Acclaimed Israeli writer Etgar Keret is known for his unique and distinctive writing style, allowing him to create work that is moving and deeply affecting in only a few pages. After several celebrated short story collections, Keret released his first nonfiction book, The Seven Good Years, which covers the time between the birth of Keret’s son and the death of his father.
This memoir is made up of a series of autobiographical essays, some of which of were previously published as stand-alone pieces. All are packed with keen observation, insight, and sharp wit, even when dealing with serious subject matters, such as terrorism and illness.
I wrote the first essay the day my son was born. [Usually] I have an emotional experience and then use metaphor to write about it. The experience of his birth was so overwhelming, happening during a terrorist attack, that I couldn’t find a metaphor, so I wrote the essay. I wrote other essays that were published, but never thought of the essays as a future book until my father became ill. I wanted to have a literary tombstone for him.
I always feel that nothing is too much. But because I’m sensitive about family issues, I speak with them. It never stops me from writing it, but it might stop me from publishing it.
For me, humor is not a goal, it is a side effect. There’s something my son calls “tickle humor,” where you laugh, but it’s not a deep humor experience. I usually use humor when I’m on serious ground, like how an airbag [in] a car presents itself when you need protection. It helps to keep from bursting into tears or feeling aggressive.
When I write fiction I make a point not to know what’s going to happen. I need to write to figure out what’s going to happen. But when you write nonfiction, you write about what already happened, so you need to find another way to stay curious. There needs to be another incentive.
Writing essays is like therapy because you’re figuring out: What was the important thing in that incident? Writing fiction is like an adventure. I prefer writing fiction, if I had to choose. I’m lucky that I can do both.
I never think about how long my stories will be. I don’t premeditate my first draft. There’s something intense about my stories, and I see my stories like explosions. They come from the gut and come out short. It’s just the way I write.
When I start a story, I’ll know a scene, or a character, or maybe even the ending. But it has to be obscure enough to give me the incentive to write it. If I know the arc, I feel like I’m just going through the motions. When I don’t know what’s going to happen, I am writing in the present and not trying to get somewhere. All options are open.
I drop the first paragraph and see if I can start with the second paragraph. I have to see if it works. This makes short stories even shorter. When minor characters seem too generic, I write a separate story about them, so they have more weight and are unique. I just do this so I know more about the character. Then I rewrite them into the story.
Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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