Memory is one of the most powerful tools any artist or creative person has in her arsenal. As in physics, so in literature: one cannot create something from nothing. Creativity is the combining of bits and pieces of memory in a unique way. The way you’ve made that character walk is because, whether you consciously remember it or not, you once saw somebody or something move that way.
Essentially, SocialBook, as [Bob Stein] calls it, will be a website that allows publishers, readers and writers to upload books, new and old, so they can be read and discussed interactively. The book will appear on one side of the screen with a commentary panel on the other side. The uploads will be subject to copyright restrictions and the site will be curated in order to maintain quality. You might think of it as a giant book club, with potential for all kinds of adjunct activities.
The schmoozing was great, as it had been in Montreal. But more than that, we gloried in finding one another. Most of us had been working in silos, with no peers or mentors. Imagine the thrill of finding ourselves among “our peeps” for the first time, with hours and hours for in-depth discussion of what we do and how we do it. Imagine the relief of finally getting answers to those pesky questions we’d carried around for years; the pleasure of providing helpful suggestions to our less experienced colleagues. Every item on the agenda was apt. Every contact made promised concrete mutual benefits.
Some people maintain that writing is a lonely business. In my experience, that’s not necessarily true. When I sit down to write, I am joined by a crowd of internal negative voices: the infernal censor, the cranky critic, and the whiner who keeps reminding me of all the other things I could or should be doing.
Language pulls us along and we swim with the current or against it or diagonally. It’s bigger than any of us and has a lot to do with how we think of ourselves, how the young women in Elizabeth House think of themselves and their children. Think of the words in the mouths of powerful people in your own life that have changed you, maybe a little, maybe for a lifetime: Good, Bad, Lazy, Yes, Stupid, Pretty, Fat, Brilliant, Lovely, Never, No, Wonderful.
I was at a friend’s house and we were talking about death and the statistical probability of heaven, all that deep stuff you talk about over tea on a cold winter’s day. I was thinking about all those viewings I had been to in my lifetime, how the faces of people in their coffins never quite look like they are just asleep. I couldn’t for the life of me fathom what it would be like to not exist.
I met up with St. Hilaire to talk about the relationship between writers and their readers. We spoke broadly on the subject: authors in relation to the general public, to friends, to publishers, and even to reviewers. We also discussed the relationship specific to her own situation as a writer of erotic fiction.
Finally, I had the temerity to ask what weaknesses he had as a poet. He responded that his mentor Bernard MacLaverty had told him an anecdote about W. Somerset Maugham. When asked the same question at an interview in Paris the English writer had stated: “My books don’t have lyrical quality.” Whenever any critic reviewed any book by Maugham subsequently, after bouts of praise they would always end with “of course, his writing has no lyrical quality.” We spoke no more of weaknesses.
There was no murder, but there was illicit sex, suicide, a trial. It was a big story and so difficult to research that I gave up working on it several times. Too much of the source material derived from smudged editions of newspapers on microfilm. Too much of it was couched in nineteenth-century legalese. But even as I contorted my back over the microfilm reader and strained my eyes trying to decipher poorly reproduced pages of ancient newsprint, the story would not let go of me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about story, about the patterns that stories take. When I begin to write a book, I rarely know where it’s going. But go it does, on and on, through a trajectory that is both consciously and unconsciously created. It mainly follows the Western story arc–conflict, rising action, climax, denouement. Even though that seems formulaic, when I write that arc stretches above me, like a preordained path that I, willy-nilly, must follow.