What Are You Working On?
Well, it's actually pretty similar to my past stuff -- it's another memoir, just like the first one, and I've tended to write autobiographically for as long as I've been writing, whether it was poetry or comedy or first-person essays. When I was nine, I wrote a thinly veiled autobiography called, "Me, Maxine." So in that sense, this book is not all that different, because it's all about meeeeeee.
But in the last book, which covered events that took place twenty years ago, I took liberties with the timeframe -- for instance, I knocked six months off the end of my first real relationship, just so I didn't have to detail its long slow decline -- and I also used some "composite characters," (or so I claimed) because I thought I could obscure people's identities and spare their feelings that way. Which didn't work, by the way, and also made me less credible. So I won't be doing that again.
In this book, I'm committed to presenting the facts exactly as they happened. The story is so unbelievable as it is; I want readers to know that I'm being 100 percent honest and forthright (inasmuch as that's possible, for a subjective narrator who was part of the events described). I am taking no narrative liberties. This crazy story actually happened, exactly this way, no shit, and I'm going to include an author's note to that effect.
As for where I got the idea, she was right there in front of me. I resisted writing about her, especially when she became gravely ill -- something I'm discussing in the book -- but I couldn't. I've tried to make this book more about me than about her, but if it weren't for Samantha, there'd be no story.
This time, I'm running the manuscript by the people who were involved in the story beforehand, to get their comments and recollections, and so they can see how they're being portrayed. Fortunately, I don't think there's a single main character in the book who's portrayed in an unsympathetic manner; I don't have any hesitation about presenting the manuscript to anyone.
Also, I'm fortunate that the events were very recent (2005), and that I kept extensive journals and records of everything that was happening, some of which appear on my blog. So I have a very rough first draft already done, in a sense, and I don't have to rely solely on my memories, or whatever artifacts I've retained after two decades, to check my own recollections. My entire family and circle of friends watched these events, as did my editor; it helps a lot to have that many authoritative witnesses who can corroborate or dispute my version of events.
Well, the plot keeps changing. And my feelings about it keep changing, too. In reliving the events of last summer -- literally, "what was I doing last year on this day?" -- I'm reliving a lot of stress, anxiety, pain, and grief, as well as a lot of elation. It's pretty fucking exhausting. I'm also forcing myself to be honest (in this draft, anyway) about some things I may or may not leave in for the final edit. I didn't spare myself or my family any embarrassment in the first book, but it sure would be nice to do so for the second one, if possible, as long as the book remains honest. But right now I'm exposing a lot about myself and the people I love -- and not as we were twenty years ago, but as we are today.
Oh god, it's such rigorous therapy. And by therapy I don't mean self-indulgent bourgeois navel-gazing, I mean a thorough analysis of one's own behaviors and motivations, with an eye to becoming a better human being. I've been taking a reeeeeally long, hard look at myself in the writing of this book, and it's been extremely helpful to me in my own quest for growth, understanding, and all that other happy crap to which I sincerely aspire.
I'm super-lucky, in that my original deal with Villard was for two books, so this one is contracted to be finished at the end of November, and I'm hoping it will come out by Winter 07/08. I'm writing it as fast as I can!
Erlbaum's MySpace page.
See more What Are You Working On? interviews.
published 9 Aug 06 on Too Beautiful. email copyright 2006 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco