Yann Martel's Writing Process
Yann Martel is the author of The High Mountains of Portugal and Life of Pi, the #1 international bestseller and winner of the 2002 Man Booker (among many other prizes). He is also the award-winning author ofThe Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (winner of the Journey Prize), Self, Beatrice & Virgil, and 101 Letters to a Prime Minister. Born in Spain in 1963, Martel studied philosophy at Trent University, worked at odd jobs—tree planter, dishwasher, security guard—and traveled widely before turning to writing. He lives in Saskatoon, Canada, with the writer Alice Kuipers and their four children.
Yann\r\n Martel: In Pi, in his openness to religion, a lot. In Henry in \r\n"Beatrice and Virgil," actually very little. I use Henry in the novel \r\njust as a stand-in for the Jews. So, for example, I don’t play the \r\nclarinet, as Henry does, I’m not an amateur actor, as Henry is, but I am\r\n a writer, as Henry is. I did that, once again, as I said earlier, \r\nbecause the artist were famous, Jews are famously involved in the arts, \r\nso I wanted a figure who was like that. Jews of Europe were often \r\nmultilingual speaking, you know, often Hebrew, Yiddish, and another \r\nlanguage at least, Henry is multilingual. I happen to be multilingual. \r\n But once again, if there are autobiographical elements, I put them in \r\nthere only because they serve my fictional purpose.
Question:\r\n Do you write to get a better understanding of a problem?
Yann\r\n Martel: Absolutely, that’s exactly why I write. In writing "Life \r\nof Pi," I came to an understanding of faith and factuality, faith and \r\nreason. I wrote "Self," my first novel, my obscure first novel, I wrote\r\n "Self," which is about a character who was a boy for 18 years, becomes a\r\n woman for 7 years, and then becomes a man again. There I was looking \r\nat gender identity, sexual orientation identity, just to work out what \r\nit means to be a man, what it means to be a woman. I believe art is a \r\ngreat way of exploring the other, any other, sexual other, religious \r\nother, ethnic other, geographical other. So each one is to explore some\r\n question.
My first book, "The Facts Behind the Helsinki \r\nRoccamatios," I was exploring what stories can mean, how does a story \r\nserve to interpret life? In "Beatrice and Virgil," I want to see how do\r\n we represent enormous tragedy that tends to shut people out, shut \r\npeople up. So each one is an attempt to understand some issue, some \r\naspect of life.
Question: What is your writing process \r\nlike?
Yann Martel: With that little, tiny germ of an \r\nidea, that single idea, and then I think and think and think about it \r\nand it leads me to do a research, that research usually gives me more \r\nideas, those ideas lead me to do further research, and eventually I have\r\n hundreds of pages of notes as a result of research. So "Beatrice and \r\nVirgil," I went three times to Auschwitz, I went to Yad Vashem, I read \r\ndozens of books on the Holocaust, fiction and non-fiction. Even though \r\nthe book is not literally about the Holocaust, there are no Holocaust \r\nfacts in it.
"Life of Pi," I did tons of research on animal \r\nbehaviors, zoo biology, religion, shipwrecks. The next one I’ll do \r\nresearch on, let’s see, chimpanzees, on anatomy, on the Island of Sao \r\nTome, which was a holding station for slaves in a Portuguese colony in \r\nAfrica, I’ll do research on, perhaps I’ll do research on great \r\nteachers. I’ll likely look as Jesus, because Jesus strikes me—just as \r\nthe Holocaust is the defining, is the defining genocide, Jesus strikes \r\nme as the great teacher. Regardless if you’re Christian or not, \r\nan archetypal teacher would be Jesus, but it could’ve been Marx, it \r\ncould’ve been, you know, Mr. McNamara, my grade nine math teacher, \r\nwhatever. I’ll probably look at Jesus in terms of the dynamic of him as\r\n a teacher. So I already have research in mind to flesh out this story.
So,\r\n you start with a little germ and then you look at it and look at it and\r\n you get other ideas and that leads you on, it’s a wonderful process, \r\nactually.
Question: What does your desk look like?
Yann\r\n Martel: It’s totally dull. I think there’s nothing more \r\nuncharismatic than a writer working. Painters can have glorious \r\nstudies, you know, writers work with words, which are highly \r\nconventionalized things. The material of the visual artist is not \r\npredetermined, so studios can look astonishing. Whereas I have, you \r\nknow, it’s a completely, it’s a table with a computer, that’s it. I \r\nhave little pieces of paper next to me that are my little notes, and \r\nthat’s it. Otherwise, I could be an accountant for, you know, as far as\r\n my desk, you couldn’t tell that I’m a writer.
Recorded April 13, 2010
A tiny germ of an idea leads to research, which leads to further ideas and then more research. Eventually the writer has hundreds of pages of notes to work from.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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