Writers@Grinnell: Tom Rayfiel gets personal

W@G - Chris Lee

On Thursday, Sept. 18, author Thomas Rayfiel ’80, read from his latest novel, “In Pinelight” and a short essay, “Artists Dying” as a part of the Writers@Grinnell series after speaking with students in a roundtable discussion.

Rayfiel is the author of six novels, including the ‘Eve Trilogy’ written in the voice of a 14-year-old girl.

“For me, I think it’s voice,” Rayfiel said, explaining his strengths as a writer. “I started writing in [Eve’s] voice because it enabled me to write in a way I wouldn’t otherwise even think. I found it incredibly liberating.”

His latest novel, published last year, is written in a stream of consciousness from the point of view of an old man looking back at his life. The novel tackles issues of love, loss, family relationships and age, propelled by a rich, unpunctuated tone and an effortless first-person voice.

When asked about his experiences on writing through the voices of various disparate characters across his novels, he pointed to his struggle with the constant fear of boring himself. “I want something extreme,” Rayfiel said. “I have this horror of the ‘ordinary novel.’”

As a writer, Rayfiel draws a lot of his material from his personal life and experiences. His first job out of college had him working at a rather empty hotel in upstate New York, where he met a night watchman whose almost rhythmic voice seeped into his latest novel.

“The hotel looked like it was straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,’” Rayfiel said.

Rayfiel’s thrust comes from his tendency to break an age-old rule of fiction—write what you know.

“You’re basically telling the reader something you already know,” Rayfiel said. “There’s nothing new you can discover while writing, then.”

In lieu of pre-professional guidance to the dozens of college students that sat around him on Thursday afternoon, Rayfiel offered three succinct pieces of advice—read, endure and take long walks.

Compiled by Varun Nayar ’15 and Chris Lee’ 15