Friday, August 17, 2012

a station wagon crammed full of family, luggage and White Castle food

I am about 13,000 words into my latest first draft of what might turn into a novella. Hell, it might turn into a novel at this point; I’m only in Chapter 3 and there appears to be a lot of territory to cover before I get to what I think might be at the end of all this writing. Mona in the Desert announces itself as the story of my aunt Mona’s courtship by the man who’ll become her first husband. At this point in the narrative, we’ve met Mona and Roberto (the first husband-to-be) but the author seems to be spending a great deal of time recounting his own childhood: events which took place after Mona had divorced Roberto and, as it happens, after she’d already divorced her second husband. The primary events of the story are still out there somewhere, waiting to be drawn into the narrative. I have no idea if all of this stuff the author is putting in about his own family will have anything to do with the Mona storyline. It will be interesting to see how it develops, if the author can pull this off. Maybe it’s just padding to stretch a short story idea into something much too long. Maybe it’s the influence of Chekhov’s story On the Steppe coming out. I hadn’t really considered that until now. Though there isn’t a stuffed buffalo in the Chekhov, and there are no horse-drawn coaches in Mona in the Desert (there is a station wagon crammed full of family, luggage and White Castle food).

Mighty Reader points out that a few years ago I declared that there were two things I would not do in my own novels: write in first person again and write about the modern world. Yet here I am, doing both. Mona appears to be a sort of heavily-fictionalized memoir told well out of order. I am borrowing from Salman Rushdie the technique of making promises to the reader about the narrative-to-come, throwing out hooks and line for the reader to swallow. I was irritated when Rushdie did this, but only because he did it so clumsily; my use of the technique is much much better. Yeah, that’s right, Sal. I am compelled, I think, to do this because Rushdie’s misuse of craft left me with an unsettled feeling, so I am symbolically smoothing the sheets on the bed he left ill made. Or perhaps my meaning is better illustrated with some better metaphor you can write yourself. But I pause to consider the history of writing as a long series of young writers looking at the work of older writers and saying to themselves, "He was onto something here, but he used his original ideas crudely or only partially. I can do it right." So forward into the breach, fuelled by hubris, I guess.

I’m also playing games with the idea that telling a story is telling a lie, that to assemble a narrative we have to falsify records, to pretend, not only to fill in gaps in our own knowledge but also to present the illusion of causality and meaning, if causality and meaning are important to us. This story so far remains undecided on that question. I don’t think I have to decide, either. The narrator makes a lot of claims about narration, but he’s not backing up those claims. Possibly he’s demonstrating that claims about storytelling can’t be backed up. Possibly I’m just writing another unpublishable book, is what I’m doing. I shall be forced to start up my own publishing company, "Fish Nor Fowl Books."

6 comments:

  1. Would you maintain both Sloth and Badger AND Fish Nor Fowl? That's a lot of work! This story really excited me, Mr. B. It strikes me as that perfect balance of story for entertainment and story for self-discovery.

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  2. Fish Nor Fowl Books will be an imprint of Editions Sloth & Badger.

    In a very basic way, what I'm writing is a story about writing. I think. Probably there's something larger and more significant going on that I can't see yet.

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  3. Well, the whole story sounds fun to me. I loved the excerpt you put up before, at least. :) Keep writing, I say. Can I send my unpublishable manuscripts to Sloth & Badger? Because there are ideas brewing in my head all the time of books I know nobody would want. I'm afraid to write them.

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  4. Yes send all unpublishable-but-cool manuscripts to Editions Sloth & Badger! You know I assume that I'm the only person on Earth who'll enjoy any of the books I write, right? It's liberating.

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  5. Yes, I know you assume you're the only person on Earth who'll enjoy any of your books. I'm getting to that point, myself, especially when I read through my published stuff and hate it because I'm trying to see it through other people's eyes. I need to stop, stop, stop that.

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  6. Stop, stop, stop that! Your job is to write what you see, to show what the world looks like through your eyes. How readers see that is their problem. If people are going to like your writing, it'll be because of the perception of life you bring to the work.

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