Going to see the Elephant

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.

Novelist Rodes Fishburne elaborates on the themes in his new novel.

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Matthew Yglesias and moderator Charles Duhigg explore the idea on Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower?

Keep reading Show less

Landau Genius Scale ranking of the smartest physicists ever

How Nobel Prize winner physicist Lev Landau ranked the best physics minds of his generation.

Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Nobel-Prize-winning Soviet physicist Lev Landau used a scale to rank the best physicists of the 20th century.
  • The physicist based it on their level of contribution to science.
  • The scale was logarithmic, with each level being 10 times more valuable.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Universe works like a cosmological neural network, argues new paper

    Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.

    Credit: sakkmesterke
    Surprising Science
    • Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
    • The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
    • The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
    Keep reading Show less

    Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

    A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

    ESA
    Surprising Science
    • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
    • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
    • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
    Keep reading Show less

    We studied what happens when guys add their cats to their dating app profiles

    43% of people think they can get a sense of someone's personality by their picture.

    Photo by Luigi Pozzoli on Unsplash
    Sex & Relationships

    If you've used a dating app, you'll know the importance of choosing good profile pics.

    Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast