A one-day pause at home
That was me that asked that question! And I love that sweatshirt, very warm and comforting, both literally and figuratively. Also, I didn't think George flubbed answering at all. Here was his answer, as best as I can remember it:
1. He made me feel better when I admitted I was raised on Grey's Anatomy, by saying hey, there's some good writing in Grey's Anatomy.
2. He recommended I Stand Here Ironing (which of course we've already devoured here).
3. He recommended picking up Best American Short Stories for any given year.
4. He said it's perfectly fine to say "this story's not working for me right now."
All in all, exactly what I needed, and then some, with today's post! I was thrilled to be at the event and really enjoyed the conversation. Everyone was super nice and really encouraging, because I was nervous, asking that question. Anyway, thanks a ton, George, for all that you do. Best wishes for the rest of the tour!
People of Story Club: George just now lifted an adoring crowd to the rafters in Los Angeles. I wish you all could have been there. Just a wonderful evening. It was kind of otherworldly, to see him in person. He's so exactly HIM. I swear, there is not a false bone in his body. He's an empathy tank, constantly refilled. (I was sitting about a third of the way back so I can't be certain, but I'm fairly sure his jeans were freshly ironed.) The pairing with Judd Apatow was just about perfect. (What a nice guy Judd Apatow turned out to be. He had a couple of real zingers, including a Kanye joke that cracked me up.) There was a little girl in the room who asked the cutest question about a story she's not sure how to finish--it's about aliens. George chatted her up about her missing tooth and told her she's already a writer, that he has faith she'll figure out what to do with those aliens. She's gonna remember that moment forever. Thank you so much, George, for all of it, and especially for making my evening with your call out! Okay, time to read Liberation Day, now that I have a copy in my hands!
“...the world is wild and lovely and too big for us ever to really understand except with the heart.” Really enjoyed reading this (in an airport in Seattle, waiting to board a plane.) Thank you!
I had a wonderful time at the event in Santa Cruz! I have two life-long friends who live near there, so I flew up from San Diego and we all went. I didn’t ask a question. (I have a history of being overcome with emotion at author signings. Neal Shusterman is an author of YA fiction. At a signing I—high school librarian— was telling him how much his work meant to my students, and I started to cry. I believe he thought I was insane.) However, I was sitting on the aisle, and George happened to walk by. I thought to snap his photo. He leaned into the picture, which made me smile because it seemed in tune with his personality here in Story Club. I got to spend a few more days in Santa Cruz doing fun stuff (hikes and the monarch butterflies are there now). But it rained a few times while we were out and about. Each time this happened, we three hopped in the car at an ocean lookout point, read from Liberation Day, and then talked about the story we’d just experienced. And that was wonderful Story Club time, too. :-)
The security guard! I love small world stuff like that!
What energy you have and the energy of your words. In the end it all comes down to language for the wordy; paint for the painters; marble for the marblers; song for the warblers and so on. Happy trails & teaching & selling your work. I look forward to reading. I’m writing again thanks to S C & everyone here🧿🎶❤️🌸
Oh George. I really loved this post. The coincidence with security guard! The being home, but not home. The saying “masturbation” on live radio. Thanks for the glimpse into your globetrotting life.
I don’t know how you do it... I am almost certain I don’t have the energy to keep up that travel schedule, let alone be gracious and lovely to thousands of strangers along the way. You’re knocking it outta the park, Saunders!
I just picked up my wristband to see you in Portland on Saturday. Immensely looking forward to it! (And hoping to bump into you fellow Clubbers as well - should we all pin a rose to our raincoats so we can identify each other? Ha )
As a Story Club member I so regret that a nasty seasonal flu collided with my ticket (purchased on Oct 6) to attend your book reading in Santa Cruz. I was so looking forward to just sitting, listening to the interview and the following Q&A, and then to maybe being able to stand up and thank you personally, not so much for improving my writing but for introducing me to your Shit Mountain concept in Swim In The Pond. I would have said it has helped me focus on what was emotionally true for me in developing characters that are real rather than trying to be another Hemmingway or any of my other literary heros. The perspective doesn't always work but I feel I'm getting there. So there, I said it here instead of at the event (also regret I never got to pose my questions). I'm not sure this is appropriate but I would be happy to connect with any Story Club members in Santa Cruz who would like to meet occasionnaly by Zoom or in person for Story Club conversations. Slow Reading is amazing. Looking foward to reading Liberation Day. Thanks again for Story Club and your dedication to teaching.
I was there in Chicago even though I was cohosting a Halloween party that night! It was worth it. And I can report that folks in the audience thought George was thoughtful, charismatic, and funny. Funnier than they expected.
I also chatted with some about Story Club. The woman who sat next to me became a fan when she picked up A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. She had her copy on her and I pulled out my own. Neither of us were sure if there would be book signings. It’s the only book I have of George’s that isn’t signed (because of the virtual book town in the midst of covid) and I brought it just in case.
The copies of Liberation Day we got with our ticket purchase were pre-signed, but I also had a copy I had preordered, which I brought with me and slyly exchanged for one that was signed (it’s a gift for a friend and fellow fan).
It only occurred to me because the copy I picked up at the event wasn’t signed and I had to exchange it. And I was like, “oh I have this other one too that wasn’t signed.” No regrets.
With apologies to James Brown, GS is The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Impressive. Thanks for the update.
George: The Santa Cruz event was wonderful, your voice is the same in person, in travelogues, maybe even in some of the weird stories; it is a voice one can trust. You do take us down some scary, meandering paths in your fiction. Yet somehow, against all odds, we come out safely at the other end. Though perhaps not the same person as when we started the story.... I met two women at the event, who became instant new friends, and I can't wait to discuss Liberation Day with them.
Please please please tell me you’re hinting your next story is about a bunch of kids and a werewolf.
I don't know who posted about Alexander Chee's piece in the Paris Review "On Becoming an American Writer" but it speaks to many of the SC themes and I wanted to post this fantastic excerpt from it:
"There’s another Alexander Chee in my mind, the one who I would be if I’d only had access to regular dental care throughout my career, down to the number of teeth in my mouth. I started inventing him on a visit to Canada in 2005 when I became unnerved by how healthy everyone looked there compared to the United States, and my sense of him grows every time I leave the country. I know I’ll have a shorter career for being American in this current age, and a shorter life also. And that is by my country’s design. It is the intention.
I have been to convenience stores where I see people working with untreated injuries, and when I leave, I get panhandled in the parking lot by someone in a chain-store uniform who is unable to afford the gas to get home on the last day before payday—someone with two jobs, three jobs. Until recently, I struggled to get by, and yet I am in the top twenty percent of earners in my country. I am currently saving up for dental implants—money I could as easily use for a down payment on a house. But I’m not entirely sure I’ll see the end of a mortgage or that any of us will.
Only in America do we ask our writers to believe they don’t matter as a condition of writing. It is time to end this. Much of my time as a student was spent doubting the importance of my work, doubting the power it had to reach anyone or to do anything of significance. I was already tired of hearing about how the pen was mightier than the sword by the time I was studying writing. Swords, it seemed to me, won all the time. By the time I found that Auden quote—“poetry makes nothing happen”—I was more than ready to believe what I thought he was saying. But books were still to me as they had been when I found them: the only magic.
To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth but into it. My job is to make something happen in a space barely larger than the span of your hand, behind your eyes, distilled out of all that I have carried, from friends, teachers, people met on planes, people I have seen only in my mind, all my mother and father ever did, every favorite book, until it meets and distills from you, the reader, something out of the everything it finds in you. All of this meets along the edge of a sentence like this one, as if the sentence is a fence, with you on one side and me on the other.
If you don’t know what I mean, what I mean is this: When I speak of walking through a snowstorm, you remember a night from your childhood full of snow or from last winter, say, driving home at night, surprised by a storm. When I speak of my dead friends and poetry, you may remember your own dead friends, or if none of your friends are dead, you may imagine how it might feel to have them die. You may think of your poems or poems you’ve seen or heard. You may remember you don’t like poetry.
Something new is made from my memories and yours as you read this. It is not my memory, not yours, and it is born and walks the bridges and roads of your mind, as long as it can.
All my life I’ve been told this isn’t important, that it doesn’t matter, that it could never matter. And yet I think it does.
I began this essay as an email I wrote to my students during that first weekend of the Iraq War. I had felt a sudden, intense protectiveness of them. I didn’t want my students to go into the draft, rumored then to be a possibility. I wrote to them that weekend and told them that art endures past governments, countries, and emperors, and their would-be replacements. That art—even, or perhaps especially, art that is dedicated somehow to tenderness—is not weak. It is strength. I asked them to disregard the cultural war against the arts that has lasted most of their lives, the movement to discredit the arts and culture in American public life as being decorative interruptions of more serious affairs, unworthy of funding or even of teachers. I told them that I can’t recall the emperors of China as well as I can Mencius, who counseled them, and whose stories of them, shared in his poetry of these rulers and their problems, describe them for me almost entirely. And the paradox of how a novel, should it survive, protects what a missile can’t.
I have new lessons in not stopping, after the election. If you are reading this, and you’re a writer, and you, like me, are gripped with despair, when you think you might stop: Speak to your dead. Write for your dead. Tell them a story. What are you doing with this life? Let them hold you accountable. Let them make you bolder or more modest or louder or more loving, whatever it is, but ask them in, listen, and then write. And when war comes—and make no mistake, it is already here—be sure you write for the living too. The ones you love and the ones who are coming for your life. What will you give them when they get there?"
— Alexander Chee is the author of, most recently, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. He teaches at Dartmouth College.
Find at https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/04/19/on-becoming-an-american-writer/
This must surely be one of the many reasons GS is so successful - most of us would be griping away about travel, no sleep, queues, cancellations and not being 'allowed' time to write. GS takes it all in his uplifting stride and finds joy in it all. What a great lesson.
Financial Times: George Saunders: 'It's wonderful how writing never abandons you'.
What I love most about George’s post yesterday (beating by a hair report of food eaten during book tour!) is his “second thoughts.” I see George as having a gift for thoughtful conversation— able to think on his feet and draw language so that, moment to moment, he means what he says. That he has “second thoughts” comes as a relief!!! That said, thank you, Shaiza, for sharing your question and your recollection of original answer which, I agree, is more than good enough. And thank you, George, for the second thoughts— I’m glad to have this in our collection of “George-isms” : “And so we can evaluate a story on that basis: does it square with your sense of how things are? Does it speak to the deepest part of you? Does it do anything for you? Not all stories will, even really good ones. And that’s for you and only you to say.”