Thursday, October 31, 2013

On Meeting Donna Tartt

Hey guys (or the four of you that read this blog),

So currently I'm in the back of a pick-up drop on Halloween, and my friends are off shopping in Salem for the next fifteen minutes - but I had my laptop with me, and had to write this down - had to write down one of the best experiences I can remember:

I met Donna Tartt a few hours ago.

Donna Tartt is a legendary writer of the modern classic, the mesmerizing thriller The Secret History. The Secret History also happens to be my favorite book of all time. I also  believe it's the best written book of all time, although The Great Gatsby sometimes can make me think otherwise (but they're both masterpieces, let's be honest).

JK Rowling's Harry Potter series is what made me want to be a writer when I read it in fifth/sixth grade. However, Donna Tartt's The Secret History made me realize what words could do. How one sentence, the most simplest of ideas, could be transposed in a way that made your heart stop. One sentence, a phrase, a word, could make you tear up or gasp or stare off into space and just listen to the world around you, think. 

Although I had plans for later on Halloween night, I made sure I could go see Miss Tartt at a small theatre in Cambridge. There was a large audience, everyone hushed in anticipation and clearly big fans her work. When she took to the stage in a pristine suit, her black '20's-esque bob perfectly shaped, there was a huge applause like that for a pop star. Really.

She read a long passage from her new novel, The Goldfinch, (it was, unsurprisingly, incredibly thoughtful and funny), and then took questions from the audience. I can't remember all the questions, but a few that struck me-

Q) "You take ten years to write each of your novels - do the characters stick with you? Why do your novels take so long to write?"

A) [PARAPHRASED, only the ideas are the same]

Of course, it's very hard to let characters go after becoming so close to them. It's an intimate process. And I haven't completely let them go - I've continued to write about one, in a way.

My novels are so long because that's how I enjoy writing. I enjoy taking the time to craft words, looking at things from a poet's perspective - analysing over the littlest of things. This book takes place over the span of ten years - that's very hard to fake. It's really written in real-time, and I was a different person when I started this book than I am today.

She also talked about how she started off writing short stories in high school, but didn't like them because it was hard to have characters be only on a few pages, and then never write them again. When she started writing novels, after she'd started art classes, that was when she truly realized her passion. She also talked at length about the inspiration of the novel, and the sad backstory to the painter of the The Goldfinch, a painting the book revolves around.

After she finished, there was the signing.

In the line I met two really cool middle-aged women - they were shocked that a fifteen-year old had read her work, and asked me questions about how I'd discovered the 1992 novel. Of course, conversation quickly turned to the details of Miss Tartt's talk, and inevitably, the Red Sox.

In line, I kept wondering - What do you say to the person who has written a book which has changed your life?

I'd planned only to say a simple hello and thank you - but when I got the signing table, she saw my name and exclaimed, "I knew someone named [Rhys] in high school! He was a good friend of mine. It's a really rare name, isn't it?" I laughed, then explained how her book has been one of those that've really made me want to "do this", be a writer.

She smiled, nodding enthusiastically, and then gave me unforgettable advice:

"You have to be passionate about it. Write everyday - have one spot where you can go to, and sit there and work until it's right. Always, please, keep writing."

I didn't even know what to say to this. I kinda lost it - it was surreal, you know? So I just kinda said "Thank you thank you really thanks a lot Miss Tartt thanks" (something like that), and she elaborated on the signed page of my book "Especially for [Rhys], good luck and always keeping writing".

And I will.

Those words ringing in my head, I walked out of the theatre and into the Boston street - the wind was blowing an incredibly amount, but it was oddly warm, the sky a bright gray with soft rain peppering the passerby in their Halloween costumes. I put on music - "Young and Beautiful" by Lana Del Rey, thematic, rushing, inspiring.

I realized in that single moment, listening to Lana Del Rey and feeling the rain and wind around me, that this is what I want to do. Need to do. I need to always find that passion, always keep writing - hope to make something so beautiful it aches, so thrilling it burns. Do something life-changing, or simply entertaining. But always tell a story that's important.

Thank you, Donna Tartt. You've changed my life all over again.