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How do you write a novel about some of our society’s least sympathetic members? Russell Banks found out just how hard it might be when he wrote his book, Lost Memory of Skin, about a colony of homeless sex offenders. In the video above, he describes his writing process and how he is able to craft characters that readers might not necessarily feel drawn to at the onset of the book: 

He says: 

While writing the book, I was just simply following my own deep personal curiosity and need to understand a life very, very different from my own. Once the book enters the public world, of course, then I have to consider the fact, well, probably not everybody has the same curiosity and interest and desire to understand that I do. And you hope the Kid is sympathetic. And, you know, he’s funny. He’s honest. He’s basically honest and decent, and he wants to be a good person—and is trying very hard. He’s also ashamed and guilty. And a good deal of his effort in the earlier parts of the book is to try to separate out shame and guilt, because he’s internalized society’s view of him as someone who is beneath any kind of civil or personal consideration.

View the entire interview below. 

When it comes to the writer’s life, sometimes you have to wonder how much the audience’s expectations play in to the production of a book. Do writers worry that their stories won’t connect, that this book won’t be as successful as previous works, or do they approach each book from a space of clarity, with their only concerns on whether or not they’ll be able to finish it?

In the video above, 1999 winner Russell Banks talks with PBS’ Evan Smith about why he writes and whether he writes for arts’ sake or for commerce. In his latest book, Lost Memory of Skin, Banks makes his main protagonist a paroled sex offender, someone who, Banks admits might not be the most sympathetic or intriguing of characters.