How does writing novels give birth to the author?

The road to publishing a novel is a long one. When I reviewed my notes for my first published novel, Fling!, I was amazed to discover I had started working on it in 1999. When I first began, I had hoped to write a lyrical novel a la Virginia Woolf. Then my husband called my attention to a review of another Canadian writer’s book, Barbara Gowdy’s Mister Sandman. When I read of her comic sense, “both inventive and tough,” I realized again how much I wanted to and can write in this way. But I also had resisted it because the style seemed limited to certain topics. It’s difficult to write beautifully and be funny, and I was letting my desire for beauty inhibit the progression of what later became Fling!

I was particularly taken by how Gowdy steered her story between fantasy and probability; between caricature and portrayal; between broad, cruel social comedy and a sympathetic understanding of thwarted and unhappy people. It gave me hope that I could do something similar but in my own unique way.

In a short story I had written then, I got close to this type of vision. Writing it was great fun, yet the content scared me because it got out of control. By that I mean it slipped out of the ordinary way of seeing into something else, flirting with realism and the absurd. At the time, I wondered if perhaps it was my own perverse, bizarre self I feared. But my husband, a Joyce scholar and American Lit major, embraced what I was doing and encouraged me to go further. He loves the kind of humor I captured in the narrative. Still, I was torn between this tendency to write stories that are a bit mad, strange, over the edge, and my more conventional style.

That’s one reason why writers like Roberto Bolano appeal to me. He writes realistically, but his work always has echoes of something else running through it. Something elusive that, as a reader, I can’t quite grasp. His narratives aren’t exactly dream-like, but they also aren’t mired in quotidian details. And he has a wonderful wry wit.

So, it has been interesting for me to review how Fling! evolved. My notes show how the writer is intricately interwoven into her work. I was not only unearthing my characters as I wrote, but I also was excavating myself.


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