The writing of this novel has been an intensive therapeutic process. About that: when I brought my first few chapters to my friend, Sandra, who is a wonderfully insightful, kick-ass therapist, she reported that she didn't like Simon. That's okay, I replied brightly, did you find him at least interesting? No, she said. Shit, I said. He's socially inept, a drunk, rude, spineless, and I don't blame his wife for dumping him. Oh, I said. I think you may be working out your men issues with this novel, she suggested. You think?
Simon needed some constructive therapy if he was going to remain my protagonist, since something other than what I had intended to portray had evidently seeped through. So I had him throw a great stag for his friend, be tender to his daughter, have deep thoughts, revealed his traumatic family history, and various other things to try to pump him up a bit. This spring I gave him a cello to play. What do you think of him now?
I knew he needed flaws to be compelling, but I never intended to convey him as an utter loser. Was he a sympathetic character? Apparently not. I needed both some distance from the character and to get right inside him.
This spring I put the manuscript aside. I felt as if I had written the wrong book. The first draft was done, but it didn't ring true. In April I wrote several chapters told from Katie's perspective. She is Simon's love interest and a catalyst for his transformation. My teacher, Sue, read these sixty-odd pages and observed that the writing was "on fire", but what did I have in mind for Katie? Did her story further the overarchingdramaticquestion? In a word, no. And so, I had to slay my darling Katie. Or at least send her on holiday.
This summer I took a four-day "Freefall" writing workshop with Barbara Turner-Vesselago, and "fell" into my own voice in a way I had never experienced. We had four hours each day in which to write WHATEVER arose, focusing on sensuous detail and moving where the energy took us, not letting our hands stop moving. I wrote about Simon, I wrote about my own experiences in India from a third person perspective, and I wrote about shit that had happened to me. Each day, Barbara put her finger on what I wrote in first person and said, This is the voice I trust. Oh, I thought, great. All I have to do is crack open my ribs and peel the skin off my heart, and voila! there's the authentic voice. Yikes.
She advised me to not worry about the fiction for a while and to try to get my legs under me writing like this - without edit or censure. That lit a fire under my ass that produced fifteen thousand words in a month. It wrote itself. From that practice I began to understand how one actually writes about a life - from past experiences, future hopes, sidetracks, disappointments... that everything feeds into the moment that one writes about, the non-linear-ness of it all. I am aware that this may seem a little first-grade-ish, but at least I feel more competent now to graduate to second grade. All the pieces that I "invented" along the way to illustrate different aspects of character and character response are now in place. I know the story, just as I know my own story: what precipitated change, what rocked his world and why, what he's like inside and out, the different masks he wears and when he puts each on... that's what the first wobbly draft gave me - the life. Now I begin the task of writing it down with past present future informing each moment. And that's exciting. I don't feel half as lazy now.