7.23.2004

I HEARD YOU LADIES GOT THEM THANG THANGS, DO YOU REALLY?

Oh my, oh my. It is raining and my single clothing purchase of the summer, a pair of thirty dollar linen-ish black capri pants from Old Navy are sort of clinging to my calves, not nearly as sexy as the ass that will sell thousands of books, more just depressing and wet and what happens when you are tromping around with only a deli umbrella for protection.

I don't know how to say this, so I'm just gonna say it: I wrote an amazing novel and I can't for the life of me get it published. This novel kicks ass. This novel--called GIRLY--is exquisitely written. It is heartfelt and takes on shit that means something and is funny and works at the level of myth. It is told by seven different narrators, each with a fully rounded voice, one of which is a supernatural being. My first novel is what happens when you are one of those people who is really not gonna be too capable of any sort of career besides writing novels and when you repeatedly say to yourself over the six years it took you to write it a) "If David Foster Wallace can do it, why can't I?" and b) "What would Toni Morrison do?"

If you want to read this novel, and if your tastes are such that you understand why I think Louise Erdrich is one of our top five novelists, then I'm pretty sure I will email you the damn thing if you ask me to. Unless you love, god I don't know, John Updike and Don DeLillo above all else, it will be one of the best novels you read this year. Probably especially if you are a woman--I think it's not gonna be a total guy thing but I'm open. I want you to print it at work, though, and not spend your own cash on the toner: it's about 550 pages.

I am telling you this now because, though I had given up on selling Girly after half the agents in New York told me they loved it but could never sell it in this publishing climate, I just this afternoon met with a really wonderful agent who loved Girly when she read it last year and was just last week totally appalled at my SECOND novel, which currently exists as two chapters and an outline, because it is full of cliches and the characters are flat.

Exactly!! I told her, but I'll get to that.

This agent--whom I totally adore, by the way--had emailed me that she had serious reservations about #2, so I knew what I was getting into before meeting with her.

I told my mom last night, who is a very active Born Again Christian, that the agent didn't like it but I was going to meet with her anyway.

"Well, honey, sometimes you just have to prostitute yourself," mom observed. "Artists have to prostitute themselves to make money and survive."

(Note: my mom is the sort of Born Again who gets weekly Presidential Prayer emails from Bush--this is true--telling her what to pray for. Despite that, she rocks, I promise.)

So I have just returned, soggy, from Manhattan and this meeting, and you know what, I CAN'T EVEN PROSTITUTE MYSELF! I tried! I left the cliches in there, I didn't worry about getting every side of the characters (as I learned so well to do from studying Toni Morrison very, very closely), I didn't polish every sentence. The book is about a topic I care about, and I care about the characters and am having fun with them, so it's not like the sort of odious prostitution involved, at say, a temp job or law school. But I tried to push Toni Morrison as far out of my mind as possible when writing these chapters and outline. I just sort of wrote the way it seems to me most people who get published write books, but that didn't even work, at least not this round.

Because really, coming up with the fiction that I love that is beautiful and is adequately complex to keep my attention and is about something that matters--or, more, is pushing into some new territory that hasn't been mapped yet, both formally and in terms of content--hasn't gotten me too far. It's gotten me far spiritually and artistically, but I have no idea how to live in this world and continue to create this way.

I told this amazingly smart and fab agent, if I could write another Girly for your reading pleasure I would, I WANT to, but my fingernails are still bloody from the six years it took me to get Girly done.

It takes a long time and a lot of work, so much work, to hit that level where the characters are rounded and you really plug in to the other world where your fiction is happening and then go and make every single sentence, every single paragraph, exquisite, thinking of Raymond Carver sometimes, or thinking of Jesus' Son's luminosity and perfect evocative images. It takes me so much work and energy that it is nearly impossible for me to be on top of any sort of day job that actually pays all the bills and write at the same time. What to do?

"My fingernails are bloody from Girly, still!" I told the lovely agent, and I don't know if this bloody fingernail thing makes sense to most people--I'm thinking of a specific passage from Anne Lamott's wonderful Bird by Bird describing what it's like to show up at your desk every day.

There has to be a middle ground, this agent told me, where the writing is still so good but it's accessible enough to sell. I've been thinking about that, and my hunch is that that's not something I am capable of. That's something that looks and smells like a standard novel, where the writing doesn't grab too much attention, where the ideas are familiar enough but give the average reader a bit to think about. There are really fun books that do this, really wonderful writers who do this, but this is just not something I could spend a year or two on. It would be like going to law school to me, or getting a 9-5 marketing job: I would literally have to drug myself to get through it. I'd be like the depressed orangutan at the zoo.

On the subway home, it occurred to me that my current financial woes, involving a bunch of credit card debt I just have kinda sorta not dealt with and am kinda sorta being forced to, only exist because I was so determined to bring Girly into the world. I racked up the debt so that I could have the time I needed to create in that book the world that this agent remembered, from reading Girly a year ago, as being so real and luminous.

Fuck.

So I'm feeling as soggy as my capri pants. I am just going to sit here and keep feeling kinda fucked and keep listening to Wu Tang until it's time to go to a party for the new literary magazine n+1which promises to be very cool. I know that this situation is what they call Another Fucking Growth Opportunity and I do believe that's true: just wait and see what I conjure next.

xo
--Elizabeth

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