Why I write:
I write because I love language, because I love the sound of words, their color and texture, even their scent, and above all, their power to evoke emotion, and change how we think and feel about the world, about the human experience, about who we are and what we’ll become. I write because I have to, because I want to, because writing is my way of understanding the world around me, of capturing its rhythms, its music, its voices. I write because that is what I do. I write to make and lose friends, to understand what I don’t know. I write because it is better to live one’s shadow than suppress it and blame others. I write because, like other writers, I am angry, very angry, which, as I’ve discovered, can be the best part of me, its expression. I write because of my love for books, paper or electronic, and words on a page, whether it’s comprised of paper or electrons. I write to stand up, rather than sit down all through life, which is why I now compose standing up most of the time. I write to tell stories because stories are a better way of learning about the past, the present, even the future than textbooks of history, which appear lifeless and stale and often don’t tell the truth of things as they really are. I write because I want to be read, as all writers do, even if I have no readers. I write to leave something behind for the next generation and the generation after that.
What I write:
Mostly these days, I write novels, nights and weekends, along with reams of technical work at my day job (yes, I still have a day job, which I like and which keeps me going). As a kid, I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen years old as an assignment for an English class in junior high school. It was hard, I struggled. (I spoke Estonian at home, English was not my first language.) A good neighbor typed it up for me from my handwritten scrawls, this novel about a young Russian boy and an American boy growing up in different worlds, and eventually meeting at the United Nations in New York to settle peace in the world. I vowed never again to write a novel, as I dreamt of becoming a doctor, but now, years later, I’ve written twelve of them, all in different styles, voices, and with settings from all over the world (places whre I’ve lived and traveled). At this point I allow the characters and plots to come to me, rather than try to impose a formula on a narrative, or write in a particular genre. Passion dictates form, and doesn’t always answer to its name. Each narrative, whatever its length or shape, has to fight for its life, its expression. It has to grab me hard, and not let go.
Does it matter?
Of course it does. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it, would I? Some pieces matter more than others in the larger scheme of things. None could be called favorite children, though, no stories or novels, essays or profiles that you pat yourself on the back because you wrote them and want to single them out, because you like them more than others, and want to praise yourself for having produced them. I never look back. Never re-read earlier work in an effort to somehow feel good about myself. The reward is in the writing itself, the flow of language, the discovery of what you thought you knew but really didn’t, the bending of time and space as you dance through history, ideas, people you’ve met and known and loved.
This is the start of chapter 2 from my latest novel Reykjavik, set at the Summit in October, 1986