Today, I feel like I gave birth to a 13- or 16-year-old (depending on when you consider the moment of literary conception) because I finished my novel. Finished as in finished; it’s packed and ready to go out into the world for the first time…evicted from living merely in my mind, where it had loving and helpful visitors, including a marvelous muse, editor, and doula (my husband, Robert Wexler) but where the novel has lived too long.
My original note for the concept (a tornado girl loses her memory and can see the memories of others) is dated 2001. The first page of the handwritten draft is dated 2004.
So however you count, it’s been a long time.
I’m grateful to the novel’s loving and helpful visitors. I’m exhausted and pleased and a little shocked to be vacated by its presence.
I don’t recall writing this, but apparently I did:
If a person could climb up a ladder to the sky, and look down at the Eight Mile Suspended Carnival, the person would see a sort of living beast, its spine the Tower of Misfortune, its arms the tents, its legs the rides, wheels, gears, its blood the wine and food and excrement that flowed through the bodies of carnies and guests, the air in the beast’s lungs breathed by the humans who worked and wandered inside the cave of the beast’s body. Its head the hotel, its mouth and ass the doorway into and out of its corrugated skin of wonder.
Yellow Springs area readers: If you need some Weird Fiction to temporarily escape this Weird Reality, just take a walk downtown and purchase a copy of Year’s Best Weird Fiction vol. 3 at Dark Star Books! There are 3 copies for sale, so act quickly! (Yes, this post is self-serving because I have a story between those covers, but the other stories are seriously FABULOUS.)
I’m thrilled to announce that my short story “Curb Day” was accepted for Shadows and Tall Trees 7, forthcoming from Undertow Publications. It’s particularly exciting to me because, as I blogged here, in writing this piece, I adapted a process from Lynda Barry‘s process…and it was such fun to dig through compost from last spring’s embryonic essay about junk week and turn it into a story. I’m grateful to Michael Kelly at Undertow for accepting the results. Shadows and Tall Trees 7 will be available in March 2017.
When the actual world isn’t weird enough…this anthology might be. Year’s Best Weird Fiction volume 3 is now available (and it’s lovely)! Still, again, eternally grateful that my story (“Rabbit, Cat, Girl”) was chosen for this anthology. For more information, go to Undertow Publications.
After writing the short story I blogged about here, I tried another Lynda Barry-inspired approach. Looking at a problematic paragraph in my almost-finished novel (a reader had noticed some point of view shifts and was pulled out of the story), rather than my usual method (just working on the paragraph by pruning where I could, or cutting it, or moving it) I thought I’d try handwriting it (double-spacing with extra lines like Lynda Barry had us do) to see what would happen. When I felt like speeding up, I slowed down the making of shapes and focused on the curves of the cursive. By doing that, I was able to get outside the oppressive overmind that usually does this level of editing in my work, and realized where the shifts happened in the paragraph, what I needed to omit. The white space between lines was crucial. Turns out the second part of the problematic paragraph is maybe a better fit for my “new” novel (which I have barely started) but at any rate, it was a great procedure! I don’t think I would have noticed, had I not used this approach, with the slow handwriting, and the extra spaces in between lines. (In WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE at Omega, Lynda Barry said that sometimes all you need is some white space.) Then I retyped the newly cleaved passages from the handwriting, and pasted the parts I was keeping back into their respective novel files.
Retyping was important: though many of the sentences had not changed much, it felt like changing the linens. It refreshed the writing.
So cool! In this back and forth between handwriting and typing and handwriting, I’ve met a sort of wall of water where there are two separate worlds, but this process is a portal between them. And it goes both ways! Freaking magical.
Since attending WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE with Lynda Barry at Omega Institute in July, I’ve used a process Lynda (aka Professor Andretti) described for writing her amazing novel, Cruddy. I adapted the steps a bit to write a short story. My process was:
DRAFT 1: Write the first draft by hand—not with ink and brush (as she when drafting Cruddy), but with a black Flair. Using lined paper, I double-spaced lines. (This is important: skip a line in the composition book, as if your hand is double-spacing).
(I started this story from a very messy prompt/embryo I did last spring about taking stuff to the curb for junk day. We have this junk week thing in our town every year, where you can take just about anything to the curb and either another resident will harvest it or the trash collectors will take it. The essay was what I started with, literally writing the words I had typed up onto the paper, longhand, but veered from the essay totally so it ended up as fiction. Really, I’m dealing with some of my (internal) baggage in this essay-turned-story and so using this ‘junk’ was both cathartic and creative.)
DRAFT 2: Re-copy draft 1 by hand without taking anything out (!) but slowing down and adding things where needed. (This is really important: you must copy everything you wrote in the first draft. You can add as much as you like, but you are not removing anything. When I tried it, it began to feel like I was not cutting myself to shards, but instead just acknowledging that some of the junk—every word!—had a reason to be there, at this stage. Doing this worked against the constant self-critique I usually feel when writing. I wasn’t finding flaws and rooting them out, I was just re-copying words in slow, deliberate shapes with a pen. In fact, as Professor Andretti recommended, when my brain started to go faster than my hand, I deliberately
s l o w e d d o w n
and focussed on making the shapes with my pen on the paper.)
DRAFT 3: Type up. On a typewriter. Professor Andretti used an actual typewriter for Cruddy, because you can only go forward (pretty much) on a typewriter whereas on a keyboard and screen you can go both ways (this ‘just keep moving forward’ idea is an extension of steps 1 and 2 above, i.e. not cutting down but building up, keeping momentum going.) I did this step on word processor because my typewriter needs a new ribbon—but before I used the word processor, I turned off the (judgmental!) automatic spell/grammar check as you type feature. If you try nothing else from my post, try this. It’s totally liberating! I knew I’d eventually do a manual spell check, so I just didn’t worry about it at this point. And I am maybe never turning that sucker back on. Like double-spacing my handwriting, excusing The Judge allows more oxygen in the room of my writing, lets me breathe. Ah! Doesn’t that feel better? Yes.)
DRAFT 4: Here is where Professor Andretti would finally type it up on a computer. Once I had the draft on the computer (see step 3), I did a spell check, and then printed it. It still needed work and I took things out and added things, etc., but a lot of what came through in the process was evocative and strong writing. What came through most of all was the character’s voice. I believe that using this technique allowed her enough oxygen to tell her story.
It was a great and illuminating process. It felt good instead of pressured. (It was actually much more fun than usual writing.)
I’m happy to have spent those several weeks using some of the techniques I learned from Professor Andretti…and living in the not knowing/not fiction/not non-fiction/what the hell is an image/”search for underpants, eee*” zone…and I got a story out of it!
* This is a reference to a song Lynda Barry would sing in the morning at our workshop. I much prefer her/our version to the South Park version—we all sang along with her—but if you want to hear the song, go here.
…my name appears on Amazon. (Maybe not the last.) I’m thrilled that my story “Rabbit, Cat, Girl” is now available between the portable covers of Year’s Best Weird Fiction, vol. 3. And here anthology’s the first review.
At the Omega Institute in July, I read the fabulous Maggie Nelson’s book, Bluets. I marked a passage on p. 81. I wasn’t exactly sure why, except that something resonated. Today as I typed it before returning the book to my friend Melissa, I see its connection to the work of WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE, and oddly, to a short story I’m working on. But when I marked this passage, I wasn’t even working on the story yet.
This is how it works sometimes.
“202. For the fact is that neuroscientists who study memory remain unclear on the question of whether each time we remember something we are accessing a stable ‘memory fragment’—often called a ‘trace’ or an ‘engram’—or whether each time we remember something we are literally creating a new ‘trace’ to house the thought. And since no one has yet been able to discern the material of these traces, nor to locate them in the brain, how one thinks of them remains mostly a matter of metaphor: they could be ‘scribbles,’ ‘holograms,’ or ‘imprints’; they could live in ‘spirals,’ ‘rooms,’ or ‘storage units.’ Personally, when I imagine my mind in the act of remembering, I see Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, roving about in a milky, navy-blue galaxy shot through with twinkling cartoon stars.” —Maggie Nelson, Bluets, p. 81