Natasha Stagg: How long have you been writing?
Pedro Ponce: As long as I can remember, at least since junior high school. I produced horrible juvenilia in multiple genres: poetry, fiction, plays. At one point, I wanted to be a playwright, but when I learned how collaborative the whole process of production was, I turned to fiction, where I could control everything “onstage,” so to speak.
NS: Do you write every day?
PP: I wish I was that disciplined! I teach, so during the school year, writing time is hard to come by, although I can usually work on flash fiction, which I can draft in a sitting or two of a couple of hours. It’s almost finals week as I’m writing this, though, so even these windows are closing up. Most of the writing I do takes place during academic breaks.
NS: What are your thoughts on “writing on writing?” Ever read the advice other authors give?
PP: I get an almost voyeuristic thrill from seeing into someone else’s process in books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, or Victoria Nelson’s On Writer’s Block. It’s a relief to know I’m not the only one who has the compulsion to arrange and rearrange words on a page, often with no idea what will result, if anything. But there are so many distractions that can get between a writer and his or her work, and unfortunately, such guides can actually be obstacles if you cling to them instead of working out your own relationship to the page. I know this from experience.
NS: Do you have some advice to give?
PP: Writing is writing. Life is life. Writing is not your mother, your father, your sibling, or your partner. It’s not the bully who made your life hell in high school, or the girl who broke your heart in college. Writing doesn’t care if you’re sick or depressed, exhausted or uninspired. Writing is its own world constructed word by word according to its own rules and at its own pace. What it allows you to discover along the way can be amazing. But it’s not everything.
NS: Who is your favorite author of the moment, and what should we read by them?
PP: I’m slowly going through the fiction of Roberto Bolaño. Nazi Literature in the Americas is one of the most haunting novels I’ve read recently. The tension between the elaborate conceit of a fictional encyclopedia and the glimpses of dystopian actuality afforded between gaps in narration is at once comic and terrifying. And, depending on how things go in 2012, disturbingly prophetic.
NS: What is a book that kind of blew your mind—that we’d be surprised by?
PP: I’ll cross into another genre for this one: John Leggett’s dual biography, Ross and Tom, is to my mind one of the best books ever written about the writing life. It follows the rise and fall of two highly acclaimed debut writers—Ross Lockridge, author of Raintree County and Thomas Heggen, author of Mister Roberts. Their first books launch them into literary stardom, but success hollows each of them out, with tragic consequences. The fact that many today don’t know either of these authors is a lesson in itself.