I read Carol Anshaw backward, starting with her latest book, Carry the One, a few years ago. In it, Anshaw (a novelist and painter) captures the way time shifts everything, how perspective changes like a trick of light. She shows that addiction and brilliance and beauty can all be contained in one person. I’ve thought a lot about it since, and wondered (as I do with books I love) how the writer managed to see it and build it. Then I recently read her 1992 novel Aquamarine, and I could see the seeds of similar themes. So when I got a chance to ask the author herself about her process, I wanted to know:
What’s the one thing you would say has changed most about your writing process in the decades since you began, and how would you compare that to your painting?
“I was not a very promising writer at first. Maudlin story lines. Broad humor. Smart aleck tone. But I kept at it and got better. I am still capable of making bad sentences but I discovered a strength in revision. Dorothy Parker said that for every five words she wrote she changed seven. That’s pretty much my method. That’s the process that gets me to better sentences. Also, along the way of all these years, my subject matter got more nuanced as a result of an expanding world view, having seen more of people living life and how that works and doesn’t for them. I’ve also traveled a ton, and read two tons. Now I start out from a place of greater confidence and authority. Getting to The End is only half of the process for me. From there I shape the narrative. Compress, then put in more, then compress again. This makes for a dense sort of prose where everything counts, every scene is necessary (but hopefully not expected). I’m always thinking about not wasting my readers’ time or giving them something they feel they’ve seen before. I have a contract with them the minute they open the book.
As for my painting, it is also about making narratives. But I think where my obsessive tinkering helps my fiction, it might make my paintings too fussy. I’m working on developing a looser style. I’m still very much a student painter.”