Birthing a Novel

The publishing date for Fling! draws nearer (July 1), and today my manuscript arrived with the final editing suggestions marked. Since the novel has gone through numerous drafts, the editing is light, mainly copy-editing things.

But the road to this moment has been a long one. When I reviewed my notes for 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. But 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 seems 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. It was great fun to do, but it scared me because it got out of control. By that I mean it slipped out of the ordinary way of seeing into something else. At the time I wondered if perhaps it was my own perverse, bizarre self I feared. But my husband embraces it and encouraged me. He loves that kind of humor. But at the moment, I was torn between this tendency and my more conventional style. I love things that are a bit mad, strange. Over the edge.

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 wit.

So it’s interesting for me to review how Fling! evolved. My notes show how the writer is so intricately interwoven into her work. I was not only unearthing my characters as I wrote, but I also was excavating myself. I would love to hear if other writers have had similar experiences.

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