Sunday, September 23, 2007

Goran Magnus Blix, Vida Winter, and the Idea of Eternal Return

Ok, confession time.

I used to write (a lot). I think that a lot of editors get into the business ass-first, wanting secretly to be authors but realizing there are other more realistic or controllable ways to work in making books (and work there creatively). A lot of others are still hoping (again, secretly) to someday to parley their connections into a book deal. Most put these dreams to the side indefinitely, but I think you'll find most editors admit (under pressure) that they used to write. A lot of them will probably even admit that they still think they HAVE a novel in them.

I think I'm a pretty competent writer (yay, catalog copy!), but in the end there's a gap missing between me and a publishable novelist. Luckily, I'm able to see other people's gaps and help them overcome them (hence having a job, etc). Fixing other people's writing: Yay. Writing my own stuff: Nay. Naaaaay.

My secret dreams of being a novelist are mainly stymied by this one particular problem. There is this one idea I can't shake out of my head. It is one particular plot device that keeps coming back and coming back and invading everything I try to write. I've written three--count 'em--full-length manuscripts around the same theme. The most recent one was about two years ago; I ran it by a couple of agent friends and they all shook their heads. It didn't work, they said. Fair enough. Even I knew it didn't work. I just needed to hear it from somewhere else.

It was ok, though--I figured that now that the manuscript had been birthed and looked at that maybe the "problem" was out of my system. I even developed this great plot for a totally unrelated story. Can't do it, though. Every time I actually sit down with Word open [at home, I mean] I "accidentally" just open the old story and start paging through. Oo, this again.

Goran Blix was my Classics teachers a-many years ago. Not only was he a great teacher but he was wonderfully indulgent of all of our secret dreams (he was the kind of guy whose alumni used to congregate in little coffee groups with him long after the class was over). He always had strings of books to recommend for me (generally spot-on recommendations).

He also successfully diagnosed my condition--I was a victim of the Eternal Return. Sometimes, for reasons we don't understand (or, in some cases, for really obvious reasons), our identities become hinged around one particular thing that happened to us or one shocking thing we saw or one story we heard. In my case, it was something completely untraumatizing--a story I heard, this once, from this person I didn't know that well. But I just can't get it out of my head. I keep coming back.

I'm not in bad company, though. I think most authors are obsessed with SOMEthing. I just think that to be a real writer you have to be able to harness the obsession and work with it (or around it) creatively.

Has anyone read THE THIRTEENTH TALE? I loved that book. Anyway, Vida Winter is the name of one of the characters. Vida is a world-renowned author with many, many books to her name. She tells the narrator that for her, her fiction is basically a product of everything except what obsesses her. Her fiction is all based on life experience, but it is life experience that is old enough to have "mulched" so that she can sift through and put together previously unrelated fragments into a believable and compelling but purely fictional story. The story she has never been able to write is the one that has obsessed her her entire life--it's the one that never actually mulched.

So the next question--how to mulch? Goran Blix told me that he didn't think there was a solution--that you need to keep writing the story until you're done with it. Even if that means you're only writing for yourself for the rest of your life. On the other hand, I should be glad--the sake of the story is one of the more honorable reasons people can choose to write. I should be glad I have the story, since a lot of people struggle for a story.

So here I am, half of a writer with half of a story, no time to finish, no time to polish, my head (and date book) full of other people's stuff. Sometimes I think about going back and trying to pick it up, but then I shy away. I think I'm embarrassed that I won't do the story justice...again.

I wonder, will the obsession ever go away? Will I ever be able to put it aside? Or should I not even try?


angelle said...

you know what i'm obsessed with...

it is true. you need time to look back on things with an objective eye and not be close to things so that you can actually change things to make it into a story... link events together. i believe that.

keep working at it though. i think if you keep trying, eventually it'll come together. it may be one of those things that you need to wait on because you need maturity and more life experience to finally figure out what it all means and how it needs to come together. i have a couple of novel ideas rolling in my head that i'm waiting on. waiting to get older, when i can view these things with the eye of somebody who has seen much more.

Lisa said...

Straight to my heart. I had an obsession like this and I probably always will. Eventually, I put it aside and ended up beginning a story that had nothing to do with the one that has nagged at me forever. I could never finish "the one" because it was/is too personal, too close to home and by trying to fictionalize it, I was failing on all counts and certainly not conveying a good story. Maybe it really isn't a good story. Maybe it's just therapy.

It remains to be seen whether or not I can pull off the one I'm working on. I suspect I have one or two more drawer manuscripts to get past before I get one right. Maybe I never will get one right, but I have to keep trying.

I think sometimes when the theme comes first, we're doomed. I used to think that the idea of a novel and good fiction coming from the subconscious was BS, but over time I'm beginning to believe that it's true and that the germ of a story idea starts us off and then we do really discover the story. I almost can't believe I'm saying this.

Ello said...

I had to come and post because 1) I love your name, 2) I love that you blogged about food, and 3) your list of authors you love to hate is the funniest and best thing I've read! Awesome! I am so there with everything on your list except that I've never read Ahern before and I could never finish Krausse, don't know why.

I like this post also. I think I'm obsessed with research and I research the crap out of whatever has gotten my interest and the hours I spend researching only amount to a line or word in whatever I'm writing. I don't know if that counts.

anyway - love your blog!

cyn said...

love this post! thank you for sharing it! heh.

The Writers' Group said...

You're over-thinking this.

It doesn't matter that some one once said we can't write what consumes us. It doesn't matter that two agent friends said it wasn't there. It doesn't matter that you've tried three times. What matters is that you yearn to fulfill this story, you won't rest until you do.

So do.


Bernita said...

Obsessions can be magnificent.
So do.

Precie said...

I think I'm embarrassed that I won't do the story justice...again.

This is the fear that dogs me continuously as I write. Maybe it's just a matter of time and development...when you're at a "different place" in your life, maybe you can approach this topic with a fresh eye and give it the depth and clarity and...well, whatever you think hasn't worked so far.

But you're certainly not alone in these fears and obsessions. :)

Jill Myles said...

I have a novel like this. My agent liked the first version, but before he could shop it, I screamed and asked him not to send it out. I had IDEAS on how to fix it. (Fear) Never mind that I had already fixed it four or five times already.

So I started a brand new, fresh manuscript. Two hundred pages in and I fizzled. I'm still tinkering with those 200 pages. Maybe this guy shouldn't be a homeless man...maybe he should be a hot hero! Maybe the heroine shouldn't be a mortician!

The book is now on incarnation 3 in my mind. Completely different again, but involving the same subject matter. I'm starting to think it'll never get back to my agent's desk. I'm pretty okay with that now. Some stories just have to keep shedding skins on your desk like really icky snakes.

Doesn't make it right or wrong. I figure the story is just not ready for prime time yet. *g*

Kaytie M. Lee said...

I wonder if any of this has to do with the fact that starting a new novel is really, really hard (I know because I'm starting a new novel right now and it's torture). It's easier to fall back on the story you know better than it is to forge ahead into the unknown.

Full disclosure: I'm on my first four sips of coffee so it's entirely possible I don't know what I'm saying at the moment.

Leigh said...

I found your blog by googling (just wait it'll be added to the lexicon of the Oxford dictionary soon enough, if it isn't already) Goran Blix.
I couldn't help but wonder whether Professor Blix was your Classics prof at Columbia. My current obsession, since we all seem to be indulging in confessing them, is to study under him. Reading your post has only deepened my desire to claim him as my Professor as a PhD candidate.
Good luck on that novel, and here's to Goran Blix!