Trying to Penetrate Something that is Deeply Mysterious

Russell Banks in conversation with Michael Silverblatt about his new novel, Lost Memory of Skin, KCRW Bookworm, Oct. 27, 2011:

When I begin to write a novel, and I was particularly conscious of it in this case, what I'm trying to do is penetrate something which is deeply mysterious to me and seems to have meaning to me — that I can't penetrate, I can't take the measure of and can't come to deep understanding of except through the process of writing fiction. Through the kind of discipline and rigor that it requires, the quality of attention it requires of me. Which forces me to be more honest and more attentive, more intelligent than I am at every other time in my life. And so this was a mystery to me. Writing about someone here who is in many important ways — perhaps in the defining ways — different from me. He is the other and I'm trying to inhabit his world, to see the world through his eyes and enter it in order to understand it.

I live in Miami half the year and I have an apartment high up enough with a terrace. And from my terrace I can look out and I can see that causeway -- the Julia Tuttle Causeway -- that crosses over from the mainland, from the island to Miami Beach. And once I knew about this colony of lost souls underneath the causeway, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I coudn't stop wondering about what's inside the mind. I don't understand. I didn't have any real deep insight and the only way I could begin to understand was to dedicate the next three years of my life through the traditions, conditions, demands, rigor, discipline of writing fiction.

...I'm not really trying to predict the future in any sense. I'm actually trying to take the measure of the present and what's directly in front of me. And if that has dire or even good implications for the future, I'm perfectly okay with that. My intention is to try to catch and dramatize and understand what's directly in front of me. What was directly in front of me from my terrace in Miami, were convicted sex offenders who were living under a causeway because they were forced to, because they couldn't live among other human beings. They couldn't live within 2,500 feet of other humans. That was the present to me and the rest of it flowed out of that.

Listen to the entire conversation here...