Buzzwords: Why did you start Ward Six?
Rhian Ellis: Though John [Robert Lennon] teaches at Cornell, I’m not really a part of that whole academic/literary world in my daily life — except that I do like to read and write and to think about reading and writing. Starting a blog seemed like a good way to be a part of the big literary conversation without actually having to leave my house, my kids, and my demanding hobbies. I’d have joined a book group except that I like to choose my own reading material.
Buzzwords: Given the blog on JRL’s own website was, well, sparse, how did you persuade him to blog daily?
RE: I read a knitting blog pretty much obsessively, even though it’s extremely boring and I don’t really like the stuff the woman makes. So why do I read it? Because she posts — and posts pictures — every single day. There’s always something new to read, or in that blog’s case, to look at as well. I realized that even if our blog was boring, some people would read it for the sheer fact that it’s updated daily. I think John went along with it because he’s a guy who likes a challenge — plus he always has an excess of opinions.
Buzzwords: Do you read a lot on-line? If so, what are your favourite websites and/or blogs?
RE: I try not to read too much online but I do get sucked in. One of my favorite sites is a blog by the writer Amber Dorko Stopper. It’s only a craft blog on the surface — it’s just as much about writing. I’ve never explored literary blogs, but I’m starting to get to know that whole segment of the web now.
Buzzwords: I really enjoyed [your novel] After Life. What are you working on at the moment?
RE: I’m writing a novel about a woman who gets her stomach stapled. I’ll probably throw that book out and start a new one, though. I haven’t finished anything in years. It’s become a lifestyle.
Buzzwords: Your other half was nominated in the Syntax of Things Underrated Writers Project (2005). As “an Impeccable Arbiter of Literary Taste”, who should we be giving attention to that isn’t currently getting it?
RE: Bruce Duffy‘s The World As I Found It, which was published in 1987, might possibly be the most ignored work of genius ever. I’ve never seen any mention of it in print, or on lists, or anything. I know of exactly three people besides myself who have read it. It’s a hilarious, moving, smart 700-page novel about Wittgenstein. It’s brilliant — every page is a delight. I hate that it took Duffy ten years to write and no one mentions it.
Buzzwords: Finally, what aspect about writing excites you the most? Is literature a means or an end?
RE: Writing and “literature” mean different things to me. I write entirely for personal satisfaction. I love it when my subconscious tosses out a little something that surprises me, but that I also recognize as being true. I love creating a thing that holds together and makes sense. I would like writing to be a bigger, more political project, but for me it’s much closer to a handicraft than anything else. And like a handicraft, it’s satisfying to sell, too.
But literature is something else — it’s big and important, like a religion. It can bear endless obsessive analysis and stay vital. It’s the tracking of human inner life over the centuries — so I guess I think of literature as a process, not a means or an end. Or maybe literature is like a Christmas tree: a living thing that sprouts an endless variety of ornaments. I don’t know. I guess a few years ago I could have given you a clearer answer to this question, but lately I feel I understand less and less.
[Tomorrow, J. Robert Lennon]
First posted: Thursday, February 1st, 2007.