An exclusive Authorlink interview with Ed McClanahan
by Ellen Birkett Morris
Fans of The Natural Man and Famous People I Have Known will delight in Ed McClanahans latest book O the Clear Moment. This collection of creatively remembered stories chronicles McClanahans early life starting with his romantic exploits as a teenager in the 1950s. It contains his trademark humor and at once graceful, yet conversational, sentences.
McClanahan explained that collections of related short stories such as James Joyces Dubliners or Gurney Normans Kinfolks have been referred to as implied novels. His group of interrelated autobiographical stories told in a more or less chronological fashion works as an implied autobiography.
Every story in O the Clear Moment had been published before except Dog Loves Ellie|
The idea for the book came to him during a dry spell as he was writing Return of the Son of Needmore, a sequel to The Natural Man.
Every story in O the Clear Moment had been published before except Dog Loves Ellie, noted McClanahan. He read the stories to his creative writing students to get their input on which ones belonged in the volume.
The book does not cover the period of his life in the 1960s when McClanahan was part of Ken Keseys band of Merry Pranksters. Kentucky-born McClanahan found his way to California by way of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University that allowed him to write and where he formed lifelong friendships with other writers including the novelist Robert Stone. He remained at Stanford University as E. H. Jones, Lecturer in Creative Writing until 1972.
|. . . he discovered he despised writing to deadline. McClanahan|
His early writing life was nurtured by his mother and aunts, many of which had been school teachers, who read to him and made sure books were a part of his life. A puny kid, he spent time reading Mark Twain, P.G. Wodehouse, and Erskine Caldwell.
McClanahan wanted to be a sports writer but after a short stint working for the Maysville Independent while in high school he discovered he despised writing to deadline.
McClanahan earned a Masters degree from University of Kentucky in 1958 and has taught at Oregon State University, the University of Montana, the University of Kentucky, and Northern Kentucky University.
As a longtime teacher of creative writing, he believes in the power of the community such classes can create, their place as a testing ground for new material and the positive reinforcement students can offer each other in that setting.
"You have to make a space for the work to happen in. Learn to trust yourself|
and your vision. . ."
You can teach people patience. You have to make a space for the work to happen in. Learn to trust yourself and your vision and keep trying. Persevere with it.
His short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in such magazines such as Esquire, Playboy and Rolling Stone. In 1972 and 1974, he received Playboy's award for nonfiction.
Writing books was slower process for McClanahan. He wrote the first draft of The Natural Man in 1961, in the form of a 98-page novella, and published the book in 1983, 22 years later, as a 229-page novel.
He said the book began as a rant against the constraints of small town life and while working on it he found a way to empathize with his characters that transformed the story from a novel about rejection to a novel about redemption and rediscovery.
While writing the first draft of the book, McClanahan was teaching five classes. He set a 500 word a day goal and ended up staying up nights and losing 45 pounds in the process. In a draft of the book many years later he changed the voice of the book from first person to third person.
It seemed like such a daunting task, but I just sailed through that process. It was like opening doors and windows in a musty house. It let in the light and air and changed the tenor of that book. It was a wonderful experience!
"For me, writing is like performing brain surgery on yourself. Its not something you want to rush." |
He no longer has a set time for writing an expected word count. His writing process is more organic now. I let it happen. Im writing all the time in my head while Im walking around.
For me, writing is like performing brain surgery on yourself. Its not something you want to rush, said McClanahan.
The result is prose that seems effortless, even breezy at times, although he labors over it.
I pay a lot of attention to the rhythm and shape of the sentence, to assonance and alliteration. The result is that I am a slow writer, he observed.
"I write to the tune of my own voice." |
To insure that his writing sounds right to the ear McClanahan reads it aloud and encourages his students to do so also.
I write to the tune of my own voice.
McClanahan worked with Jack Shoemaker, editor/publisher at Counterpoint Press, to put the book in final form. Shoemaker suggested he close rather than open with the chapter on the importance of writing, where McClanahan waxes philosophic on his literary creations and just how one pulls off the act of writing.
With O the Clear Moment on bookshelves, he returns to work on his sequel to the Natural Man. His protagonist Harry Estep has returned to the small town of Needmore and has become the foreman of the jury in a murder trial.
McClanahan cited the ancient Chinese classic text the I Ching.
About Regular Contributor|
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.