Saturday, February 26, 2011

Second Book, First draft: Banish the Editor

Here's the latest dispatch from my Huffington Post blog.

This new story is a big one, about love and betrayal, sex and identity. When I fantasized about writing this book, I imagined it bursting from my fingers like sorcery. I forgot how treacherous a first draft can be; how words elude me, how my voice betrays me, bopping about from hysterical to ironic to desperately sincere. Only six months ago I was working on a final draft. That stage in the writing couldn't be more different. Six months ago I felt as confident as a calligrapher. Now I'm a four year old holding a jumbo crayon. 

My editor self squirms at the work ahead of her.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mary Karr

It's Mary Karr day on Facebook. My friend, the exquisite writer Tina Rowley, has been reading Mary Karr's third memoir, Lit, and it has prompted a number of us to post our favorite Karr interviews on her FB page. Thought I'd collect a couple of them here.

Here's one from the Huffington Post:

I always say to my students, you don't want to reiterate something about anyone's character--if you do it right, you only need to show that aspect of a person's character one time. That's what bad memoirs are like, you know: I got hit over the head with a brick every day of my life, sophomore year it sucked, junior year it sucked, senior year it sucked, and then I moved out. They reiterate the same stuff over and over as opposed to a character advancing and deepening. 

And then this, from the Paris Review, which I devoured when it came out. Here, the interviewer is asking about The Liars' Club, which was first written as a novel. Having written Yoga Bitch as a novel before scrapping it and letting it be a memoir, I felt such recognition reading Karr's response:

. . . the novel is a much more complicated art form structurally. Memoir is episodic—a looser construct than a bona fide novel. You start with an interesting voice; the rest follows. For a real novelist, the fiction provides a mask that permits honesty. For me, a novel became an excuse to make myself look better—my stand-in did volunteer work at the nursing home and knew differential calculus in the sixth grade. And my mother wasn’t my sloppy, turpentine- and vodka-redolent mother, but the complete opposite—a ballerina, very prim.

Lit is a pretty magnificent achievement, and my favorite of her three memoirs so far. Her poetry is also wonderful. I discovered her poetry collections shortly after moving home from New York six years ago, and for at least a year, one or another of them was always in my bag. I was twenty-eight and in the midst of a self-inflicted devastation, having left a home and a beloved man behind in New York, trying--and often failing-- to feel like myself in Seattle again. It seemed astonishing at the time that anything could make me feel less lonely in the midst of so much change and loss. Grief can be so isolating, but her books were a balm. During those difficult years books, which are always essential to my life, became as necessary as food and water. Moreso, even-- I don't eat when I'm sad.

Makes me think of something wonderful David Foster Wallace once said about writing. Let me see if I can find it . . .

Okay, here it is. I wish I could tell you where this interview is from, but I honestly have no idea. David Foster Wallace plays a role in Lit, so all the more appropriate to quote him here.

MS: I'm speaking to David Foster Wallace, the author of Infinite Jest. This may be hard to do, but can you find a way of saying what the difference is between that kind of involution and the complexities of this novel?

DFW: [Whispers]: Boy. [Pause, whispers]: Boy. [Speaks] I probably can't do it and sound very smart or coherent, but I know that -- I guess I, when I was in my twenties, like deep down underneath all the bullshit what I really believed was that the point of fiction was to show that the writer was really smart. And that sounds terrible to say, but I think, looking back, that's what was going on. And I don't think I really understood what loneliness was when I was a young man. And now I've got a much less clear idea of what the point of art is, but I think it's got something to do with loneliness and something to do with setting up a conversation between human beings. And I know that when I started this book I wanted-- I had very vague and not very ambitious...ambitions, and one was I wanted to do something really sad. I'd done comedy before, I wanted to do just something really sad and I wanted to do something about what was sad about America. And there's a fair amount of weird and hard technical stuff going on in this book, but, I mean one reason why I'm willing to go around and talk to people about it, and that I'm sort of proud of it in a way that I haven't been about earlier stuff is that I feel like whatever's hard in the book is in service of something that at least for me is good and important. And it's embarrassing to talk about because I think it sounds kind of cheesy. I sort of think, like all the way down kind of to my butthole, I was a different person coming up with this book than I was about my earlier stuff. And I'm not saying my earlier stuff was all crap, you know, but it's just it seems like I think when you're very young and until you've sort of [clears throat] faced various darknesses, it's very difficult to understand how precious and rare the sort of thing that art can do is.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Paul Auster

"I certainly don't walk into my room and sit down at my desk feeling like a boxer ready to go ten rounds with Joe Louis. I tiptoe in. I procrastinate. I delay. I come in sideways, kind of sliding through the door. I don't burst into the saloon with my six-shooter ready. If I did, I'd probably shoot myself in the foot."