The memoir-novel–or the novel-memoir?

What accounts for our current—or recurrent—fascination with memoir-novels? That’s the question posed in the NYT “Bookends” feature of December 23.

Two very good writers take it on: Leslie Jamison (of The Empathy Exams) and Daniel Mendelsohn (essayist, book reviewer, memoirist). Their points are interesting, Mendelsohn’s perhaps a little more than Jamison’s if you’re looking for an answer to the posed question, since he addresses the issue more directly.

Both Jamison and Mendelsohn write about the memoir-novel from the reader’s point of view. Jamison says, for instance, in an analysis of Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, “We feel ourselves subject to the opaque terms of an authorial presence that refuses to neatly categorize its offering: We are, at once, deeply immersed in the Icy North, its extreme exposures, and deeply aware of the hands that built it for us.” Reader’s POV.

Mendelsohn writes, in dissecting the slippage between memoir and fiction, “What’s interesting is how many readers, judging by the online reviews, weren’t all that bothered by the literary frauds perpetrated by [James] Frey and others: They came for ‘redemption’ and they got it, even if it turned out to have been provided by fiction rather than fact.” Reader’s POV.

Either Mendelsohn or Jamison could easily have discussed the memoir-novel from the author’s point of view, but that was not the question with which they were charged. They did their jobs; now I’m thinking about my job, which happens to be writing a memoir-novel. Or—more accurately—a novel-memoir.

It is not splitting hairs to reverse the order of the terminology. At least, not in my own case.

There are writers who quite deliberately translate memoir into thinly-veiled fiction, and there are legitimate, even good, reasons for doing this: taking a small step back from reality may allow more clarity of thinking; it may also give the writer the freedom to adjust history a bit, for whatever personal requirement—reconciliation, perhaps, or even fear of lawsuits.

The difference between a memoir-novel and a novel-memoir is this: in a novel-memoir, the claims of novelistic thinking come first. A novel-memoir, no matter how closely it is or isn’t based on a “true” story, must work first as a novel. If you have a “true” story to tell in fiction and you cling to the “truth” instead of thinking like a novelist, you may find yourself sacrificing good writing to the demands of your own psychological needs.

Too rigorous? Then don’t write a novel-memoir; write, instead, a memoir-novel, in which you will more easily be able to justify clinging to what (you think) actually happened. You will more easily allow yourself to maintain loyalty to the “truth,” rather than loyalty to good writing. You will not think first like a novelist; you’ll think first like a memoirist.

Of course, if you do that you may risk losing narrative steam, arc, good dialogue, action, depth, breadth, and a dozen other novelistic options. On the other hand, you may feel better about the story you’re telling; you may feel you’re conveying the “truth” with more integrity.

But the novelist’s responsibility is to the novel.

On a small scale, this injunction to think like a novelist brings us back to that annoying “kill off your darlings” concept. Annoying because the phrase is used both to intimidate and chasten writers, when all it really means is that a writer does well to consider the design of her entire novel rather than become attached to small baubles that shine for only a moment and do not add to its overall quality. If the “darling” works, fine; if not, let it go.

So on a larger scale, if a memoiristic point enhances your novel, fine. If not, let it go.

This is what I think each day when I work on my novel: What actually happened was traumatic enough for one person to live through, and writing about it has not so much helped me as given me permission to stay with it and relive it as much as I need to. But when that phase is over, then novel-making must begin in earnest. I must take myself in hand and rethink all the parts that wallow in memoir and undermine the novel.

Writing a novel is a matter of artistry, not therapy. The creation of a novel-memoir may have to pass through a stage in which the therapeutic outweighs the artistry; it may, in the end, coincidentally, be therapeutic. Yet (with rare exceptions) a good novel-memoir transcends that private state of self-healing and expands enough to include the reader.

Questioning is the primary lesson I’ve learned—am still learning—while trying to nail this novel-memoir. That was not how I started out: I started out by spilling my guts onto the pages. When I’d had enough of that, I tried—am still trying—to be my own reader for as long as it takes to get to a complete first draft. It’s edifying. And it’s not even that difficult.

Disconnect just enough to read the pages as if you were someone else. Not a hostile someone else, not your partner or your mother, not the New York Times reviewer, not a reader who’d never in a million years buy your book or take your book out of the library. Think of a reader much like yourself, with the same expectations of fiction that you have, and read through her eyes. Let yourself know when your novel-memoir has turned in on itself and become, mistakenly, memoir-novel. Then fix it.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, MI

The Novel Neighbor, Webster Groves, MO

Orca Books, Olympia, WA

 

so many lives to learn

This story from the New York Times is the stuff of novels, and I hope someone writes it. E.L. Doctorow, for preference.

“Book Behind Pulp Fiction Contest Hides a Respectable Past”

Christmas in Greenwich Village

writers who lived in the east and west village, back in the day, now and then
  • Edward Albee • W.H. Auden
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay • William Burroughs
  • Allen Ginsberg • Emma Lazarus
  • Willa Cather • John Cheever
  • Edgar Allen Poe • Edith Wharton
  • E. E. Cummings • Dorothy Thompson
  • Gregory Corso • Mark Twain
  • Marianne Moore • Jack Kerouac
  • Dashiell Hammett • Sinclair Lewis
  • Lorraine Hansberry • Frank O’HaraIMG_1060
  • John Dos Passos • Dawn Powell
  • Thomas Wolfe • James Baldwin
  • Jane Jacobs • Richard Yates
  • Henry Roth • Sara Teasdale
  • James Agee • Sherwood Anderson
  • Joseph Brodsky • Hart Crane
  • Denise Levertov • Bret HarteIMG_1066
  • Eugene O’Neill • Richard Wright
  • Theodore Dreiser

 

 

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Valley Bookstore, Jackson, WY

White Birch Books, North Conway, NH

Best of Books, Edmond, OK

When writers flail

If you are required (or if you require yourself) to produce pieces of writing on a regular basis, flailing is unavoidable. The definition of “flail” is visually delightful: to wave or swing or cause to wave or swing wildly. lindy-e1378959751286Lindyhoppers and jitterbuggers come to mind instantly, their hands waving and flapping, the girls’ skirts swinging out, the couples dancing wildly.

Unfortunately, that picture leaves out the other part of the definition of “flail”: to flounder, struggle uselessly, thrash, writhe. Uh-oh. Now we’re getting closer to the writer’s truth.

This flailing issue presented itself when I was flailing around, trying to think of what to write for TBUHB for a December 22 post that very few people would be likely to read. Does anyone want to read blog posts when there are only three days until Christmas? This is discouraging to a blog-writer.

On the other hand, if people prefer to shop and bake cookies instead of reading a blog post, then it’s only fair for me to be allowed to flail as much as I want. Freedom to flail, without fear of flailure!

Anyway, flailing came up because my thought about what to write today was a bounce off a really wonderful article in the November 4, 2014 New York Times, called “As a Writer, What Influences You Other Than Books?” Okay, I lied: it’s a half-wonderful article.

The piece is one of the regular NYT series called “Bookends,” in which two writers answer the same question, each in his or her own particular way. In this case, Thomas Mallon aces it with this answer: “I keep photos around me while I write the way other authors keep music in the background, as a kind of atmospheric stimulation.”

Nice. Clear. A cogent explanation of how the photos work for him.

James Parker, however, answered the question like this: “From my fellow bakers, I learned about industry and cohesion and the moral obligation to be cheerful.”

Obscure. Obtuse. Moral obligation to be cheerful?

So okay, he’s opting for puckish in his answer to the basic question. He also states that his “greatest nonliterary influences have been drummers, comedians and bakers.” The rest of his text is—I think—supposed to be amusing and clever, whimsical and offbeat, a pyrotechnic display of references and allusions. Which reads a lot like flailing.

One of the outstanding characteristics of flailing (in writing) is confusion. Another is deflection. A third is showing off. All of these conspire to distract the reader from noticing that not much is being said. It amounts to the writer’s version of sleight of hand. As I read and reread the Parker half of the piece, I understood less and less of what he was writing about.

And as I read and reread Parker’s flailing, I cared less and less about whatever point he was trying to make. If there was a point about what influences him, it got lost among the jazzy phrases; it hared off in odd directions, one after another. It made me think of being cornered at a party by a stoned kid who was absolutely sure he was making scintillating sense and, worse, that his captive audience gave a damn.

And yet his wind-up brought me back to my holiday-season-induced flailing with a thump. Here he is still dithering on about the lessons learned in the bakery where he once worked:

If you’re depressed, maimed, crocked in some way, fair enough—let us know. But if not, then in the name of humanity stop moaning. Keep a lightness about you, a readiness. Preserve the digestions of your co-workers; spare them your mutterings and vibings. It’s highly nonliterary, but there we are: be nice.

I like that. It’s good advice, even if it has nothing to do with the original question. It’s a tough time of year: BE NICE.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Alley Cat Books, San Francisco, CA

Titcomb’s Bookshop, East Sandwich, MA

The Velveteen Rabbit Bookshop, Fort Atkinson, WI

 

Making pleasure last: trilogies, quartets, and series in fiction

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No reader who’s ever devoured a book series needs to be convinced of the thrill: when you finish #1 and #2, #3 is waiting in the wings! And most avid readers can name at least a few beloved trilogies, quartets, or series. (If you’ve ever talked to a “POB”—Patrick O’Brien—fan, you know that series-readers are alive and well and obsessing.)

Every generation of readers has its childhood favorites. My own favorite series were Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames (a nurse!), and Margaret Sidney’s Five Little Peppers. My friend Richard Esparza loved the Tom Swift series. Lots of my women friends are still devoted to Louisa May Alcott’s most famous trio: Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys.

I’m afraid that any of these old series might be laughable to a twenty-first-century child, but whatever gets you reading is the book (or series) that counts.

Fortunately, one grows up and reads better books. Or not: In my twenties (twenties!) my then best friend and I got hooked on the Jalna books (also called the Whiteoaks Chronicles), by Canadian writer Mazo de la Roche. Recently I was wandering the fiction stacks in the New York Society Library and discovered that the Jalna series was right there on the shelf.

Excited, I pulled out a couple of the earliest volumes in the series, which eventually ran to sixteen books published between 1929 and 1960. They were very nearly unreadable. How on earth did we get so addicted back in the early 1970s? I’ll eat my shoe if any other reader out there has even heard of Jalna.

Book series are nothing unusual these days (Harry Potter, anyone?); there’s a good sf/fantasy series list on the io9 website, and mystery fans should take a look at FictFact’s mystery list, “Most Popular Book Series by Genre.”

But even if we ignore the sf/fantasy/mystery/thrillers groups for now, there are wonderful series of novels that will suck you in and keep you enthralled for book after book. Try some of these for your winter reading. They should get you through quite a few storms, mental or climatological.

  • The Old Filtha trilogy by Jane Gardam
  • The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durell
  • The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy, by Nick Bantock
  • The Regeneration Trilogy, by Pat Barker
  • The Bounty Trilogy, by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall
  • U.S.A., a trilogy by John Dos Passos
  • Earth’s Children, by Jean Auel
  • The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster
  • Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature for this historical trilogy
  • The Trees, The FieldsThe Town, a trilogy by Conrad Richter, about frontier life in Ohio
  • The Raj Quartet, by Paul Scott
  • The Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett
  • Chronicles of Barchester and the Palliser novels, by Anthony Trollope
  • The Deptford Trilogy, by Robertson Davies
  • The Cazelet Chronicle, a quintet by Elizabeth Jane Howard
  • The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy
  • the Schmidt novels, by Louis Begley
  • the Rabbit novels, by John Updike
  • the Neopolitan novels, by Elena Ferrante

Thanks so much to friends who contributed their ideas for this post: Melissa Miles; Jane Ciabattari; Karen Baar; Marialisa Calta; Karen Wunsch; Barbara Garber; Richard Esparza; Sharon Javna.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Oblong Books, Rhinebeck, NY

Boneshaker Books, Minneapolis, MN

Children’s Book World, Haverford, PA

 

Death songs

 

 

 

A “death song” is traditionally sung before or after a death, in commemoration.

In 2014 we lost many important and  well-known writers whom we wish to remember. Many unsung writers died too—writers who were, perhaps, friends, relatives, lovers, acquaintances, lesser lights, forgotten authors. Writers who worked alone, steadily, without much recognition. Writers whose suns eclipsed, whose stars faded. We celebrate them too, as members of our community, whether or not we knew them, whether or not they achieved their goals.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 

Nadine Gordimer • Gabriel García Márquez • Walter Dean Myers

Vicente Leñero • Maya Angelou • Kent Haruf • Sue Townsend

Mark Strand • Carolyn Kizer • Galway Kinnell • Radwa Ashour

Siegfried Lenz • Thomas Berger • Maxine Kumin • Daniel Keyes

P.D. James • Eric Hill • Marsha Mehran • Joe McGiniss

Amiri Baraka • Diann Blakely • Saeed Akl • Michael Shanahan

Ana Maria Matute • Richard Eder • Bel Kaufman • Gil Marks

 Mavis Gallant • Paul Robeson Jr. • Claudia Emerson

Jonathan Schell • Mary Stewart • Jack Agüeros

Elizabeth Jane Howard • Justin Kaplan

Martin Gottfried • Susan Spencer-Wendel

Farley Mowat • Ann Marcus • Joel Brinkley

Shon Harris • Peter Matthiessen • Sherwin B. Nuland

IMG_0904Apologies if I’ve inadvertently omitted any writer you feel strongly about; add a comment below, to inform us all.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Wind City Books, Casper, WY

bookbook, New York, NY

Sherman’s Books, Bar Harbor, ME

 

 

Writers & habits

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There’s a wonderfully interesting article by Rachel Toor in The Chronicle of Higher Education, called “The Habits of Highly Productive Writers.” The subhead is this: “There are no tricks to make writing easier, just practices you can develop to get it done.”

Ms. Toor discusses twelve habits, and you’ll want to read what she says about them; this post will make a lot more sense to you if you do. She asserts that highly productive writers…

  • reject the notion of “writer’s block” the way others shun gluten
  • don’t overtalk their projects
  • believe in themselves and their work
  • know that a lot of important stuff happens when they’re not “working”
  • are passionate about their projects
  • know what they’re good at
  • read a lot, and widely
  • know how to finish a draft
  • work on more than one thing at once
  • leave off at a point where it will be easy to start again
  • don’t let themselves off the hook
  • know there are no shortcuts, magic bullets, special exercises, or incantations

There are two tricky issues about this piece. The first is that we don’t really know what Ms. Toor means by “highly productive.” Quantity? Quality? Both? I’d be happier if I knew how she defines the term. I know some writers whom I’d consider highly productive, but they don’t think they’re productive enough. “Highly productive” is a highly subjective assessment.

The second tricky bit is that if you’re a reasonably productive writer (by your own standards) you already know and practice (or know and differ with) these habits, so in a way the article is irrelevant to you. If you’re not a productive writer (by your own standards), it may be relevant but you’re likely to be hiding under the bed sobbing by the time you finish reading the piece.

Actually, there’s a third issue: Is this article about highly productive writers or highly productive academic writers? Since Toor is writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education but uses examples from both worlds—academic and nonacademic—I’m a little confused. Again, “highly productive” could mean two very different things, according to what you’re writing and who it’s for.

It’s the nature of articles like this that they reiterate what we already know (if we fit the profile) or tell us what we might want to know (if we aspire to the profile). When the points are as nicely set out as they are in this article, it’s also a pleasure to see one’s life (or aspirations) described so cogently.

Still, I have a few quibbles with a few of the specifics. For instance: Highly productive writers work on more than one thing at once. Not necessarily. Many h.p. writers can’t spread their thinking over two projects at once; they give all their attention to one project and bash away at it until it’s finished. It’s like being a serial monogamist.

Another instance: Highly productive writers read a lot, and widely. Maybe they all should, but not all of them do. Mystery writers sometimes fall into that narrow-reading category, devouring books in their genre and ignoring almost everything else. A lot of productive fiction writers don’t read nonfiction, and vice versa. Plenty of productive writers have so much going on in their own heads that they can’t stuff anything else in there and hardly read at all.

And then there’s Toor’s remark in the Highly productive writers don’t let themselves off the hook section: “When they start to have feelings of self-doubt—I can’t do this, it’s too hard, I’ll never write another good sentence—they tell themselves to stop feeling sorry for themselves and just do the work.”

Where did that notion come from? I guess there are a few h.p. writers who say that to themselves—there must be. It’s true that h.p. writers ultimately don’t let themselves off the hook, but in the timespan between the self-doubt and the return to work there’s frequently a lot of panic, depression, anxiety, wailing, phone calls, shrink visits, temper tantrums, and worse.

I love that Rachel Toor took on this juicy topic, and it was great fun to read and think about her conclusions. But the problem I always have with definitive statements is that I worry about the exceptions to the definitions. Definitions of normative behavior scare me, especially where writers and all other artists are concerned.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

BookWoman, Austin, TX

Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL

Iconoclast Books, Ketchum, ID

 

Here’s the operative paragraph in a piece in the NYT of December 8, called “Hachette to Experiment with Selling Books on Twitter“:

Do tweets sell books? It has long been a question for publishers and authors, who have started relying heavily on social media to promote books as they search for new ways to reach readers in an uncertain retail market. Authors with large Twitter followings, like John Green and Paulo Coelho, have become publishing powerhouses.

According to research, Twitter works as a platform only if the tweeter already has a following. That’s why this Hachette experiment makes sense—for titans of the publishing world, but not so much for other writers. We’ll see what happens.

 

Getting stomped: the private editor’s (occasional) lot

POW!*#%SMACK*$!BAM!@*SOCKO!#%!

When a writer submits her pages to the Girl Group, the other members read them carefully and make notes in the margins; I read them and line-edit. That’s my job, as with any writer, in or out of the group.

Not long ago at a GG meeting, one of the writers said to me, “At first when I read your comments I thought, ‘She doesn’t understand what I’m trying to do here, she completely missed it, these comments are useless to me.'” And then she laughed. “The next day when I reread your comments I realized you’d gotten it completely and the comments were on the nose.”

That’s not a story about how good I am, but about how much the writer loved her text and needed twenty-four hours to get over it so she could take advantage of the editing. This particular writer is getting better and better, as a result of her openness to possible changes. That’s how the process should work.

If I’m tactful and kind and also incisive and smart, it’s how the process usually works. But it’s not how the process always works. For one thing, I’m human and I goof. Not that often, but yes, I goof. I make a dumb suggestion or I miss the point; I push too hard or I’m unclear; I urge one sort of direction when the writer wants to go in another direction, or the opposite happens—I’m too forgiving and don’t rein in a writer who’s going off on a useless tangent. It happens.

In a writers’ group, where you’re all face to face, this can be corrected quickly. Writer A just says to me, No, no, no, that’s not where I want to take this, and we discuss it and resolve it.

Problems are much more likely to arise when I’m working with a writer who’s in Chicago or wherever and our exchanges are by e-mail. Unless she picks up the phone and talks to me, there’s a chance that her unhappiness with my editing or my behavior can turn into acrimony. This hasn’t occurred very often, because I’m careful about how I edit, but the times it has occurred have been memorable—to me, anyway.

In one case, for instance, I referred to a tiny bit of awkward writing as a problem of the writer’s having English as a second language. She insisted that she’d grown up writing in English, all the way through her MFA, that she’d never written in any other language, and that I was condescending and she was shocked. Whew. Horrified that I’d made such an egregious error, I apologized for giving offense.

And then I carefully reread her argument: “I have never written anything in any other language (except of course when I was a child in school) and I’ve been a professional writer…for fifteen years.”

Whoops: English was in fact her second language, and any editor with a sharp ear (yes, ear) would have caught the same little awkwardness and known it came from that leftover early education in another language. Some writers could have laughed off the mistake and the crit; this writer flew into a rage. End of editing relationship.

And then there’s money. Money—payment—can turn the sweetest clients sour. I try to make it clear to the writers I work with that I do the work quickly and I expect to be paid quickly. I’m a freelancer: fast payment is part of the deal. I’m not a big company that can afford to wait around for remittance. But if a writer doesn’t like the critique I’ve given her, she can take out her anger by dawdling about payment. Hence this little exchange:

Dear X—Everyone pays her bills differently, but I haven’t yet received a second check from you. Perhaps it will show up in today’s mail, but if you haven’t sent it yet, I’d appreciate your getting it to me ASAP. I do the work promptly, so I’m accustomed to being paid promptly. Thanks for attending to this.

Best, Lorrie

And this is what I got back:

Dear Lorrie,

I can’t believe you sent me this e-mail. I pay my bills at the end of the month. I’m insulted by your implication, especially since we only spoke two weeks ago.

I always honor my commitments, even when I’m not satisfied with the results. I won’t work with you again. I’m shocked you would treat a friend of Z’s this way.

End of editing relationship, but she did pay the bill—even though she wasn’t satisfied with the results.

My third-favorite mess was with a woman who was new to writing but hardly new to business. And hardly new to asking for perks she wasn’t precisely entitled to, like requesting I send her not just my critique of her work (as contracted) but also the many pages of manuscript on which I had scribbled the notes I used for writing the lengthy crit that she was entitled to. So okay, I hesitantly agreed to send her the annotated pages, explaining that they were rough and might seem tactless. No problem, she wrote back—she was sure they’d be helpful.

Then she wrote me yet another e-mail asking me to give her advice about the next book she was planning to write, and we had this exchange:

Dear Q—I don’t mean to be rude, but advice (usually called consultation) is what I do for a living, at $100+ per hour. I’ve already given you quite a lot of critique, advice, suggestions, and I’ve even mailed the marked-up pages to you the moment you asked for them. I believe I’ve fulfilled my commitment to you and earned my fee; I simply don’t have time to give you more. Nothing personal at all; just the exigencies of the freelance life. Good luck on the new book.

She wrote back:

Once again I am surprised and saddened by the lack of professionalism in the writing world. Unfortunately I was not aware of exactly what my money bought me and now question your advice. My e-mail could have been responded to with a ten word sentence, not much of your time. I apologize for not understanding the boundaries and promise not to make contact again.

The reason these three creepy incidents stand out is, of course, because they’re so rare. Most writers are wonderful to work with, understand what they need and how I can help them, and then get on with their work. I do not disclaim my own fumbles and stumbles, but it’s clients like these who make me ever more careful about whom I choose to work with.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Kramerbooks & afterwords, Washington, DC

Barbara’s Bookstore, Chicago, IL

Cannon Beach Book Company, Cannon Beach, OR

 

Once more, from Shelter Island

MONDAY: Settling in. Converting the dining table to a work table. Thinking, OMG, if Mike and David saw this mess they’d groan. But what they don’t know won’t upset them. IMG_0963When they return on Friday, all will be perfectly restored to normal. Meanwhile, I have to spread out so I can plunge into my novel. Which I do, and work for several hours without even getting up to stretch.

Working on the novel always begins with rereading and revising; that’s how I get into the work. It’s the best way to slide in, starting at a place I’ve been before and writing forward into new revisions and new ideas. It’s comfortable for a while, and then it gets harder and harder (in a good way) as I make changes and rethink sections that weren’t finished. Half the time I have no idea what I’m doing; half the time it’s perfectly clear to me what needs attention.

What I worry about most is unevenness: is this part as well written as that part? Does this part make as much sense as that part? And I worry about length too—this is a long manuscript, over 650 pages right now. It’s gone as high as 700+ and then back down to the 600s and who knows where it’s headed today. But I’ve given myself permission to write as much as I want, for now. Cutting comes later.

It’s a springlike day, and after working hard all morning and into the early afternoon, a person needs a walk.

TUESDAY: Cold, damp, rainy, a good day to stay inside. IMG_0968Perfect. No temptations. Nonstop writing, except for a break to do Qi Gong—via DVD—for forty minutes. Dress, wash dishes, do laundry, back to work. Write until brain feels like a stuffed turkey and vision blurs. But whole sections of Chapters 15, 16, 17 are starting to make more sense. 

IMG_0964When I began this novel over four years ago, I was too close to the material. The writing had passion and that was good, but being so close to the story made it difficult to fictionalize—too much loyalty to the truth, not enough vision of the work as a novel. That’s changed consistently, as time passes. A relief.

WEDNESDAY: Wake up and can’t move. Yesterday’s Qi Gong was a big mistake. Or rather, it was good for the brain, but a bitch for the low back and recovering sprained wrist. At moments like this—when you’re alone, in retreat, no one available—you can easily slip into panic. Hobbling around in pain is scary.

IMG_0970Manage to make coffee; that helps. Writing helps. By 11:30 all is well, literally, and I can worry about something else: only forty-eight hours to go until it’s time to end the retreat, clean the house, and be ready (meaning dressed decently) for my returning friends. What I am trying to remind myself is that the end of the retreat is not the end of writing. Sounds silly, though it’s quite real—looking forward to the retreat made me feel as if this week implied some sort of deadline. As if I had to reread and revise all the way to the end of the manuscript in one week. Crazy. Ridiculous.

If any student of mine told me that little fairytale, I’d talk her down from it and remind her that she’d been working on her novel for years and she’ll be working on it for many more months. So much easier to do it for someone else than for oneself. Don’t be a dope, Lorrie, I now tell myself. You’ll be working again on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. Stop this nonsense. Get back to the pages.

Cloudy and threatening again, but another walk is needed.

Update on reading progress: zero. No Hadrian, no Cost, no W.S. Merwin poems, no New Yorkers. Nada.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Wild Iris Books, Gainesville, FL

The Spotty Dog Books & Ale, Hudson, NY

Mockingbird Books, Seattle, WA