Book Review: Ron Carlson Writes a Story
“Ron Carlson Writes a Story” by Ron Carlson (Graywolf Press) is a unique and compelling essay that allows the reader to watch over the shoulder of Ron Carlson as he writes the first draft of his short story, “The Governor’s Ball.” In addition to having written eight books of fiction, Ron Carlson has also published short stories in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire and GQ. He also directs the graduate program in fiction at the University of California, Irvine.
This slim book opens with an explanation of how this essay came to be and continues in a friendly tone about the art and craft of writing fiction. Carlson discusses topics such as the source and validity of ideas, and whether or not outlines are necessary, before settling at his desk to write the first sentence of his short story, “The Governor’s Ball.”
Interspersed throughout the writing of the short story are brief chapters on the importance of not leaving the room while writing (no matter how badly you want that cup of coffee), reference books, naming characters and writing dialogue. There are even writing exercises for the reader to try. I think Carlson does a wonderful job of capturing how the mind moves during the creative process: the decisions, the indecision.
As the book progresses, so, too, does the writing of, “The Governor’s Ball.” Characters are introduced, descriptions are artfully crafted and the plot develops until Carlson eventually finds his ending. He closes the book with a marvellous, short meditation on what he believes the job of a writer to be.
“Ron Carlson Writes a Story” is a rare opportunity to eavesdrop on a writer’s thought process as he creates and, frankly, I found it fascinating. I have never read a book quite like this one: probably because it is so difficult to capture the elusive writing process. But Carlson does it admirably well.
(Note: The completed version of, “The Governor’s Ball” is included at the back of the book.)