After the release of Alexander Maksik’s first novel, You Deserve Nothing, its author was embroiled in controversy over the book’s autobiographical aspects, overshadowing the book’s good critical reception.
His second novel, A Marker to Measure Drift has at its centre a young Liberian woman stranded on a Greek island.
Some would call this a complete departure, but the stripped-down prose can only be Maksik’s. Here, he reflects on the books that have shaped him as a writer.
When you started to write, which writers did you revere?
Ernest Hemingway. There were other stories, other novels I loved before I’d ever read a word of Hemingway, but he was the first writer I revered.
Did you imitate any of them?
I certainly tried to imitate Hemingway – both in the way that I wrote and then, regrettably and for too long, in the way that I lived. I had the foolish idea that to be a writer, I had to live in a certain way.
How did you forge a distinct voice? How did you escape their influence?
I got older. I imitated people when I was young, when I had no clear sense of myself. To escape the influence of other writers and develop my own voice (to the extent that I have), I first had to discover what I believed, what I loved, what I hated. Once I began to understand what those things were, I was able to write in response to them. To write well, I think, one must have a clear sense of self.
What is the most dangerous influence or type of influence for a young writer?
The idea that a writer is obligated to write one thing or another is deadly. That we should be writing to satisfy a certain institution or critic, a certain market, or (I hesitate even to write the word) demographic. The result is always bloodless, deadened fiction.
Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?
Faulkner’s for their originality and extraordinary balance of potency, intelligence, restraint, and poetry.
When you are in a period of writing, do you change your reading habits for fear of being unintentionally influenced?
When I’m writing, I try to read work that intimidates me, the writers I most admire, in hopes of absorbing a bit of that brilliance. It’s the bad books that most frighten me – theirs is the influence I try to avoid. When I’m not writing, I’m a bit more catholic in my reading.
This interview, conducted by Globe Books, has been condensed and edited.