When Ideas Acquire Solidity, Part II

Almost five years ago now, I wrote about the strange feeling of going to the a local copy shop to print out copies of my novel in preparation for a manuscript workshop. More specifically, about the strange feeling of walking out of the store with them, that something existing only in my mind had now taken a physical form, had become a thing that existed in the world, like a rock or a highway or a batch of cookies cooling on the counter. Continue reading


In the Realm of Implausibility

Why write fiction? Why read it?

People enjoy stories because they are both like and not like real life. Fiction holds up a mirror to real life, but it’s a magic mirror: ideally it is shapely in a way that life generally isn’t, with a clear arc: of rising action, a sense of change, of forward motion. It leaves out the boring and irrelevant bits.

The successful distillation of life situations to their essence requires — what? Increasingly I think the whole goal of fiction is to make the implausible seem, by a series of subtle, almost imperceptible steps, vividly possible.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of what did and did not work in Pam Mingle’s “Kissing Shakespeare” and Shannon Hale’s “Austenland” and two novels that would seem to have little in common, other than that I’ve recently read them, and that they involve the effort to assume the manners and customs of another time. Continue reading

A Farewell to Something

The news that Scribner is bringing out a new edition of “A Farewell to Arms” with all the 40-something endings that Hemingway tried and rejected was of more than usual interest to me, for reasons that regular readers of this blog will have no trouble guessing.

So other people do that too? Particularly Hem, who has been established in the literary pantheon as the very extreme of a certain type of 20th-century writer: macho, terse, but above all decisive. Hem does not waffle, or so we would like to think. This might be an appropriate time to confess I have never read “A Farewell to Arms,” finding H. rather tedious as novelist, although I think some of his short stories are among the very finest examples of that genre (and I also liked “A Movable Feast”).

But I would would read this edition. Unlike some cynical commenters who saw in this publishing move merely a naked ploy to sell new editions of an old book, I think the process of writing is sometimes more interesting than the result. As I’ve been revising my novel I’ve been taking things out that I no longer think work but might change my mind about later, from single sentences to entire chapters. (I draw the line at single words. I am not that crazy. Yet.) To my astonishment, today I noticed this outtakes file is, itself, 115 pages long.

Somehow the book itself seems to always remain about 390 pages long, however, like one of those magical purses in fairy tales that constantly are full of gold.

The Sense of an Ending

I have been neglecting this blog, but I have definitely not been idle. Several geologic ages seem to have passed since I wrote my review of “Ivanhoe.” I have discovered several surprising new things about characters I thought I knew well. Among them, not to give away any plot spoilers, is that Liam can sing and that Rachel had had a long affair with a (supposedly happily) married man before joining the time travel project. Are these facts important? I think so. Continue reading

The End

I reached it today. I wish I could describe how I feel right now. Like someone who puts the last piece in a 1,000-piece puzzle, except this was a 150,000-word puzzle.
Like — is this it? Really? As Rickie Lee Jones would say, Is This the Real End? A strange mix of exhilaration and anticlimax.
And it’s not like it’s really the end. Revision will be needed. Maybe a lot.
I can’t wait to see what my colleagues at the writers’ workshop, who I already feel closer to, in a strange way, than some people I have known for years, will say.
But then, I kind of can wait, for what if this novel really bites?
I had given myself permission for years not to ask that question. Now it’s done, and I have to. The question virtually asks itself, though fortunately or unfortunately does not answer itself.
I look forward to rejoining the world of normal people, people who go to movies without guilt, though I don’t think I belong there anymore.

The End!

You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.

— John Irving, The Hotel New Hampshire

I think I finally see it. I thought I saw it before, so this might be a false positive, but I think I finally see what I have to do to get to the end. Yesterday I did something I have not done very often since I started The Jane Austen Project: I went back and read every chapter up to 26. (Chapter 27, as written, is dead to me. It is so clearly a mistake, in both incarnations, the original and the redo, that I could weep for all those lost hours I spent writing it, except there is no time for weeping.) I saw bright spots and missteps. I saw missed opportunities and strange passageways. I saw motifs. But the most important thing is, I saw it as a whole, something I have deliberately tried to largely avoid until now, for fear, I think, that there actually wouldn’t be a whole, that there would be nothing, out of all those words, that would really stick together to tell a story. But I need not have worried.

The end has to incorporate and resolve issues that were present from the start or that cropped up in the course of the story. Rachel and Liam have to do something they never expected in a million years that they would do, and it has to be completely believable. But also surprising, otherwise it is not fun.

They went for the letters, the ones Cassandra consigned to the flames before her own death in 1843. In the end, it is about the letters, and what they choose to do about them. About divided loyalties, past and future. Where do they, ultimately, belong? What is the right thing to do?