Friday, May 7, 2010

Q&A with Author Rafael Yglesias

Rafael Yglesias is a novelist and screenwriter.  The son of novelists Jose Yglesias and Helen Yglesias, Rafael Yglesias has been writing since he dropped out of high school to finish his first novel Hide Fox, And All After (1972).  By the age of 21, Yglesias had published 3 novels. Between 1976 and 1984, Yglesias stopped writing novels to focus on starting a family, writing screenplays instead for financial support.

He resumed writing novels in the mid '80s and published Hot Properties, Only Children, The Murderer Next Door, Fearless and Dr. Neruda's Cure For Evil.  

He returned to screenwriting in 1992. His first screenplay to be produced was Fearless, an adaptation of his novel by the same name, starring Jeff Bridges.  His scripts have been produced into motion pictures directed by Peter Weir, Roman Polanski, Billie August, the Hughes Brothers, and Walter Salles.  
Shattered by the death of his father and the illness and death of his beloved wife, Yglesias again quit writing novels in 1996.  His most recent novel (the first in thirteen years) A Happy Marriage (Scribner, 2009) took the top Fiction honor at this year's 30th annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. 

Read the wonderful praise for this novel here.

 I'm deeply honored that Mr. Rafael Yglesias was so incredibly generous with his time to answer a few questions about his writing process for Musings.


What is your major obstacle, or most difficult issue regarding writing?

These days it's feeling confident.  And concentrating.  I make a lot of mistakes, and have a tendency to rush, to want to be finished, a kind of anxiousness that I don't think serves me well.  When I was a young writer I had all those problems and also I needed to avoid being evicted.  The money pressure wasn't helpful.   

How do you attempt to overcome this?

I don't know what to do about the confidence.  I try to ignore the fluctuations in mood that I experience about my work, to regard it as noise.  I've been writing for forty years; it's too late to change professions.  I try to limit how much I write to a couple of pages a day so I don't go too fast.  And I try to force myself to read and rework passages that I've had trouble focusing on.

Literary fiction and screenwriting are two very different mediums.  How do you change "hats" from one to the other? Are you able to work on a screenplay and a novel at the same time, or do you need a lot of space and time between the two? 

Yes, I have worked scripts and novels simultaneously, when I was young and needed the money to raise my family.  I don't think that served me well.  I don't do that now.  I don't need a lot of time between them, but for me writing a story is like dreaming.  If I wake up from the dream I'm having and do something else -- even another dream -- then I lose a connection to its emotion that seems to me vital.  I prefer writing novels and so, now that I don't need to write scripts, I'm concentrating on my books.

On a personal note, what are the positive aspects of being an author and son of highly-regarded authors? Any negative aspects to this at any point in your career?

My father and mother (both were prominent and successful writers) were born into desperately poor families.  They had a long struggle before they were able to find the time to write.  My father published his first novel when he was forty-three, my mother when she was fifty-six.   I was privileged to grow up during their efforts to write and so I learned from their example and had the luxury of trying much earlier.   My first novel was published a few months before my mother's and very much during the heart of my father's career.  I didn't find it was beneficial to me to be thought of as part of a writing family.  It caused misperceptions such as that all of us had good contacts that could help each other.  The best part of it was that I learned from my parents because I grew up in a household that discussed books all the time, and they were full of the energy and discoveries of young writers thanks to their late start.  There were discouraging aspects too.  My parents were nearly as green as I when it came to being published writers.   Hence their advice, in particular their emotional relationship to writing, wasn't mature and in some ways exacerbated my own youthful mistakes.   
What words of wisdom, or piece of advice do you wish you had received when you first started out on your journey as a writer?

Try to find some other way of making a living that allows you time to write.  Learn everything you can, especially on difficult or abstruse subjects.  Gertrude Stein said it was not her ambition to know everything, but it does help to know everything when you sit down to write.  
Who are some of your favorite writers, contemporary and classic?

Nothing terribly surprising.  Tolstoy, Galdos, Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Zola, Twain, Dreiser, James, Maugham, Shakespeare, Chekov, O'Neill, Dickinson, Neruda, Frost, Maxwell, Larkin, among many others, are all great.  I'm not that well read; there are dozens of other geniuses I've neglected.  

Nor have I read as much of contemporary writers as I should because I find it hard to work on a novel all day and then read one at night.  Roth, Stead, Toibin, Walbert, Mahfouz, Beth Lordan, Schine, Laxness, my good friend Ben Cheever I've read lately and they're brilliant.  I'm sure there are many others.  First rate writing is abundant.  It's hard to justify writing something new as opposed to reading all the thrilling books that exist. 
What are you working on now?

A novel based on my father's life, told from his point of view from childhood on.  It's not a memoir, but a fictionalization of what I know about him, as well as an exploration of how events from a father's childhood and youth affect his son's character without his knowledge. 


You can find more information about Rafael Yglesias and all of his novels at his website.

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