The new issue of Ecotone celebrates the journal’s fifth anniversary, and it includes a wonderful interview conducted by editor Ben George with Ben Fountain. At one point, having earlier alluded to the global vision of Fountain’s short-story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, and discussed several of the stories within it, George comments:
“[Malcolm] Gladwell writes that the stories about Haiti are the strongest in your collection, that they feel as though they were ‘written from the inside looking out.’ But I think the lead story, for instance, which we mentioned earlier, feels every bit as much inside Colombia as the Haitian stories feel inside Haiti. Whereas you’ve been to Haiti about thirty times, you’ve never been to Colombia (or Sierra Leone or Myanmar). What is the difference for the fiction writer between having been there and not having been there?”
To which Fountain responds:
“It’s better to go. It would have been better if I had gone to Colombia, it would have been better if I had gone to Sierra Leone. You never know what you’re missing. You never know what you don’t know until you go. But you can’t always go. You don’t have unlimited time and unlimited money. And so you do the next best thing—you try to imagine yourself into these places. The way I did it was to read everything I could get my hands on and to talk to other people who might have information. If there were helpful movies or documentaries, I sought those out. I was just trying to soak it all up and imagine my way into it using that basic research and my own experience in similar places or similar situations. People write historical novels all the time, and in those the writer has to imagine himself or herself into a different era. I think it’s just as valid an exercise to try to do that with space, with the caveat that it’s always better to go if you can. But if you can’t, I think with diligence and a lot of work we can get close to it.”
Source: Ecotone 5.2 (spring 2010). Happily, Ecotone has posted the full interview online. Read and enjoy!