My failure as a writer runs deep, with successes few and far between. I won a short story contest in Grade Four, received an honorable mention in a Hires Root Beer contest, wrote film reviews in college, sports for community newspaper, ad copy for Toto toilets, was accepted to a Kenyon College writing program, and most recently serialized a speculative novel for which the publisher lost interest.
The failures are much more profound – nothing published, nothing at all, after 40 years – a few friends who bother to read anything. Not that I write this for sympathy but rather to underline the reality that despite all of this, I still feel the writer, still, as Highsmith says, only know myself when writing things down.
Coming to terms with who I am, remembering the pain and mistakes, not negating, just coming to understand the little wounds and think on the words that give those cuts dimension, not just typing to see the night to the end, but that essential thing coming out like riding my bike into the half dead forest, stripping down, throwing everything away and being naked. It’s the only thing. Or insufferable. One of the two.
Post-humous publication appears the best of chances – to be remembered by a species devolving into apps – and together we go into the ether..
I’ll be standing there thinking I’m faking it, just staring ahead, and I’ll feel like I’m just pretending, waiting for someone to rush to me, the poor lonely kid with no one to love.I feel like that when I’m doing anything, eating, walking, crying, anything, and I’ll think that when I’m dying too.That’s how I am.*
It was that plane – that was it – vanishing, a plane into a building and then that smoke billowing out, that sideways hole, and the other, turning as it hit, nose out perfectly and fireballs, screaming on the ground and crap everywhere and watching and watching, the building coming down, its radio antennae like a hat, a boy’s hat, and puffing out, all of it sinking, the dust of it, bits sticking up.And then everyone saying childish things because that’s all they had and listening and waiting for better angles and thinking it might mean something, to give it meaning, something like this, this thing, impossible and obvious, and not doing anything, just watching, footage, pictures, and thinking that it must be something. 9-11. A phone number, nothing. * (*From All In)
My last novel, All In (2005), centers on a character killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The book is told from three different voices (his brother, niece and wife) months and years after the events. The most powerful voice is, of course, that of his wife, Cheryl. We argued. That’s how I left him. I walked away because I wasn’t listening. It was ridiculous. It wasn’t even an argument. And then I was on the elevator. There was a stout woman across from me; she had folds in her arms, bulging layers at her elbows and shoulders. It was ridiculous how I never said what I wanted. I was angry at him, and I didn’t know why. It was all so ridiculous. I waited in the sky lobby. There was an attendant there from the restaurant; the express wasn’t working. Her fingernails were red. I wasn’t going to call him. He would call me. And then I heard it; it was a vibration and then much louder than that. I stopped and was going to turn to see what it was. I knew it was somewhere else, this sound coming in. I held myself there, twisted against the ground. I couldn’t move. There was only the light on the floor and my hand out in front of me. I was on my side. I couldn’t hear anything and then it was sharp and bright, knocking me flat again so that I was holding against myself, thinking of what I must have broken and where my purse had gone. I was looking across, how the light was orange and grey, and there was the woman, the attendant with red nails, hunched and then standing. I wasn’t going to move. And then I was sitting and trying to think. I smelt gas. It was something they would have to fix. I could see out the window, and there was smoke or fog, something that made it so I couldn’t look out without my hand on my eyes. I couldn’t understand why no one was here. And then my phone was ringing. “Hello?”
Rarely do characters have just the one name. For example, in All In, the main character is called Michael by most, but also Mikey by a colleague and Mike by a niece. Why the difference? What makes him more of a Michael than a Mike? Is it the formality? Is he more of a two-syllable guy? What makes him a ‘Michael’?This is a key issue in my bad side. Everyone – family, friends and colleagues – call the main character “Dee”, until she arrives in Newfoundland, where all the people she meets call her “Deirdre”. She actually tries to correct them, but they won’t listen. It is a moment of transference that she has no control over. Many of the characters in The Life and Home of Gerbi Norberg are Ojibwa and therefore have names which are hard for the Western ear: Bezhinee, Pamequonaishcung, Zawanimkee and Asawasanay. It is nonsensical to shorten the names to Bez, Pam, Zaw and Ass. As much as that may help the reader move through the text, the lyrical nature – and hence integrity – of the characters is gone.