George Saunders: Listen to Your Present

From part two of his interview with Patrick Dacey, published in BOMB:

I’ve started to think that this is one of the hardest and most important things a young writer can do: look at his/her heart-influences and ask, very respectfully: OK, given that this great master existed in the world, what else is there left for me to do? That is, you love (for example) Tolstoy, you give Tolstoy his due. But then you have to say: All right, given that Tolstoy has already existed, is there anything in his world-view that I might, slightly, disagree with? Is there anything that I have known and seen and felt in my life that, perhaps (sorry, maestro!) is not fully accounted for in his work? If not—well, there are other things to do in this life. If so, go for it.

For example, I remember reading Hemingway and loving his work so much—but then at some point, realizing that my then-current life (or parts of it) would not be representable via his prose style. Living in Amarillo, Texas, working as a groundsman at an apartment complex, with strippers for pals around the complex, goofball drunks recently laid off from the nuclear plant accosting me at night when I played in our comical country band, a certain quality of West Texas lunatic-speak I was hearing, full of way off-base dreams and aspirations—I just couldn’t hear that American in Hem-speak. And that kind of moment is gold for a young writer: the door starts to open, just a crack.