How I write: Suzan-Lori Parks
Published: November 28, 2003
|August Wilson once called Suzan-Lori Parks "an original whose fierce intelligence and fearless approach to craft subvert theatrical convention." Now, she brings that same intensity to writing fiction. |
In her invigorating, raw and humorous first novel, Getting Mother's Body, told from multiple points of view, she presents a panoply of vibrant characters whose fresh voices speak directly to the reader. They deliver a narrative mix of absurdity, audacity, sadness and redemption.
The multi-talented Parks, who wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee's Girl 6 and is adapting Toni Morrison's novel Paradise for Oprah Winfrey's film company, received the Pulitzer Prize for her play Topdog/Underdog. In 2001, Parks won a MacArthur "genius grant." She graduated from Mount Holyoke College, where she studied with James Baldwin. She lives in Venice Beach, Calif., with her husband, blues musician Paul Oscher.
I don't know if writers have things to say as much as writers, at least in my case, are possessed by things. Writing it down is the only way to get it out of your system. It's like having the flu, and to get rid of the flu you have to write it down. That's why I write.
I get up in the morning [at 5:30] and write in an office, which is a room in my house. Sometimes what I write is no good, and sometimes it's good.
I also work on more than one thing at once. It's like you have a round [tray]--a lazy Susan--and you divide it up into pie wedges. You're sitting at a table and the wedge in front of you is the wedge you're working on right now. Then you write a draft of that. The first wedge for me would be, say, Getting Mother's Body. I write a draft of that, and I get to page--whatever--I put it back on the lazy Susan and turn it to the next wedge, a play called In the Blood. Then, I turn to another wedge and a draft of Topdog/Underdog. Then, I work on Getting Mother's Body again.
A lot of times I don't know what I'm doing. I'm wandering through the wilderness of my imagination, so I have no road map. I have very few clues. I'm just wandering, seeing what I can find, what I can hear, what's there. A dead mother's there, a grave. "Oh." A hole which is a portal. "Oh." All that is coming around as I'm wandering through the wilderness, draft after draft.
|Finding a character's voice:|
Some characters, like Dill [in Getting Mother's Body], are closemouthed. When you can't find the character's voice, you kind of write around it. This novel went through many, many drafts. A lot of times, the Dill parts weren't working out. I just kept writing, and maybe I'd hear something about Dill. For example, what she did for a living came from another character. In the Billy chapter, Billy starts talking about how Dill taught her everything she knew about pig farming.
|Knowing when you're done:|
It's like Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, who said, "I drink until I hear the click." I write until I hear the click. I can feel that I'm done when it all comes together, and I can figure out the story and know where it's going.
First, keep at it. A lot of times we wait to call ourselves writers. "I'm not a writer yet because I'm not published. I'm not a writer because I've only written two short stories. I'm not a writer because all I write are journal entries." You're a writer if you put the time in, and if you have the desire.
A lot of people out there, for reasons we will never understand, want to keep you down. Try not to listen to those people. I just say, write. Just believe that if you have the desire to write, that's what you should be doing in some fashion--whether it's before you go to work or on your lunch break or after work instead of watching TV. If you really love it, chances are you'll get better at it.
--Posted Nov. 28, 2003