Sunday, June 15, 2008

Book Talk

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of writing a novel lately. Not actually physically doing it: just thinking about what the process would entail and what it would be like to do it. I just started reading A Giant's House which was written by this author that taught one of my workshop classes in the Prague Summer Program way back in 2004. I'm so charmed by the book because the characters are so well-drawn and I identify strongly with the point of view. I'm also obsessed with the idea that I've had conversations with the author and the author has read and critiqued my stories and that she's an actual person who happened to write a really good novel. Part of me just can't believe that people are really able to do it and do it well. And that the people who write novels are regular. Except they aren't really regular--they're smart, sensitive, artists, probably, and they're fascinating and sure of what they're doing, at least part of the time, or else nothing would ever get written.

A line that I really like from it: "I am not a person who likes to be touched casually, which means of course that I like it a great deal."

One day I will get a Masters of Fine Arts in fiction writing, but in the fall, I go back to teaching English I and II full time. This creates a bit of confusion for me, because I want to do both things. I also want to join a dance company at the same time. I'm always wondering if what I'm doing is THE thing I'm supposed to be doing at the time, or the thing that will make me the happiest and most vibrant. Sometimes I'm shooting for the thing that will make me the most useful, or the thing I will excel in the most, or the thing that will make me grow.

I read an interview of one of my favorite authors Melissa Bank and she said it took her twelve years to write her first novel, The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing which is really a short-story cycle where all of the stories are sort of connected but still separate. She said she had a boring editor job in New York during the day and she smoked cigarettes and typed her novel at night. The interviewer asked her if this was a lonely life, and she said she used to not want to wake up to go to the boring job after an exciting night of writing. She said she'd ride her bike home at night feeling like the luckiest person in the world.

Of course the first thing I did when I read that was overly-romanticize it and imagine that I should do the very same thing, and that I would feel the very same way. I identify with her writing because it's the exact kind I want to do: it's funny, unpretentious, graceful, intimate, and dead-on without being overly descriptive or pleased with itself. Above all, it's deeply enjoyable to read, not in the sense that it's only highly entertaining but because it's so casual and real that you feel like you know the characters. (Her other novel, The Wonder Spot, is equally awesome.) It's the same way with this book I'm reading now.

I've been walking around feeling, alternately, a sense of hazy wonder where I'm daydreaming about what my novel could possibly be about and a sense of being totally clogged and boring and limited to my life experience, which has been anything but wild or even eccentric or troubled. I'm ass-backwards in terms of the process, I think--I like composing stories, but none of my ideas line up or expand into a plot that would keep anyone reading. I pretty much feel like I could write about anything, but that I have nothing to write about. I'm afraid that maybe I'm just a good describer, but not a good story teller.



Novella said...

You should go for it. One thing that I've learned as a fledgling adult is that most of the people/artists that I worshiped and romanticized as a teenager are totally regular people who through ambition and hard work earned their status. They all are admittedly talented, but I think the most important element in their success is that they put themselves out there in the first place. I've done several interviews lately for upcoming solo shows and the European tour with the band, and when the interviews are published and I read them, I notice how certain things are framed and highlighted to seem extraordinary, when that's not really the case.

You write very well. Put it to use.

Fermi said...

I remember reading the Hunting and Fishing book, but I don't remember much about it. Anyway, it seems like almost anyone could write a book in 12 years. That is inspiring.

What to write about? You don't have to write about your own experiences, one of my favorite authors: T.C. Boyle does tons of research before every novel he does. His short stories are awesome, too. Anyway, he wrote DROP CITY and that is about Alaska and these hippies and it seemed very real (to my trip to alaska) because he did tons of research on Alaska.

People really are mostly the same everywhere, but if you pick something you want to learn more about and research it and write in that perspective that could be both origional and fun!

Tino said...

Wow, thanks for the advice, guys.