Creative Writing

Fiction Forum: Andre Dubus III

Last Thursday, prolific author, Andre Dubus III, engaged the audience with a reading from his new novel, Dirty Love, spurring a rangy discussion—the art of writing to technology addiction. Dubus (who says his name is the only thing aristocratic about him) offered insight into his writing philosophies and techniques, and was ever ready with just the right quotes from literary contemporaries. The discussion was moderated by our own Joseph Salvatore.

Andre dubusDubus’ novel, Dirty Love, is a collection of linked novellas in which some characters leave the door of one story and enter another. So how did the idea arrise?

“When I’m trying not to say anything—that’s when I stumble upon my next story idea. Two of the stories in Dirty Love turned out to be phoenixes that rose from the ashes of a failed novel. As Flaubert says, ‘The writer never chooses the subject, the subject chooses the writer.’”

Dubus’ sentences are intricate and artistically taut. When asked when he edits, he said, “You mean at what stage do I know what is bullshit and what is not?” As the audience erupted in laughter, nodding in agreement to that sentiment, Dubus continued, “I can’t write a fast draft from beginning to end. For me, writing a novel is like working on a 40 story building. Story 7 could be the best sex scene I have ever written. But I know it does not ring true and it’s full of lies. And if I take it off, the remaining 30 stories just come falling down. So, I work very slowly and very hard to make sure that each sliver of insight and sensory detail is true and believable. Only then do I go forward.”

andre dubus dirty-love

More highlights:

“When I try to stay loyal to what I want to write, what people want to read; it becomes too contrived. You can’t choose what you really want to write about. What haunts you, what you’re really curious about – it will choose you.”

“Give yourself permission to write for months even though you know you’re going to shave most of it off.”

“Every writer must toss whatever rings false. You need to have a truth-meter in you. Make brave decisions to let go of lines or scenes that are not true to the story.”

“Story is a casual sequence of events with a beginning, middle and end. Plot is just how we arrange this casual sequence of events with a beginning, middle and end to highlight theme or emotional connect.”

“Remember, use plot not as a noun but as a verb.


Andre Dubus III is the author of five books: Dirty LoveThe Cage Keeper and Other StoriesBluesman, and the New York Times bestsellers, House of Sand and FogThe Garden of Last Days, and his memoir, Townie, a #4 New York Times bestseller and a New York Times “Editors Choice.” Mr. Dubus has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, The National Magazine Award for Fiction, The Pushcart Prize, and he is a 2012 recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. His books are published in over twenty-five languages, and he teaches full-time at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Fontaine, a modern dancer, and their three children.

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