Tits-up in a ditch

Can you believe that this is an Annie Proulx quote? Well, not a quote exactly, but the title of one her short stories. Alex and I had the pleasure of attending a live interview with the author here in Brussels last week and she talked about the story of this title. Apparently the expression was used by a woman she knows in Wyoming to describe a friend who was in a very bad situation and couldn’t see a way out. Annie explained that in farming country, if a cow falls tits-up in a ditch then that’s it, there’s nothing to be done. I loved the image and simply had to have the collection with this story in it. Signed by Annie herself of course.

(Do you think I can call her Annie? I know that conventionally you’re supposed to refer to authors by their last name, but doing that doesn’t seem right to me.. It makes me feel like I am so far away from the author, whereas if I’ve read something they’ve written or, in this case, heard them speak about themselves, I think that we should be closer, almost friendly. I think we should be on first name basis.)

Before talking about what I thought about the interview, I should first own up to the fact that I haven’t read a single of Annie’s books yet. I’ve heard of them, of course, and of the movies made, but that’s it. After seeing her speak about herself, her life and her career though, I will most definitely read her work. Can you guess what I’m most likely to read first?

me and annie proulxBy the way, the photo is of me standing by, thinking ‘Damn, I forgot to ask her to personalise her autograph!

The main thing that struck me about as she spoke is Annie’s love of reading. She still now thinks of herself as a reader, rather than a writer. She thinks that writing experience, that ability to know when a sentence is done, for example, comes from reading. She’d read anything and she continues reading even while she’s writing. She doesn’t find it intrusive or distracting, just a normal part of her being. I love that and am sure that many of us can appreciate the sentiment. Could we ever keep ourselves away from books?

I loved hearing bits of detail about her writing process. I thought it fascinating that she has a need to go wherever her protagonists go. That’s how she ended up in Wyoming, in fact. The idea of place is very important to her. She starts with place and asks questions – How did the place become the way it is? How do its people fit in?

Annie said that she considers the short story to be a superior literary form, and the most difficult. She does not understand why creative writing classes start with it. I found this especially interesting – I’m not a huge fan of the short story and I certainly don’t feel that I could ever write one. I just never considered skipping the short story step and moving on to something else – all those creative writing classes must know what they’re doing right?

An audience member asked a question about her being an outsider in the places she writes about, yet she writes as if on the inside. She explained that she thinks that it’s very difficult to write about the world you know, because of your prejudices and bias. As an outsider you can see things differently, offer a different perspective. Here’s another myth challenged then – should we really write primarily about what we know?

This was my first time seeing and listening to an author in person and I’m hooked. I’m glad that seeing Annie Proulx was my first author event. She published her first book aged 56 and she believes in the power of reading. She gives all of us book lovers and possible aspiring writers hope and inspiration.