What Are You Working On?
I'm at the very beginning of researching a new book, which means I've been reading seriously for about a year. These things take me a lot of time. I definitely draw out this phase, since it's what I most enjoy. It's the part of my work I can do in a bathtub: like Marat, but without the skin condition. I still go to libraries and rare book rooms and antiquarian bookstores, but mainly I'm in that bathtub, re-heating the water every twenty minutes, trying to perfect the phrasing of my reading notes. This could all be a ploy to keep me offline.
I see this book as a novel, but it may settle into something else. I wish I could talk more about the subject, but it feels like exposing a featherless baby in the nest.
Prurience. I was surfing the web late at night and began to read about a famous New York crime of the early nineteenth century, the murder of Mary Rogers. Somehow it developed from that. I spent hours online that first night, and most of the idea for this project is based on what I read then, although I doubt there'll be one mention of Mary Rogers in the finished book. It's like the O'Hara poem, "Why I Am Not a Painter," describing a long poem sequence that he meant to be about "orange." Orange never arrives. Maybe I'll call this book The Murder of Mary Rogers.
If this becomes a work of fiction, the difficulty will be in translating historical events to fictional form: deciding what few real events will form the skeleton of the plot, which real characters I'll preserve intact and which I'll bend to my evil purposes. I'm a pretty faithful scholar; I already know it's a challenge for me to leave the historical record behind.
I've read a lot of Romantic poetry, which is something I hadn't thought to do since graduate school -- Byron, in particular. I've traveled to Baltimore and Richmond and a few other unlikely places. I've spent a lot of time in graveyards. Sometimes you see a bathtub there, planted with flowers. That's probably the appeal. And I've been reading near-death experiences, have been fascinated with states between life and death. Also a metaphor for my bathtub.
My lovely agent, Maia Gregory, died in September 2004. I've been given a few names by friends, but won't pursue another agent until I have a book in hand. My plan is to keep reading. I probably won't put fingers to keys until this summer.
I do have a lot of shorter work appearing soon: an introduction to a new Signet Classics edition of Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room; and an introduction to a Cleis Press reprint of Olivia, a classic lesbian novel of the late 1940s, set in a girls' school, with a lot of breathless hand-kissing scenes. It was banned by the Catholic Church. What higher praise is there?
Interview with Regina about her book Queer Beats
New York Times, 21 Sep 1997: review of Bloomsbury Pie
Information about the infamous Mary Rogers murder at CrimeLibrary
Frank O'Hara's 1971 poem Why I Am Not a Painter*
* To go to this link you must right-click on the link and do Open in New Window
See more What Are You Working On? interviews.
published 27 Jan 06 on Too Beautiful. email copyright 2006 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco