Tag Archives: John McPhee

This Week’s Best Profile – John McPhee

No, it’s not a profile of McPhee. Or even by him. We’re cheating today, but it’s a worthwhile skirting of protocol. This comes from an excerpt of a Paris Review interview with McPhee. Here’s how to get started:

First thing I do is transcribe my notes. This is not an altogether mindless process. You’re copying your notes, and you get ideas. You get ideas for structure. You get ideas for wording, phraseologies. As I’m typing, if something crosses my mind I flip it in there. When I’m done, certain ideas have accrued and have been added to it, like iron filings drawn to a magnet.

And so now you’ve got piles of stuff on the table, unlike a fiction writer. A fiction writer doesn’t have this at all. A fiction writer is feeling her way, feeling her way—it’s much more of a trial-and-error, exploratory thing. With nonfiction, you’ve got your material, and what you’re trying to do is tell it as a story in a way that doesn’t violate fact, but at the same time is structured and presented in a way that makes it interesting to read.

I always say to my classes that it’s analogous to cooking a dinner. You go to the store and you buy a lot of things. You bring them home and you put them on the kitchen counter, and that’s what you’re going to make your dinner out of. If you’ve got a red pepper over here—it’s not a tomato. You’ve got to deal with what you’ve got. You don’t have an ideal collection of material every time out.

The full excerpt is here. Buy the damn magazine for the whole thing.

Fish shootin’

John McPhee wrote about pickerel fishing – and his father’s death – for The New Yorker this week (subscriber’s only, sorry):

I have laid a fly on the water and seen three wakes converge upon it. Where Genio C. Scott, in “Fishing in American Waters” (1869), describes chain pickerel at such a moment, he says, “You will find cause for surprise that will force you to ejaculate.” For my part, I’ll admit, I damned near fell out of the canoe.

Heh. But I was always struck by the line:

“There are people who hunt pickerel with shotguns. In Vermont, that is legal.”

“Really?” I asked a very nice man at the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. He gave a half-sigh, half-chuckle, and said, “Yup.” This is apparently a phenomenon that has been well-covered by numerous outlets. I could find no video evidence, but could confirm that elsewhere, crazy people do it.

John Mcphee, polymathic writer

This may be my favorite MetaFilter post of all time. It’s titled, simply, “John McPhee.”