What Are You Working On?
Hope and desperation. I've published a lot of nonfiction, essays, reviews, and various forms of agitprop, and started to feel limited by the form (even pre-Frey). I've always been an activist who writes, not a writer with politics, and I wanted to explore the issues I've written about with fewer constraints of "truth." I also wanted to take a step back from the publishing-industrial complex and write a book without a contract, without a publisher waiting for it, without having to consider its market as I write it.
Pretty much everything about it. Writing without a contract, writing fiction, working with an editor I've hired instead of an editor who's hired me. What feels like the biggest shift, though, is that for the first time I'm putting as much attention -- maybe more -- on craft as I am on content. I've never taken longer than a year to write a book before; I've always started with a message and looked for stories to tell that amplified that message, then cranked out the book on deadline.
This time I started with some very vague ideas -- feelings, really -- then opened the chute, let the horses out, and started galloping around the landscape. I still don't know, exactly, what the final "message" will be (although I do know there will be one, or more), and I don't know, exactly, how it will be conveyed. I do know that I'm spending about as much time on each sentence as I used to spend on a page.
Titled The Surrogate, it's about a twenty-year love triangle (rectangle?) between a man, two women, and the son they share. It's about sex, lies, and reproductive technology. It's about the impact of shifting social policies and attitudes, between the '80s and now, on one woman's innermost sexual and emotional life. It's about the pull and tug between adult and child, homo and hetero, right and wrong, red and blue, boundaries and intimacies, lies and truth.
Pretty much everything. Although many of my nonfiction books have been described as "reading like a novel," it turns out, to my chagrin, that writing a book that reads like a novel and writing a novel are very different things. I'm not reporting on characters; I'm creating them. I'm not arranging real-life events to form a plot; I'm inventing one. And I'm not pushing a "point;" the point seems to be pushing me.
At Yaddo I got lots of tips from fellow novelists -- some of the most helpful, seemingly obvious things like "print out every ten pages because the words look different when they graduate from the screen." When I wrote nonfiction I never printed out; I just waited for galleys. What a horrifying moment when, halfway through my second draft, I read the pages on paper for the first time and got out the red pen and started slashing. I thought, NOW, YOU TELL ME!
I'm hoping to have a draft good enough to show a few trusted novelist friends by summer '06. Then I'll rewrite based on their feedback, then (gulp) surrender the poor thing to the marketplace.
Maran's articles in Salon: Off the Couch, her Feb. 2004 look back at years of psychotherapy; The Perfect High, a Jan. 2001 article about an Illinois high school for the gifted; an April 2004 piece in which she wonders why she didn't share in the excitement of the Feb. 2004 gay marriage rush at San Francisco's City Hall
Maran's 1997 essay, An Open Book: the perils and passions of a memoirist's life
March 12, 1995 New York Times review of What It's Like To Live Now
A 1995 profile in Science Survey, about Maran's days at Bronx Science High School where, among other achievements, she organized the female students in a "pants strike"
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published 12 Feb 06 on Too Beautiful. email copyright 2006 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco