Month: July 2008 Page 1 of 5


From the movie Miss Potter:

There’s something quite delicious about writing the first words of a story.

So much reading about writing that you might start to hate me

“A Writing Woman” by Gail Godwin is a really excellent piece — almost more a story than an essay or an advice column.

(This is the fourth and final of the Atlantic Monthly articles I mentioned, BUT then there is their whole archive of literary interviews, plus a few articles I found elsewhere. It never ends!)

Fact and fiction, fiction and fact. Which stops where, and how much to put in of each? At what point does regurgitated autobiography graduate into memory shaped by art? How do you know when to stop telling it as it is, or was, and make it into what it ought to be—or what would make a better story?

I think that’s something every fiction (or “fiction”) writer wrestles with. I still remember when Catie scratched out “Fiction Workshop” in the header of one of my stories and wrote (lovingly), “LIIIIES!!”

We are told to write what we know, and then told that what really happened is too boring, or unresolved. Dialogue should be lifelike, not peppered with the yeahs and ums and whats that we really hear. But so much fiction doesn’t “ring true.” And so much non-fiction (at least lately) has been exposed as fabrication.

Where is the line? Does it matter (to readers)? Isn’t it all just marketing anyway?

I don’t have any answers. Just my own struggles.

I was badly in need of a miracle. I was twenty‑seven years old and had not yet become what I had wanted to be since the age five: a writer. True, I wrote every evening, long exhaustive entries in my journal, to compensate for boring days. I had stayed for three years in my cushy government job — helping the British plan their holidays in the United States — though I had intended to stay one year. I had begun countless stories and novels but there was something “off” about all of them. Either they had the ring of self‑consciousness about them, or they started too slowly and petered out before I ever got to the interesting material that had inspired me in the first place, or they were so close to the current problems of my own life that I couldn’t gain the proper distance and perspective.

Andy pointed out that “proper distance and perspective” may be what I’m lacking with The Good Daughters, and what’s causing me to struggle so much with the revision. [sigh] I think he’s probably right. So I’m going back to the drawing board, which is somewhat disheartening because I’ve invested so much time, effort, and heart into what I’ve already written, but also somewhat exciting, because I know I can do better.


These last two are not writing-related, but I liked them.

“The best means of learning to know oneself is seeking to understand others.”

“Yes, that’s it,” he said, in his cool, professional voice. But I saw the blood come into his face; the blush of exultation; he knew he had freed me. Even if it meant freeing me from him.

"That well-known passage"

Wow, I’ve never read SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE (though I have read a couple other books by Vonnegut) but what a passage:

Billy Pilgrim padded downstairs on his blue and ivory feet. He went into the kitchen, where the moonlight called his attention to a half bottle of champagne on the kitchen table, all that was left from the reception in the tent. Somebody had stoppered it again. “Drink me,” it seemed to say.

So Billy uncorked it with his thumbs. It didn’t make a pop. The champagne was dead. So it goes.

Billy looked at the clock on the gas stove. He had an hour to kill before the saucer came. He went into the living room, swinging the bottle like a dinner bell, turned on the television. He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this :

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

Thanks to Sarah for linking to it.

Finding our voice

From Sarah’s LJ:

we’re part of a generation, a suffering generation, with insufficient outlets, the past can no longer help us, we need to help ourselves. I mean, I guess that goes for every generation — you need to find your own anthems and bibles and whatever.

I keep thinking the same thing. And I keep wanting to give voice to that, through my writing, only it’s such a big task and I don’t know where to start.

For the record

Eat Drink Man Woman is a GREAT movie!!

Very Asian, very cute, very real, very unexpected endings.

I should keep it in mind for The Good Daughters revision… Aiya, that stupid revision is going to kill me.

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