Terry Southern: The Usefulness of Alienating Your Reader

Interview excerpted from The Paris Review:

I never “decided” to be a writer. I used to write a lot, then show it to my friends—one or two of them anyway—with the idea, more or less, of ­astonishing or confounding them with the content of the pages. I knew they had never seen anything like this before—I mean, the weirdest thing they could possibly have read before was Poe or one of those little cartoon fuck-books, as they were called, whereas my stuff was much weirder and more immediate. I used the names of teachers, classmates, et cetera. These productions were well received by the two or three people—no girls—who read them, but finally I went too far and alienated one of the readers, my best friend, by using his sister in a ­really imaginative piece, perhaps the best of this period. That slowed me down for a while, in daring, but finally I learned not to care too much and would write wholly for an imaginary reader whose tastes were similar to my own.

And this is, of course, is the only way to work well.

Read the full here.


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