CHARLIE ROSE: And this is how the book starts, "I?m Homer, the blind brother."
E.L. DOCTOROW: That?s the line that got me writing the book. I wrote that line down one morning. I didn?t quite understand it. And then I realized that this latent interest I had in the Collyer brothers had just popped up.
As a matter of fact, there are seeds of this book in earlier books. In "Ragtime," the little boy who is at the center of the story, is said to value things discarded by other people. And in "Billy Bathgate," I have a character named Garbage who is an orphan boy who collects stuff on the streets and lives in a cellar somehow with all this detritus. And so somehow this idea has always appealed to me as meaningful. And
it was the idea of the Collyer brothers that interested me.
CHARLIE ROSE: You?re not interested in documenting their story. You?re interested in an idea that came from them?
E.L. DOCTOROW: Exactly. The point is they have two existences, the Collyers, the historic existence and mythic existence, sort of like Abraham Lincoln, only less exalted.
The mythic existence interested me, and when you?re dealing with myth,
you don?t have to do research, you don?t have to worry about the details.
CHARLIE ROSE: But here is what I don?t understand. I don?t understand why you?re not curious to do that. I know you don?t need to do it, but is it counterproductive to know too much?
E.L. DOCTOROW: Absolutely. I?ve known many writers who have researched things exhaustively and they stopped in their tracks. They couldn?t continue. You can?t know too much if you are going to use your imagination.
Really, because you write to find out what you are writing. That is the process in fiction writing.
CHARLIE ROSE: You write to find out what you?re writing?
E.L. DOCTOROW: Exactly so.
CHARLIE ROSE: You once said to me writing is a process of discovery always.
E.L. DOCTOROW: Yes. You don?t feel possessive about what you?re doing. You?re simultaneously the writer and the reader. And you lay down a sentence and you?re reading it and with just with the same surprise or interest that the reader will have, theoretically.
CHARLIE ROSE: And this sentence, "I?m Homer, the blind brother," what was the significance of that?
E.L. DOCTOROW: Well, it was just tremendously evocative. And I realized that here was a myth that demanded interpretation. And I thought of the book as an act of breaking and entering, getting into that house and into their minds and into their imagination.
But all the books -- so this book started with that line. Other books have started, like "Billy Bathgate" started with an image I had in my mind of men in black ties standing on a tug boat, on the deck of a tug boat. And it seemed odd...
CHARLIE ROSE: That they have black ties and be on a tug boat?
E.L. DOCTOROW: ... this work boat. And then it turned out that they were there to take one of their members out in to New York Harbor and dump him in the water for a betrayal he committed to the gang.
CHARLIE ROSE: And that?s why they were there.
E.L. DOCTOROW: That?s why they were there.
And the minute I had that, I had the boy Billy watching in the very first paragraph, and jumping onboard just as the tug boat took off. And that started that book.