The majority of the quotes presented here come from interviews printed in The Paris Review which last year (2010) made its full archive of interviews available for reading.  I have tried to present responses to a wide variety of interesting questions.  The Faulkner and Porter interviews both touch on the topic of symbolism, but I could not do without presenting both as they are so good.

 

INTERVIEWER
So you are discovering the story while you are writing it?
CORTÁZAR
That’s right. It’s like improvising in jazz. You don’t ask a jazz musician, “But what are you going to play?” He’ll laugh at you. He has a theme, a series of chords he has to respect, and then he takes up his trumpet or his saxophone and he begins. It’s not a question of idea. He performs through a series of different internal pulsations. Sometimes it comes out well, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s the same with me. I’m a bit embarrassed to sign my stories sometimes. The novels, no, because the novels I work on a lot; there’s a whole architecture. But my stories, it’s as if they were dictated to me by something that is in me, but it’s not me who’s responsible. Well, since it does appear they are mine even so, I guess I should accept them!  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 83, 1984.

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INTERVIEWER
How complete in your own mind is the conception of a short story? Does the theme, or the plot, or a character change as you go along?
HEMINGWAY
Sometimes you know the story. Sometimes you make it up as you go along and have no idea how it will come out. Everything changes as it moves. That is what makes the movement which makes the story. Sometimes the movement is so slow it does not seem to be moving. But there is always change and always movement.  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 21, 1958

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INTERVIEWER
Have you ever written poetry?
CHEEVER
No. It seems to me that the discipline is very different . . . another language, another continent from that of fiction. In some cases short stories are more highly disciplined than a lot of the poetry that we have. Yet the disciplines are as different as shooting a twelve-gauge shotgun and swimming.
……….
INTERVIEWER
What about the beginning of stories? Yours start off very quickly. It’s striking.
CHEEVER
Well, if you’re trying as a storyteller to establish some rapport with your reader, you don’t open by telling him that you have a headache and indigestion and that you picked up a gravelly rash at Jones Beach.  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 62, 1976

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INTERVIEWER
If I may change the subject to your own fiction, I would like to ask about your having said that you were very timid about beginning to write stories.
BORGES
Yes, I was very timid because when I was young I thought of myself as a poet. So I thought, “If I write a story, everybody will know I’m an outsider, that I am intruding in forbidden ground.” Then I had an accident. You can feel the scar. If you touch my head here, you will see. Feel all those mountains, bumps? Then I spent a fortnight in a hospital. I had nightmares and sleeplessness—insomnia. After that they told me that I had been in danger, well, of dying, that it was really a wonderful thing that the operation had been successful. I began to fear for my mental integrity—I said, “Maybe I can’t write anymore.” Then my life would have been practically over because literature is very important to me. Not because I think my own stuff particularly good, but because I know that I can’t get along without writing. If I don’t write, I feel, well, a kind of remorse, no? Then I thought I would try my hand at writing an article or a poem. But I thought, “I have written hundreds of articles and poems. If I can’t do it, then I’ll know at once that I am done for, that everything is over with me.” So I thought I’d try my hand at something I hadn’t done: If I couldn’t do it, there would be nothing strange about it because why should I write short stories? It would prepare me for the final overwhelming blow: knowing that I was at the end of my tether. I wrote a story called, let me see, I think, “Hombre de la esquina rosada,”* and everyone enjoyed it very much. It was a great relief to me. If it hadn’t been for that particular knock on the head I got, perhaps I would never have written short stories.  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No.39, 1967

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INTERVIEWER
How do you hope your stories will affect people? Do you think your writing will change anybody?
CARVER
I really don’t know. I doubt it. Not change in any profound sense. Maybe not any change at all. After all, art is a form of entertainment, yes? For both the maker and the consumer. I mean in a way it’s like shooting billiards or playing cards, or bowling—it’s just a different, and I would say higher, form of amusement. I’m not saying there isn’t spiritual nourishment involved, too. There is, of course. Listening to a Beethoven concerto or spending time in front of a van Gogh painting or reading a poem by Blake can be a profound experience on a scale that playing bridge or bowling a 220 game can never be. Art is all the things art is supposed to be. But art is also a superior amusement. Am I wrong in thinking this?…Good fiction is partly a bringing of the news from one world to another. That end is good in and of itself, I think. But changing things through fiction, changing somebody’s political affiliation or the political system itself, or saving the whales or the redwood trees, no. Not if these are the kinds of changes you mean. And I don’t think it should have to do any of these things, either. It doesn’t have to do anything. It just has to be there for the fierce pleasure we take in doing it, and the different kind of pleasure that’s taken in reading something that’s durable and made to last, as well as beautiful in and of itself. Something that throws off these sparks—a persistent and steady glow, however dim.  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 76, 1983.

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INTERVIEWER
Sir, it has been argued that ‘A Rose for Emily’ is a criticism of the North, and others have argued saying that it is a criticism of the South.  Now, could this story, shall we say, be more properly classified as a criticism of the times?
FAULKNER
Now that I don’t know, because I was simply trying to write about people.  The writer used environment – what he knows – and if there’s a symbolism in which the lover represents the South, I don’t say that’s not valid and not there, but it was no intention of the writer to say, Now let’s see, I’m gong to write a piece in which I will use a symbolism for the North and another symbol for the South, that he was simply writing about people, a story which he though was tragic and true, because it came out of the human heart, the human aspiration, the human – the conflict of conscience with glands, with the Old Adam.  It was a conflict not between the North and the South so much as between, well you might say, God and Satan.  –The Story and Its Writer, An Introduction to Short Fiction, Ann Charters, 866-867, 2007

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INTERVIEWER
You are frequently spoken of as a stylist.  Do you think a style can be cultivated, or at least refined?
PORTER
I’ve been called a stylist until I really could tear my hair out.  And I simply don’t believe in style.  The style is you…Symbolism is the same way.  I never consciously took or adopted a symbol in my life.  I certainly did not say, ‘This blooming tree upon which Judas is supposed to have hanged himself is going to be the center of my story.’  I named ‘Flowering Judas’ after it was written, because when reading back over it I suddenly saw the whole symbolic plan and pattern of which I was totally unconscious while I was writing.  There’s a pox of symbolist theory going the rounds these days in American colleges in the writing courses.  Miss Mary McCarthy, who is one of the wittiest and most acute and in some ways the worst-tempered woman in American letters, tells about a little girl who came to her with a story.  Now Miss McCarthy is an extremely good critic, and she found this to be a good story, and she told the girl that it was – that she considered it a finished work, and that she could with a clear conscience move onto something else.  And the little girl said, “But Miss McCarthy, my writing teacher said, ‘Yes, it’s a good piece of work, but now we must go back and put in the symbols.‘”  I think that’s an amusing story and it makes my blood run cold.  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 29, 1963

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INTERVIEWER
Why do you prefer the short story for your medium?
(FRANK) O’CONNOR
Because it’s the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry—I wrote lyric poetry for a long time, then discovered that God had not intended me to be a lyric poet, and the nearest thing to that is the short story. A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has.
INTERVIEWER
Faulkner has said, “Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.” What do you think about this?
(FRANK) O’CONNOR
I’d love to console myself, it’s that neat—it sounds absolutely perfect except that it implies, as from a short-story writer, that the novel is just an easy sort of thing that you slide gently into, whereas, in fact, my own experience with the novel is that it was always too difficult for me to do. At least to do a novel like Pride and Prejudice requires something more than to be a failed B.A. or a failed poet or a failed short-story writer, or a failed anything else. Creating in the novel a sense of continuing life is the thing. We don’t have that problem in the short story, where you merely suggest continuing life. In the novel, you have to create it, and that explains one of my quarrels with modern novels. Even a novel like As I Lay Dying, which I admire enormously, is not a novel at all, it’s a short story. To me a novel is something that’s built around the character of time, the nature of time, and the effects that time has on events and characters. When I see a novel that’s supposed to take place in twenty-four hours, I just wonder why the man padded out the short story.  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 19, 1957

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INTERVIEWER
How do you go about ordering short stories in your collections?
WOLFF
Can you imagine putting “The Dead” at the beginning of Dubliners? No, you wouldn’t do that. You’re conducting movements and moods with the arrangement of a collection. Having said this, if I go back and look at a book two, three years after I’ve published it, I can’t remember exactly why I ordered it that way. And of course, after all the work writers do to organize their collections of stories or their collections of poems, that work is completely undone by the readers—
INTERVIEWER
—who open it in the middle.
WOLFF
Right, open it in the middle because that story has a grabby title, or because they’re tired and about to go to bed and want to read the shortest piece. Readers skip around in collections, in a way they don’t in novels, obviously—except for those creeps who read the endings first. Let’s say I get a new William Trevor collection. I love his stories about schoolboys, and if the collection has one I’ll read that first. I skip around for the usual reasons: my mood, interesting title, length, all kinds of things. And then, eventually, if it’s a collection I really take seriously, I will read it front to back as the writer intended, trying to understand its form. If it seems thrown together, I won’t devote that kind of care to it. But with a writer like Trevor or Grace Paley I would absolutely pay attention to the order of the stories.
INTERVIEWER
I’m glad you skip around sometimes. Glad to hear you don’t always respect the writer’s designs.
WOLFF
Well, writers need to remember that once the book leaves their hands, it’s not theirs anymore. It belongs to its readers, and its readers will make of it what they will. Sometimes I get letters from students—We’re reading this story in my class, and everybody says it means the narrator wants to be a girl, but I think it means he wants to join the circus. What does it really mean? I politely decline to answer, because after all the writer doesn’t own the last word, and may actually have an incomplete understanding of a given piece. Robert Frost, for instance, always took pains to insist that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” did not contain any suggestion of life-weariness or Thanatos, but it most certainly does. The evidence is in the poem and is simply irrefutable. Either Frost is playing a complicated game here, which would be true to form, or he didn’t fully understand his own poem. Some very fine writers are extremely instinctive, even better than their intentions. Either way, the writer does not and should not have the last word. That, like the book itself, belongs to the reader.  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 123, 1991

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INTERVIEWER
You’ve said that when you start a story, rather than starting with language, the story often begins with a physical event, something you see or overhear which ignites something in you.
TREVOR
Often it does occur like that, but the truth is that stories begin in all kinds of ways. With a remembered schoolteacher, or someone who might later have had something to do with your life, or some unimportant occurrence. You begin to write and in the process of writing it is often the case that whatever it was that started you off gets lost. On other occasions, stories simply come out of nowhere: You never discover the source. I remember being on a train and I was perhaps walking down to the bar when I noticed a woman and a boy traveling together. He was in his school uniform and she was clearly in charge of him. I can remember now the fatigue on her face. Afterwards—probably years afterwards—I wrote a story called “Going Home.”
INTERVIEWER
Do you know how a story is going to end before you write it?
TREVOR
That’s what I mean by being able to see round it. I can see approximately—but only very approximately—how it will be. With a novel I can’t even do that. A novel is like a cathederal and you really can’t carry in your imagination the form a cathedral is to take. I like the inkling, the shadow, of a new short story. I like the whole business of establishing its point, for although a story need not have a plot it must have a point. I’m a short-story writer, really, who happens to write novels. Not the other way around.  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 108, 1989

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INTERVIEWER
Aside from length, is there any difference between writing a novel and writing short stories?
FORD
Novels are a lot harder to write. Long ones, anyway.
INTERVIEWER
Why?
FORD
Because they hold so much more stuff, and the stuff all has to be related and make one whole—at least the way I do it. And from my experience with writing both, I do think writing a long novel is just a larger human effort than writing a book of short stories—assuming that both are good. I used to say that a novel was a more important, a grander literary gesture than a story. And when Ray Carver would hear me say that he’d vigorously disagree, and then I’d always cave in. But he’s gone now, and the fun’s gone out of that argument. I don’t care, to tell you the truth. Is a week in bounteous Paris more important than twenty-four hours in somewhat less majestic Chinook, Montana, if in Chinook your life changes forever? If it is for you, it is; if it isn’t, well? Forms of literature don’t compete. They don’t have to compete. We can have it all.  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 147, 1996

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INTERVIEWER
Do you ever revise a story after it’s been published? Apparently, before he died, Proust rewrote the first volumes of Remembrance of Things Past.
MUNRO
Yes, and Henry James rewrote simple, understandable stuff so it was obscure and difficult. Actually I’ve done it recently. The story “Carried Away” was included in Best American Short Stories 1991. I read it again in the anthology, because I wanted to see what it was like and I found a paragraph that I thought was really soggy. It was a very important little paragraph, maybe two sentences. I just took a pen and rewrote it up in the margin of the anthology so that I’d have it there to refer to when I published the story in book form. I’ve often made revisions at that stage that turned out to be mistakes because I wasn’t really in the rhythm of the story anymore. I see a little bit of writing that doesn’t seem to be doing as much work as it should be doing, and right at the end I will sort of rev it up. But when I finally read the story again it seems a bit obtrusive. So I’m not too sure about this sort of thing. The answer may be that one should stop this behavior. There should be a point where you say, the way you would with a child, this isn’t mine anymore.  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 137, 1994

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INTERVIEWER
How did you start writing?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ
By drawing. By drawing cartoons. Before I could read or write I used to draw comics at school and at home. The funny thing is that I now realize that when I was in high school I had the reputation of being a writer, though I never in fact wrote anything. If there was a pamphlet to be written or a letter of petition, I was the one to do it because I was supposedly the writer. When I entered college I happened to have a very good literary background in general, considerably above the average of my friends. At the university in Bogotá, I started making new friends and acquaintances, who introduced me to contemporary writers. One night a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka. I went back to the pension where I was staying and began to read The Metamorphosis. The first line almost knocked me off the bed. I was so surprised. The first line reads, “As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. . . .” When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories. …  –The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 69, 1981

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