Question: One thing that really grabs me about this essay [“Ghosts of the Mississippi”] is how you find physical details (in car rides, for example) that I think readers know but often take for granted, and also how they serve to give the reader a sense of the passage of real time. I realize each piece of work comes about in a different way, but do these kinds of details come to you in early drafts or do they appear when you’re revising and editing?
Answer: You’ve hit on a big thing about the book–this preoccupation of mine to slow things down to the point where Time itself is one of the main characters in all its cumbersome infinite-edged finite-ness. My first drafts are beyond dirty, almost everything is out of place, many of the important details are there, but in horrid clumps I then carve into shape. I’ve always loved the plays of Eugene O’Neill–the longer ones–for how they sit with situations in almost real time. Too there’s an incredible movie called “Killer of Sheep” about Watts in the l970s that captures the experience of economic poverty as it is lived, one deprivation or lost opportunity at a time–the weight of each moment pushing down. The more chaotic your life is, I think, the more you have this sense of each moment as not only a blur but as a hook in you that will be there forever.