Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Winter is for Writing

I have been involved in an email correspondence with a friend who is a wonderful writer and who has also suffered a hard loss in the past year. She is getting back to writing and we have been talking about writing and the role it plays in our lives. Sometimes it is the best thing in our worlds and sometimes the worst.

I recently began re-reading John Gardner's On Becoming A Novelist and, as happened when I read it before, it explains a lot about myself to me. Thank heavens somebody can. One thing I often wonder about is why I have so little patience with people who are always making puns and jokes based on words. You would think that someone who deals in words on a daily basis would enjoy word play but I don't and, in fact, usually find it annoying. Gardner made a similar observation about himself and noted that, while word play may be clever, witty, and amusing, it is also superficial and novelists --- more than other writers --- have difficulty dealing with the superficial. We are accustomed to delving deep and when a conversation (or whatever) is interrupted by superficial witticisms, it aggravates us. Well. I certainly can relate to that. It is not my favorite aspect of myself but I appreciate knowing the reason for it.

Yesterday I went out for coffee with a good friend who spent her career as a psychotherapist working with abused women. Since I am beginning work on a third novel and since one of the main characters in that novel is traumatized by childhood abuse I wanted to get her perspective on the progression of my character's character. It turned out to be an exceptionally interesting conversation and gave me a few ideas and perspectives I lacked before. For me that is one of the best parts of being a novelist --- it gives me permission to delve deeply into somewhat unusual fascinations. I've long said that every time I start to work on a book it requires a hundred books to write it. With The Old Mermaid's Tale I read books on shipwrecks and folklore and Brittany and oral tradition and Great Lakes weather patterns and music theory. It was fascinating. Then for Each Angel Burns it was sculpture and theology and mysticism and angels and serial killers and wildflowers and Amish culture. Now I seem to be collecting books about art and voodoo and parapsychology and abuse.... well, who knows where this will go?

I ordered a bunch of books from Amazon today. I am convinced that authors are also the primary purchasers of books but I have no problem with that. I believe in supporting other authors where I can. I am looking forward to long, dark evenings under my down comforter with hot tea and books and ideas that will, I hope, distill into something. A novel.

Even though I have been a fan of novels all my life it has only been in the last few years that I have truly come to appreciate what a novel is. As a fellow writer always says, “A novel tells the truth unencumbered by the facts.” I think that is brilliant and so true. Non-fiction works only deal with the specific situation or subject the book is about but novels are deeper and more far-reaching and truer in a universal sense than a non-fiction book can ever be.

Gardner says that novelists are strange and mysterious creatures. They are often humorless, wounded and odd. If they were not, they would probably not be inclined toward the long, painstaking, deep process of writing a novel. Maybe that is also why so many novelists look forward to the deep, dark, cold winter months when there is nothing to distract them from the page and all the ideas that fuel it. Right now I have friends who are writing memoire's, plays, poetry, short stories, and non-fiction. All ofthem will complain about winter if you give them half a chance. But the novelists, the novelists are different. We are peculiar people and we know it and this time of year suits us.

So I have a lot of work ahead of me. I want to wrap up the knitting book and get it off to press, get the e-press up and running so I can forget about it and finish the final edits on Each Angel Burns. Another set of characters are beginning to find their way through the mist and I want to spend time with them in the dark silence of winter. That's when I hear their voices most clearly.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm, so much of this sounds very familiar to me. It could be that I am a novelist who has not bothered to write a novel...

    I can't wait to read whatever bubbles up out of your winter.


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