New Beginnings, Old Problems

I’ve been away from this blog for so long I feel almost obliged to fashion some adroit explanation — picnic, lightning — but the truth is, I was doing other things. Reading, writing, rethinking, rewriting. (When does rewriting have an end? I can only say, not yet.)

After “The Golem and the Jinni” I proceeded to read a string of amazing books I wish I had stopped to write about, for now I cannot do justice to them: “Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson, which enlarged my ideas about the possibilities of fiction as nothing has since the Hilary Mantel books about Thomas Cromwell; “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann, with its amazing playfulness with narrators; “Charlotte and Emily,” by Jude Morgan (which despite its name is about all the Brontes, and astonishing) concurrently with “Villette,” Charlotte Bronte’s last, autobiographical novel of Brussels, which gave me a weird sense of doubleness, of Charlotte squared.

Now I am reading “Swann’s Way,” which I started out of a sense of duty, thinking it would be really boring, but finding it quite the opposite. It’s reminding me of “Clarissa.” In the overpowering sense of being inside of the mind of another, and there for the duration. Also in the blank, carefully neutral looks I get from even bookish people, when I confess to reading it, hoping for someone to say, “Oh, god yes, isn’t it amazing?” No one has said that yet (about either “Clarissa” or “Swann’s Way”) but I have not given up.

Additionally, I took an online workshop at The Writer’s Studio, which consumed a lot of the mental energy I used to use in writing this blog, and also gave me helpful new ways of thinking about writing, with its relentless focus on the narrator.

It also gave me a reason to take a break from “The Jane Austen Project” and to start thinking about things I might write next. Although I’ve been sending it around, as I’ve looked at it again, after an interval away, I am seeing more clearly than before all the ways it falls short. Every work of fiction is imperfect; that’s in the nature of things. But it’s also true that some things fall shorter than others, which is why reading “Swann’s Way” is such an amazing experience, and some self-pubbed things I’ve also read this summer have been forgotten almost as I finished them.

And so one day this week, I found myself returning the opening of “The Jane Austen Project.” Which I have labored over intensely already of course, for the first few pages are important. This is where you have to establish the situation, the stakes, the voice. The place where people decide to stop or keep reading. I had thought I had thought all I could about it, but I found this was not true; I found myself rewriting it. Again.

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