Novelist Rodes Fishburne elaborates on the themes in his new novel.
Question: What is your novel about?
Rodes Fishburne: Going to See the Elephant is a story about a young man who believes himself to be the greatest writer in the history of the world; the only problem is he has not written anything yet. It is a condition many young writers find themselves in.
He moves to San Francisco because he thinks of this as a romantic literary city and a place for him to fulfill his destiny, and he gets a job, sort of sweet talks himself into a job at a place call The Morning Trumpet, which is a third rate newspaper, whose heyday was probably was in 1850, right after the gold rush, and it has been going downhill ever since.
Even still, they think Slater Brown, the name of this young man, there is something wrong about him, he doesn’t quite add up, and so to get rid of him they say, if you are such a hot writer, go find us a story. And they are pretty sure they will never see him again.
He proceeds to go out into the city of San Francisco to look for a story, and a series of things happen to him, and in very short order he is the most powerful person in the city. That’s the nuts and bolts of it.
People ask me how I came to this idea, and I was walking around San Francisco one day about seven years ago, and I saw this guy, I saw my character in a coffee shop, and that was the impetus for me to start to tell this story. And this same character is in Dallas today; he is in New Orleans; he is in New York City; he is in London. It’s the romantic idealized young man or woman who has been a passionate reader, and wants to be a writer, and now is in the process of figuring out how to get there.
And that is really what the book’s theme is about on some level.
Question: What themes most interest you?
Rodes Fishburne: I don’t think I’m probably a good judge of my themes yet. I think they are still emerging. And I don’t think when I sit down to write.
I’m usually drawn in by something that I have heard, whether it is a piece of dialogue or maybe I have seen something, and that is sort of the starting point. When I started to write this book, Going to See the Elephant, I didn’t know where the end was, which was a huge mistake, and I also did not know if could do. It is sort of like training for a marathon, you believe you can do it; you want to do it; but can you do it?
And this book was a process of me figuring out how to do that and writing it was a huge leap of faith for me, but also, as I said earlier, perhaps a benign mental illness. I feel like themes are things that are found after the fact and that most writers don’t consciously engage in that, or if they do, I think sometimes the work suffers because of that.
I find my entry point into these things to be more around characters or a particular feeling or a mood and not I want a story about coming of age or something like that.
Recorded on: June 3, 2008.