This Novel-Writing Thing Will Be the End of Me

So, the truth is that one should probably not write a story of the no-good, terrible, very-bad church and the ministers who served there while at the same time feeling a great deal of anxiety about the impending visit of one’s parents.

I have concerns. One of my concerns is that nothing happens in the story, that it is, instead, just a bunch of people sitting around telling each other the stories of themselves that have gotten them into the situations they’re in. What kind of novel is that?! I’m also concerned that it’s too much that the woman who is turning into a flock of birds is also a rape victim, but the Professor asked me how many women are in my book and I was like “a shit ton”–the gal who’s becoming a flock of birds, the other gal who can become a flock of birds, the two women who are married to the dog family, the Watseka wonder, and the preacher’s daughter whose body she uses, plus the gal who’s becoming a flock of birds’ mom and her two nieces. And then the Professor pointed out that that’s pretty much statistically on-target–that one of them would have been raped. And yep, that’s true.

Anyway, I’ve just gotten to the part where the girl who is possessed by the Watseka Wonder is recounting her brief time as a sleep preacher and how her parents didn’t tell her that she was preaching in her sleep nor did they get her medical help right away because her dad was plagiarizing her sermons. And I had this moment where I thought, “Oh no! That’s the real story here. I wrote all this, but the real story is about the kind of man who could be so desperate that he would steal from his daughter and keep her sick so that he could be successful at the job that provided for them all,” and I was frozen with fear that I was writing the wrong story.

But then I realized, in a story in which parents are allowing their daughter to suffer for their own well-being, who thinks the story of the person benefiting from this arrangement is the compelling story?

So, I think I’m a little freaked out, too, because part of telling this story is dragging up a lot of crap for me, which is probably not good crap to drag up just before my parents get here.

And I also think that it has to be a story full of women’s stories because the women in my book couldn’t really do much, just because of their societal situations. So, if they’re going to participate in the narrative, it has to be through telling, not doing. Though I feel like telling, not doing, goes against every rule of fiction writing I could invent.

I need to get into, too, the ways in which members of the congregation would feel free to tell you all kinds of shitty things about your dad and to interfere in how minister’s kids are being raised.

Anyway, I’m feeling weird about it. But I forge ahead, not knowing what the hell I am doing.

13 thoughts on “This Novel-Writing Thing Will Be the End of Me

  1. Been thinking more about this, and while I don’t have much to say about the troubling timing of writing this chapter as your family arrives for the holidays, other than good luck and we’ll mull it over (or drink it away) after they leave and I return from mine, I have some thoughts about the book itself.

    I’m thinking that a book by you would be more about retelling stories than plot anyhow. That just makes sense. And the stories will meander and come together and be separate in all kinds of ways. That reflects who you are and how you encounter the world. You like characters; you are a character.

    I think there’s a range of approaches to fantasy writing. While a well-known one is to create an entire world, that’s not you. And you aren’t quite a magical realist either. So carving out that space between is effort. But it’s the right effort for you.

  2. Thanks. That really makes me feel better. Oh, but I forgot to mention that the other thing that is causing me stress is whether Junior, the dog, and Little Bill, the man whose family claims he can really turn into a dog but can’t turn back, are indeed one in the same. And yet, my narrator wants to know.

  3. I second what the Professor says, B. You are a magnificent writer and storyteller. I say this not only as someone who has read your work, but as someone who just completed a creative writing course and who has fancied myself an aspiring writer for a long time. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately, and the whole ‘rules’ thing, I think, shouldn’t carry too much weight. As you say yourself, some of the characters in your tale weren’t allowed to ‘do’ much in their time. Well, who better to let them show what they could do (telling stories) than you?

    I’ve had similar problems with a project I’ve thrown myself into. I’ll tell you about them some time.

  4. Well maybe the narrator doesn’t get to know everything she wants to know. And not always just when she wants to know it. Why does she want to know? Just curiosity or for reasons that matter? Maybe finding out later will be sufficient.

  5. Ha, yes, but I would like to know! But she wants to know because, if Junior is Little Bill than she pretty regularly sees someone who has effected a transformation she’s having great difficulty getting to happen. If not, then, she’s just talking to a dog.

    Aw, Sam. Thanks. And I’d love to hear about your problems. I’m finding just talking this stuff out makes it easier for me to wrap my head around it.

  6. I’m finding just talking this stuff out makes it easier for me to wrap my head around it.

    I know! But that brings to mind a problem I hadn’t anticipated. As I get further immersed into the world and the people I’m creating, I find the whole thing drawing my conscious attention away from my family. At least that’s what my wife told me yesterday, and I don’t really dispute that. So it’s weird bouncing ideas off her now; it feels like I’m discussing ways I’m going to make love to another woman.
    Maybe I shouldn’t tell her how much sex there is in the dang story.

  7. Ha ha ha ha ha. Well, I will say that you have a commanding use of metaphor! That made me laugh out loud.

    I’m going to pretend in my head that it’s all hot firefighter on firefighter sex.

  8. Thanks, B. Now I have to clear my head of thoughts of knocking bunker boots with some of my female colleagues. Not that that’s necessarily what you had in mind, but, hey, whatever works. Or whatever shouldn’t. I don’t know.

  9. In my dreams, the firefighters are all so hot that they set aside regular notions of sexuality and come up with outlanding death-defying feats of desire that leave the rest of us in awe. It’s not about gender, but who is best able to fit in the position required.

    But I’ve said too much…

  10. When I see articles about a writer’s process I often read that the story and characters take the tale in directions not anticipated by the writer. I’m no writing expert myself, but it sounds like some of that is happening to you. I’d say let the characters stretch your story a bit. You can always clip out what won’t quite fit and use in in another story.

  11. What’s happening to you is actually really good; it’s common. It shows that your work is breathing into it’s own life.

    But here’s the thing….

    Oh never mind. I’ll take the rest of the “comment”…which will be many hundreds of words…elsewhere.

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