Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lessons Learned after Procrastination

I am working my way through the interview I did about a month ago now with Mario about his creative process (yes, it’s actually been that long - how I dislike summer because it is so difficult to get anything done during these months) and noticing some interesting things.

1) it’s not as painful as I thought it would be to listen to the interview. Part of me has been cringing, both because of hearing my voice on the recording and also because, in my memory, I talked way too much. Usually, I hate listening to my voice. When I was freelancing, I tried not to listen to my questions too much. I took copious notes as well as writing down the time when certain comments occurred that I knew I would want to use as quotes, so I didn’t have to listen to myself too often. The interview with Mario evolved as more of a conversation and limited my ability to take notes. So I knew I’d have to suffer through hearing my own voice. But it’s not awful. Maybe it’s the quality of the recording. A couple of years ago, I invested in a high quality audio recorder that allows me to encode the data files as MP3 files (it was for a reading series I was curating, so the readings could be recorded and put up on the series’ web site - because of recording glitches, it never worked out, but I now have a great audio recorder).

Which leads me to the second thing I’m noticing.

2) Transcribing the interview like this is forcing me to pay more attention to the actual language being used. I’ve never done transcriptions of my interviews before, but I’m noticing that often, I think I’ve got the phrasing right, but when I listen to it again, I’ve substituted my own diction for that of my subject’s. It’s an interesting exercise in noticing how individual dialogue can be. The placement of words in a sentence is very specific to the speaker.

I know that’s probably fundamentally obvious - every writer knows this. Every writer has been drilled in the idea that dialogue has to reveal character. But it’s one thing to know it, it’s quite another to see it in practice and to recognize how my listening is dictated by the rhythms of my own speech, how I will subtly mold Mario’s speech into my own patterns and think I’ve recorded it accurately, but, when I go back over that sound segment to check my accuracy, I find I haven’t gotten it quite right.

This intense scrutiny has me eager to do more of these interviews just so I can listen to the way more people speak. It also has me thinking about the dialogue in my novel and the ways in which I can tweek it so that it is more representative of the speakers.

And just a note about the interview itself. Mario Mendoza is an MFA playwriting student at San Francisco State and one of the most extraordinarily gifted writers I’ve ever met. It often left those of us in class with him speechless. I told him, when I asked him to do this interview, that I often watch his work and think, “I have no idea what it’s about, but I like it.” Mario’s pieces are often as full of silence as they are of sound, part performance art, part stage play. I have seen other pieces like his, but they often leave me cold with a sense of “WTF?” Mario’s pieces never have. We talked about why that is, and what he’s trying to achieve with is work, as well as how those pieces come about. He’s got amazing insight into his work, which is even more astounding when you understand that he’s only 25 years old. I’ll have the interview up in another week or so. I promise.

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