Dunes Review Interview Series: Danny Calegari
Danny Calegari was born in Australia and moved to the United States in 1995. He has lived in Boston, Tokyo and Cambridge (United Kingdom), and teaches mathematics at the University of Chicago. His fiction has appeared in Quadrant, Southerly, Overland, Chicago Quarterly Review, and The Age. He is married with three children.
Danny's story "Arabella" appears in the 2018 spring/summer issue of Dunes Review.
What do you prefer to write: prose, poetry, or both? What type of writing is being included in Dunes Review?
I prefer prose. Actually I have a hard time enjoying poetry at all, although I do love Anne Carson.
When did you first begin writing? What first inspired you to write?
I wrote in college, then gave it up for twenty years; I started again three years ago - I guess you say I was inspired by a “mid life crisis” ;)
Do you need to be inspired to write, or is it a job, a routine?
I don’t need to be inspired to write, but I sometimes get ideas late at night or in the shower, and try to remember them. But I basically think of writing as a craft or a skill like anything else, so for me the most important things are exercise (writing on a regular schedule) and diet (reading a lot).
What is your writing process like?
I like to do early drafts, or to sketch out the structure of a story, by hand in a notebook; later I work on my laptop. The best place for me to work is the coffee shop “Build” on the border of Woodlawn and Hyde Park; it’s a beautiful space, sunny in the mornings, with a very diverse and friendly crowd. I try to write for a set time period every morning, but sometimes life gets in the way . . .
Do you usually write for long stretches, or in bits and pieces here and there?
I like to work for 2 hours every morning. But I also make notes higgledypiggledy.
Do you think of yourself as a writer?
Not really; my “day job” is mathematician at the University of Chicago (!) I like to read as much as (or sometimes more than) I like to write; mainly fiction, but sometimes technical stuff (mathematics, theoretical physics). If I had a million dollars I might quit my job and become a penniless writer full time though.
What's the first thing you do when starting a new piece of writing?
Think of an interesting opening, something that would make me want to keep reading.
Do you listen to music or must you have silence while you write?
I get distracted easily. When I know what I’m doing I’m okay with there being music or conversation in the back ground. But when I am trying to put some pre-verbal idea into words I need quiet around me so that I can “listen” to myself (earplugs work fine)
What's your least favorite thing about writing?
The antsy feeling when I don’t have time to do it.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
I’m very impatient; usually I want the piece to be finished well before it is. I should go back and revise more. I guess if it’s published, it’s finished!
How do you feel about sharing your writing with readers?
I love to get feedback when the reader loves the piece and has no criticism to make; I hate it when they point out obvious weaknesses and ways in which the story can be made better. But the first kind of feedback is useless, and the second kind is essential, so what can you do? It’s like Proust so cheerfully says: "our sorrows are obscure, despised servants, whom we struggle against but who gain more and more dominion over us, wretched but irreplaceable servants, who lead us by subterranean passages to the truth and to our death."
Can you tell us about a piece you are particularly proud of?
It’s a story called “White Christmas” that was recently published in Chicago Quarterly Review. The protagonist is a precocious twelve
year old choir boy whose voice is changing, and I like the way he is both sophisticated and innocent at the same time.
Whose writing inspires you?
Sooo many writers! Most recently Jane Austen, George Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, V.S. Naipaul, Marcel Proust, Thomas Pynchon, Raymond Queneau, Edith Wharton . . . but I’m also inspired by mathematical and scientific writing: Daniel Dennett, Richard Feynman, Misha Gromov, Douglas Hofstadter, John Milnor, J.P. Serre, Bill Thurston . . . oof!
Who are you currently reading?
I just finished Rememberance of Things Past by Proust (the translation by C.K.S. Moncrieff), and I’m starting Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon (with Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton as a palate cleanser in between)
If someone were to write a book about your life, who would you want that author to be and why?
Someone already did! It’s The Last Days by Raymond Queneau (the translation by Barbara Wright). Actually I feel as though every book by Raymond Queneau is secretly about me and my life.