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Rhythms of these times

BY REBECCA KOONS | MARCH 24, 2010 7:30 AM

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The writing of a novel, compared with short stories and essays, proved to be a completely different experience for Adam Haslett.

Haslett, 39, can hold all of the contents of a short story in his head at once, whereas with a novel, this practice is a much greater challenge. He found it difficult to fit a lengthy plot in the readily available head space.

The author will present selections from his first novel, Union Atlantic, at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

College provided the appropriate atmosphere for Haslett to let loose his enthusiasm for writing, which continued into graduate school. The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop saw Haslett as a young man cementing his craft, writing most of what would become Union Atlantic.

“It gave me time and it [introduced] me to a great community of people,” he said. “Altogether, it provided a context that was very productive for writing.”

Author Amity Gaige also recalls her Writers’ Workshop experience as one of productivity and progress.

“At Iowa, I learned the worthy, if somewhat laborious, process of extending lines into fiction … making the fiction more of an experience,” she said.

Following Haslett’s 2003 publishing début with the short story collection You Are Not A Stranger Here, Union Atlantic features a young banker named Doug Fanning at odds with retired schoolteacher Charlotte Graves. These two main characters, whose social status and corporate influence are polar opposites, find themselves continually caught up in conflicts of interest and ethics.

Haslett spent five years creating, drafting, and editing Union Atlantic. He said the novel contains some aspects of the moral climate of the country in the last decade.

For Haslett, writing is a labor-intensive practice that can take up to at least six hours a day. The one thing that allows him to be so devoted to his craft is his ability to quiet any judgmental or editorial voices in his head. What follows is a mission to create a rhythm to the sentences he pens in order to capture what he wants in a particular element of a story.

“It always starts with the character,” Haslett said. “The task is to find the rhythm that will give the reader something more than just the facts in the sentence.”

Though his dedication to his work is evident in the amount of time he spends with it, there always lies a great sense of relief and reward in nearing the completion of a project. Knowing the shape of the book, what he is trying to execute, and being able to see the culmination of everything involved in the creative process, Haslett said, provides the “least stress and greatest satisfaction” — even if it is usually short-lived.

What he ultimately hopes readers get from Union Atlantic, or any piece of worthwhile fiction, rather, is the capacity to capture one’s interest and to truly absorb what is in front of them.

“We live in an aggressively distracted world, and I think that one thing novels provide is a way to slow your attention and experience and understand textures of other people’s lives,” Haslett said.


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