammar in the process

5. Don't listen to the noise. Write the things that matter personally to you. If your writing feels like a job, then you're not writing about what really interests you. It should be work, a lot of fucking work, but it shouldn't feel like it