“I Guess This is What I’m Writing About.” Aimee Bender on Surrendering to the Material
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Aimee Bender about her latest novel, The Butterfly Lampshade.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: Is it hard to create a container as a writer for how you modulate the interplay between defining incidents in a character’s life and holding and releasing that energy?
Aimee Bender: It’s interesting as a way to think of it, because I think that’s right. It is trying to make a container that holds something of resonance. I feel like that’s the thing I’m trying to do again and again, and failing at most of the time. There’s just so many containers that belong in the Container Store—they’re bland or they’re not holding anything if the container is a kind of sentence.
My process is always a set amount of time, and I can write whatever I want to within that time. And I think what’s happened is now it’s been 20 plus years that I’ve been working this way, and there’s just a lot of material that that doesn’t go anywhere. But if I have to keep trying, and if I keep making up something new, eventually something has a kind of sparkle to it, or I’m interested in it enough to continue it. So, so much is about following whatever I can find myself interested in.
It’s happening again now where I’m trying to work on something new, and I’ll talk to students and at various places, and the work that shows up on the page is the work that you get. I’m not a writer who has an idea in my head that I’m trying to get on the page, because that has just never worked. What shows up on the page and is working is the material that I have. I’m once again finding this place of surrender to be like, “I guess this is what I’m writing about this round.” And I don’t know how I feel about it, but it’s the only thing that’s showing up on the page, so that’s what I’ve got.
Aimee Bender is the author of six books: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, which was a NY Times Notable Book, An Invisible Sign of My Own, which was an L.A. Times pick of the year, Willful Creatures, which was nominated by The Believer as one of the best books of the year, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which won the SCIBA award for best fiction, and an Alex Award, The Color Master, a NY Times Notable book for 2013, and her latest novel, The Butterfly Lampshade, which came out in July 2020, and was longlisted for the PEN/Jean Stein Award. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in Los Angeles with her family and teaches creative writing at USC.