Author Francine Prose discusses her passion for writing

| Scene Reporter

Francine Prose, author of the acclaimed novel “Blue Angel” and the recent non-fiction work “Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife,” visited Wash. U. on Tuesday to receive the International Humanities Medal and speak in Graham Chapel.

In person, Prose is a natural storyteller, a vibrant blend of the down-to-earth and the imaginative, a combination of your eccentric aunt and your favorite professor. On Tuesday afternoon before her lecture, Student Life’s Kaitlyn Mauro sat down with Prose to talk about her work and the craft of writing.

Student Life: What sort of advice would you give to students who are interested in writing?

Francine Prose: Read the best things you can…and go to all of your literature classes.

Be really hard on your own work. It’s sentence by sentence … I want my students to write comprehensively and clearly and not in that artificial, academic language they feel they have to write papers in. I mean, people don’t say “furthermore” in conversation, they just don’t.

SL: How would your college classmates remember you?

FP: [I was the type that would] sit in a room full of people with a notebook and a pen, writing away…I was one of those horrible kids that had their papers done early, but it was only because I could write really fast.

SL: What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

FP: Really just writing—really, just writing.

An idea comes from somewhere I wouldn’t have thought, or the novel goes in some direction that I wouldn’t have imagined, or a character says something.

SL: How would you describe the experience of publishing a new book?

FP: It’s the punishment for writing the book. It’s like walking around without your skin or something. Anyone can say anything. You are incredibly hypersensitive. A good review is fine; a bad review is really terrible. Every so often something satisfying will happen. But that can happen at any point, usually not right after publication.

SL: So, would you consider writing its own reward?

FP: It had better be. It had really better be. Because anyone who thinks they are going to get a glamorous life from it, forget about it.

SL: Do you prefer to work on big projects or on shorter-term pieces?

FP: I’m usually doing a lot of things at the same time. Even on a day when I can really write, I can’t write fiction for more than three or four hours. So then I am glad, really, to have a review I have to do or an article I have to do because I can stay at my desk and work.

Revising is different, I can revise for long hours, but composing a novel, it’s just like your brain gives out after a while.

SL: How often do you write these days?

FP: As often as I can. Sometimes now I will only get 2 or 3 days a week.

It’s very hard when you are writing a novel because you really have to get back into that imaginary world. So unfortunately, sometimes, if I have been away from it for a long time, like two or three weeks, I will actually have to go back to the beginning, to start writing again … just so I can get enough momentum and kind of figure my way back in. With non-fiction it is not so hard, but with fiction it’s really difficult.

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