By Marion Filler and Kevin Coughlin
If you ever dreamed of becoming an author, take heart.
Writing like Joyce Carol Oates, however, is another story.
For starters, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: Long-hand. And you will scribble almost continuously. Oates has churned out more than 40 novels, along with plays, novellas, poetry and nonfiction.
At 80, she shows no signs of slowing down; she came to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to discuss her new H.P. Lovecraft-inspired collection, Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense.
You also will have to be nimble enough to write about everything from boxing (she considers herself an amateur historian of the sport, thanks to her late father) to blondes (her 2000 historical novel about Marilyn Monroe won acclaim).
Speaking of acclaim, you’ll need to be extremely good at all this.
Oates has won a National Book Award, two O.Henry Awards and the National Humanities Medal, and been a Pulitzer Prize finalist several times. Oh, and don’t forget to squeeze in teaching gigs at Princeton and New York University, a jog and a bunch of tweets.
Of course, the great ones always make it look easy.
Instantly recognizable in her oversized glasses, with thin ringlets framing a piquant face, the slender author described a deceptively simple creative process.
“Start with a title in mind. I outline everything – the beginning, the end. And then I work every day.”
Six short stories comprise Night-Gaunts. Oates read from one of them, The Woman in the Window, a title inspired by the 1926 Edward Hopper painting 11:00 AM. It depicts a nude woman, wearing only shoes, looking out a window.
“I immersed myself in the vision of this woman,” said Oates.
A few minutes into her talk, it became apparent that Oates finds inspiration everywhere.
“Images come to be part of a dream, but an image is not a story. An image has to be galvanized into a plot,” she said.
Her familiarity with Shirley Jackson, a brilliant author married to a serial adulterer, inspired Long-Legged Girl, another short story in Night Gaunts.
Overweight and agoraphobic, the wretched wife invites one of her husband’s girlfriends to tea. This is Bengal tea, herbal, strong, with aroma that fills the room.
“It inspires women to do terrible things,” Oates said.
“There is a lot of #MeToo in my work,” was all she would divulge.