“The well-told story seems to answer something very deep in our nature as if, for the duration of its telling, something special has been created, some essence of our experience extrapolated, some temporary sense has been made of our common, turbulent journey towards the grave and oblivion.”
-William Boyd (from A short history of the short story)
Kevin Clouther (@kevinclouther) was born in Boston and grew up on Cape Cod and in South Florida. He attended the University of Virginia and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He teaches creative writing at Stony Brook University.
While we wandered around and talked about many topics in this episode, we kept coming back to the art of expressing emotion in writing, especially within the genre of the short story. We talked about his short story collection, We Were Flying to Chicago, as well as other authors such as Anton Chekhov and George Saunders (check out his short story Sticks which we mention in the episode). Short stories have always fascinated me in the way in which they can capture something so complex in such a small amount of words. In their fleeting universes, short stories can gesture at the beauty and sadness of the human condition without reducing it too much. Just like certain moments in music, short stories regularly cause an involuntary “mmmm” sound to emerge from my throat as I feel how many emotions are contained inside of such a seemingly simple thing.
Kevin also impressed us with his knowledge of classical music, and we drew many parallels between the worlds of writing and music. Specifically we talked about the balance between technique (craft, skills etc) and emotional expression. The goal of a musician is to aquire the skills of their instrument so that those skills can serve a musical goal. When we use the word musical, it means expressing emotion (whatever that might be) through our sound waves. In the music world we use words like phrasing, line, singing, and lyricism to describe the quality of expressing emotion with our playing. A musician can’t just “play the ink” (hit all the right notes and rhythms), but has to use the notes to serve a higher purpose. But the reality is that without any technique, a musician can’t really express emotion in a mature and convincing way. Kevin agreed that it was the same type of balance with writing. You can find writers (and musicians) who have excellent and seemingly effortless technique, but who lack the feeling and emotion behind their art. The technique will probably impress other writers or musicians who themselves study the craft, but it won’t create the deep moments that can translate the emotions to other humans.
So if you love writing, classical music, and craft beer, then you will definitely enjoy this episode.
Thanks for reading and listening!
Cheers 🍻￼ –Luke from Thunk Tank Podcast