Bits and pieces from an evening with Joyce Carol Oates

Last Friday night I went to hear Joyce Carol Oates read/speak at my local university. She read ‘Pumpkin Head’ from Sourland, her new collection of short stories, and you can read the story here if you’re interested. When she started reading, I thought, Oh, good, this isn’t going to be too creepy.

I was wrong.

It started getting a little more uncomfortable. Then a lot more uncomfortable. Horrible stuff came spewing out of the mouth and mind of this charming little bird wearing a turquoise silk blouse and looking like Louisa May Alcott.

I was going to try to write something brilliant about the evening, but I ain’t got nuthin’. Instead, I found this link to her keynote speech at the Boston Book Festival in October. I’ve only watched a little bit of it, but I’m keeping it on hold for when I need a break from NaNoWriMo or something. She read ‘Pumpkin Head’ here as well.

JCO quote of the day: “When people say there is too much violence in my books, what they are saying is there is too much reality in life.”

Well, yes, she might be on to something there.

20 comments to Bits and pieces from an evening with Joyce Carol Oates

  • I read “Pumpkin Head” just now. It’s pretty weird. I’ve never read anything of JCO’s before. She writes magnificently but creeps me out even more magnificently.

  • Read it. Just weird. All I can say. I’m trying so hard to have more dialogue in my story and cut out the narration. This story shows me that maybe I don’t have to cut out so much of the narration… I’m so confused…..

  • Thanks for the link! An interesting story, though her style is not to my taste.

  • Thanks for the link to her keynote! I’ll enjoy listening this weekend.

    I think her comment about violence is interesting … although I’m comparing apples and oranges here, it intrigues me that people suggest she has too much violence while popular films are riddled with violence. The difference is, I think hers is a part of the story rather than gratuitous.

    • Natasha

      Good point about it not being gratuitous in her writing. She said something to that effect in her talk here — that you had to take each of her stories as a whole entity and not try to pull them apart so much. She actually said — and I can’t remember whether it was about Pumpkin Head or Rape: A Love Story: “It is what it is.”

  • Don’t everyone look at me weirdly, but I wasn’t creeped out by that one. I’m fascinated by the way she draws me so deeply into her stories. I feel like they happened to me.

    • I won’t look at you weirdly because none of her fiction creeps me out. 😉
      I’m also fascinated by the way she draws me in … I feel like I’ve gone to an alternate reality.

      • Cathryn, if I keep hanging around you, I might return to writing noir. Hmmm, you think I could interest an agent if I made Jalal a serial killer? 😉

        • You crack me up, Linda.

          Her keynote in Boston is worth a listen, but you’ll especially enjoy her story about the original title of the book and the cover art. (It’s in the first 5-7 minutes)

      • Natasha

        She DEFINITELY is successful at drawing readers in, I agree — and I am looking forward to reading more after this NaNo thang is put to sleep.

        • I didn’t realize you were doing NaNo. How is it going? I did it last year and loved it, I got a solid first 2/3 of a first draft and managed to finish the first draft by March. (It’s currently in the drawer, cooling.)

          Did you do much pre-planning?

          And to bore you more with my JCO obsession, I read once that when she was first writing (not sure if it’s still the case), she wrote an entire first draft in long hand on one side of the sheet, then turned the stack over and re-wrote it on the other side.

  • Natasha

    Urp. I did NaNo last year and am still working on the draft I started then, which is probably 2/3 done as well.

    This year I have a plan, sort of, and am writing a murder mystery. It’s fun and it’s taken a darker turn than I had expected.

    I want to know why JCO carries a huge satchel on stage when she speaks. She did when she spoke here, and I noticed it on her lap in the Boston video. I was envisioning a jar of ebola virus or baby rattlesnakes but that vision may have been enhanced by pain medication.

    I have 500 more words to write this evening.

  • You are really going full guns with your story! 9000 words already and probably have added more! Way to go, lady! How are you liking your story? Mine just keeps changing. I just finished Act 3 Trigger chapter and am going to bed now. Wrote 3000 words today. The only other things I did today were take an hour walk this am, eat breakfast, eat lunch, feed the cats, HAD A MASSAGE 🙂 and made and ate dinner. Rest of the time was at the computer. Plan on that tomorrow too (minus the massage).

  • Do you think she was trying to make a point about California? 🙂
    She officially creeped me out–not her story–but her. When she opened her bag I wanted to flinch.
    I’m curious now, and have to go find other stories by her.
    Thanks for the distraction. 🙂

  • Good luck, and I hope it takes you on an interesting journey.

    I never noticed the satchel until you pointed it out … fun to speculate.

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