Friday, July 28, 2006

Tracing My Writer Life

It was many years before I understood that I had surrendered myself to the chief temptation of the artist, creation without toil. W.B. Yeats

In 1980 or so, my friend Peter Thomas inherited Fiddlehead Poetry Books from Fred Cogswell. He decided in 1981 that he wanted to start a fiction imprint, Goose Lane Editions. He needed a first manuscript, he knew I had been writing novels, and he asked me if I would submit one to him. I chose two of the four I had written and submitted them. He chose Flora, Write This Down. I had been writing for fifteen years without any desire to publish, just for the pleasure of writing, and if Peter hadn’t asked me, I might never have got up the gumption to try to publish.

My novels are definitely not plot-driven, mainly because I am deficient in plot construction. I begin with an image, a scene, an idea, with no notion of where the novels will go. When people learn that I am a writer, they invariably ask me, “What kind of novels do you write? Mystery? Romance? Detective?” I have to answer, “Literary novels.” “What are they about?” I don’t have a good answer for that, but usually I say, “About different kinds of family.” If I had been born 20 years later, these plot-less novels would never have been published, and this life that I have been tracing would have been very different. Once when I was discouraged about writing, I said to Bill, “I don’t want to be a writer anymore.” He said, “What are you going to do? Send out an announcement that you are no longer a writer?”

Now I am once again discouraged; I am old; I no longer want to be a writer. But the thing is, the novels are out there. Unread, true, but still out there, so alas, I am a writer whether I want to be or not. I have been working on a novel for 15 years, writing, re-writing. Back in 1981 I would just have abandoned it and gone on to something new and exciting. But now, after all these years, it seems that the thing can’t rest until it is published. In its various shapes, I have sent it to two publishers, who wrote nice things about it but still rejected it, and one agent, who agreed to hawk it, but couldn’t.

Like Yeats, I have yielding to the temptation of creation without toil: this blog.

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