Greenman is making classic literature engaging. And his own engaging literature. Some may remember his project Hotel St. George Press, which invited his readers to interact with his main protagonist. The seventh and final story was left intentionally unfinished and readers were invited to send in postcards with the missing bits. Here are some of the responses.
In preparation for the release of his next book, What He’s Poised To Do, Greenman is hosting a blog called LETTERS WITH CHARACTER. The conceit is simple. Write a letter to a fictional character, and read what others have sent as well. I wrote one to Dr. Watson, encouraging him to keep his chin up in the face of Sherlock’s mood swings. I also wrote to Ben Greenman (and he wrote back).
Q: What prompted this idea? Was there a frustration with a certain character that inspired you?
A: I have always been frustrated with characters. I talk back to them (not out loud, but in my head) like people talk back to movie screens. I wouldn’t say there’s anything too specific, though the Odyssey always drove me nuts, the way that Odysseus just couldn’t get home on account of his encountering magical beings and hazards.
Q: If someone is interested in writing a letter but feels “out of their league”, do you have any advice on how to start?
A: Start with “Dear [Name of Character]” and just go from there. That may not be very useful.
Maybe this is more useful: Have a point in mind, a motive: Are you complaining? Praising? Noticing? Desiring some kind of interaction that wasn’t present in the original book? Someone wrote me earlier today saying that they wanted to warn Roger Wade, from Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. That seems like a nice motive.
Q: Will the site be open indefinitely? Or do people have to submit by a certain date?
A: It will be open for a while, but Harper Perennial wants to focus on the next month, for starters. Students are still in school, for example, and this seems like a great exercise for them, since letters are a highly compressed form of writing — you have to pretty quickly establish voice, character, tone, audience, and possibly even an argument.
Q: I see you have a book coming out. Tell us a little about it.
A: It’s a collection of stories called “What He’s Poised to Do,” out in June. It is the book that evolved from Correspondences, which I mentioned before. We added nine or ten stories, took one out, and ended up with a set of pieces about…well, I’m not sure I’m the one to say. About humanity? About relationships? All of them have something to do with letters or letter-writing; I wanted to set the book all over time and space (one story takes place in Northern Africa, one in New York, one on the border between India and Australia, one on the moon) but keep certain things consistent, like the fact that people always try to connect with one another and always succeed and fail in equal measure. Letters are at once the cause of this problem and the solution to it. It’s a very different book from the last one, which was a funk-rock novel called Please Step Back (2009), but the themes aren’t so different.
Q: What attracts you to writing in general?
A: It’s the best the planet has to offer, at least to me. If I could sing or I was an especially talented painter or I was seven foot three, I might feel different, but I’m not, and I don’t.
Q: Do you think any of the literary characters will write back?
A: I hope so.
— Interview from May 11, 2010 —
By Ben Greenman
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