Steve Almond on Figuring Out How to Master a Big Plot
In Conversation with Alex Higley and Lindsay Hunter on I'm a Writer But
Welcome to I’m a Writer But, where two writers-and talk to other writers-and about their work, their lives, their other work, the stuff that takes up any free time they have, all the stuff they’re not able to get to, and the ways in which any of us get anything done. Plus: book recommendations, bad jokes, okay jokes, despair, joy, and anything else we’ve got going on that week. Hosted by Lindsay Hunter and Alex Higley.
In this episode, Steve Almond (All the Secrets of the World) talks to us about scorpions; taking three decades to finish his first novel; how he came to write a “social novel”; maintaining the book’s authenticity while writing from the perspective of a teenaged Latina, Nancy Reagan, and a man who lusts after teenaged girls; and more!
From the episode:
“I carried through, so much of my career, this voice that said, ‘You’re really a failed novelist.’ And there’s a real reason for that. To me, it was so excruciatingly difficult to master a big plot. In previous iterations of this novel, and many other failed novels I have stinking away in drawers, I hadn’t figured out what Aristotle calls ‘the artful arrangement of incidents,’ by which he really means a chain of consequences.
And once I discovered that chain of consequences […], once I figured out that the novel was really going to be about Lorena getting herself and her family into a lot of trouble inadvertently, and the question of whether she was going to be able to rescue them and save her people, it really gave me something that was pulling me through the book. Whereas in previous versions, I was kind of pushing Lorena and the other characters around, hoping they’d bump into the big-ticket items, like internal conflict and self-revelation and desire and ruin.”
Steve Almond is the author of eleven books of fiction and nonfiction, including the New York Times bestsellers Candyfreak and Against Football. His essays and reviews have been published in venues ranging from the New York Times Magazine to Ploughshares to Poets & Writers, and his short fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, Best American Mysteries, and Best American Erotica. Almond is the recipient of grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. He cohosted the Dear Sugars podcast with his pal Cheryl Strayed for four years, and teaches Creative Writing at the Neiman Fellowship at Harvard and Wesleyan. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, with his family and his anxiety.