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Suffering from writerly guilt? Janet Fitch has some ideas...

Janet FitchL.A. Times Book FestivalSean Greerwriting

Fitch  

For all the struggling novelists out there frittering away time on Huffington Post, the ever-sordid Perez Hilton blog or your humble literary servant Jacket Copy right here, let us offer a salve to soothe that writerly guilt.

Andrew Sean Greer, author of the bestselling and John Updike-approved “The Confessions of Max Tivoli,” also whiles away the hours on blogs (he mentioned the Queen of Gossip not once but twice). So it’s possible to write that picaresque masterwork between clicking refresh, refresh, refresh.

A predilection for Web gossip was just one of the many private details shared at the lively and relaxed “Intimate Strangers” panel in the Humanities building, a highlight of the L.A. Times Book Festival on Saturday.

Moderator and journalist Veronique de Turenne took a gentle hand in leading the discussion that naturally sprang forth from such time-honored panel favorites as procrastination, the drafting process, the vicissitudes of memory and whether writing is a natural-born talent or something that can be learned. Much to their credit, panelists Greer, Janet Fitch, Gina Nahai and Jean Hanff Korelitz brought fresh perspective to each of these issues.

One of the panel’s most lovely observations came from Fitch, whose career rose meteorically after Oprah Winfrey selected her “White Oleander” for her book club. When asked what it was like to go back to a bygone era for her follow-up book, “Paint It Black,” set in ‘80s Los Angeles, Fitch said “the past is still there, it’s transparent … the city is more than what I can see. Memory is the fourth dimension to any landscape.”

Novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz also nicely crystallized the theme of her most recent book, “Admission,” about the panicked aspirations of high-school students and their parents to gaining access to the Ivies. “A made-up story about a real place,” as Hanff Korelitz explained it, she first tried to set her book in a fictional location before settling on Princeton, where she once worked as a first-level reader in the admissions department. “To set it in a fictional place felt like satire,” she said. “It’s serious stuff, I didn’t want to make fun of it.” Her words had extra resonance here on the ultra-competitive UCLA campus.

Nahai, an Iranian-American who has not been back to her homeland since leaving before the 1979 revolution, passed on some advice in the later moments of the panel, when the talk inevitably turned to advice for the struggling authors in the crowd: Whether it’s an office or a bedroom or a tiny closet, you have to write in a place where you’re willing to shut the door, the key word being "willing." If you’re brave enough to shut out the world to write 1,000 words a day, she said, it will make all the difference.

-- Margaret Wappler

Click here for more photos of the Book Festival.

Photo: Margaret Wappler / Los Angeles Times

 
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