Monday, August 6, 2012

Coert Voorhees

Coert Voorhees was born and raised in New Mexico. A former Fulbright Scholar, Coert has lived all over the world and now resides with his family in Houston, Texas, where he received an MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston. His debut novel was the critically acclaimed The Brothers Torres, and he is the creator and current mayor of the animated education series Grammaropolis.  His new novel is Lucky Fools.

A few weeks ago I asked Voorhees what he was reading. His reply:
When I’m drafting something new, as I am now, I have to avoid reading much fiction. I tend to pick up the rhythms of whatever fiction writer I’m reading, and I learned my lesson when, while reading Denis Johnson’s short story collection Jesus' Son, everything I wrote sounded like a pale imitation. That’s not to say that I don’t read fiction; as a writer of fiction, I need to read it, not just for the enjoyment but to figure out how other writers have solved problems I come up against. Denis Johnson happens to be great at defamiliarization, forcing the reader to experience things in an unfamiliar way; I’ve used Robert Ludlum’s Bourne books for help with plot; I recently read The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart because I was impressed by the intelligent and witty teenage girl narrator, and I wanted to see how Lockhart put it all together.

One of my favorite non-fiction reads, a book I have come back to a number of times, is Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson (no relation to Denis). There’s a lot to like in there, but the most interesting is what he calls “the adjacent possible,” which essentially represents everything that can be created using materials or concepts that exist in the present. Gutenberg, for example, could not have created the printing press if a wine press had not already existed. YouTube would still have been a wonderful idea fifteen years ago, but without ubiquitous broadband or inexpensive and extremely mobile video cameras, it would have stood no chance of becoming more than just a good idea.

The concept of the adjacent possible has been wonderful for me to apply to my own writing. The book-writing process is so daunting that if I tried to imagine the end result when I first start, I would be too overwhelmed to start at all. I rely heavily on the rewriting process; I can’t get from the first draft to the final draft without all the drafts in between—some concentrating on plot and structure, others on language, others on character, others on dialogue. I envy those writers who are able to handle everything all at once (though I suspect they might be mythical). It’s somehow much less intimidating to think of writing not as a series of unavoidable drafts, but as “moving the adjacent possible.”
Visit Coert Voorhees's website, blog, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue