William Gibson, at Politics & Prose

I had the great luck to foist the toddler off on unsuspecting (albeit delighted) grandparents for a brief time this past Sunday to see William Gibson on his Zero History tour at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC. He tolerated the rambling and excessively self-absorbed questioners with a dismissive wit that comes from many years of doing this sort of meet and greet. He answered the questions he wanted to hear, and admirably ignored the ones that made no sense. In fact, I collected some gems of interesting wisdom to mull over in his talk. Just a few tidbits that spoke to where I am now, just at the beginning of developing my writing process.

  • He emphasized the importance of using “genre” as a narrative strategy, nothing more – that genres should be mixed up, blended together, challenging the reader and using the techniques of each genre to further the narrative as necessary.
  • He talked about how point of view is always written through the diffracting lens of his characters, all of whom are unreliable narrators, in a way.
  • And the last point that resonated with me was his personal reflection on the intensity of the physical cataloging of the world in his novels, and that it’s often the most intense when his characters are lost. This is one of those elements of his writing that I feel has bled a bit into mine, the almost obsessive inclusion of off-kilter detailing of the world and environment. I appreciated the reflection that the environmental absorption of the characters is deeply tied to their moods.

At the signing table, I passed on a brief thank you for being part of my inspiration to start writing, and mentioned that my first short story was being published in a week. It was a surreal moment to hear William Gibson himself congratulate me, wish me good luck and tell me to keep at it. With a genuine smile and a handshake, I might add. I might just be suffering from a few heart palpitations…

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