Letting Go

November 18, 2017Inspiration

Last month at the Brattleboro Literary Festival a friend and I went to Joyce Maynard’s reading of her new book, The Best of Us: A Memoir.

I didn’t know much about Maynard with the exception that she had written for The New York Times,An 18-Year-Old Looks Back on Life”, during her first year at Yale. I also knew that essay inspired J. D. Salinger to correspond with her. After a series of letters, they met, and shortly thereafter she moved in with him. At the time, Salinger was 53.

At the reading, she mentioned At Home in the World: A Memoir and her relationship with J.D. Salinger. As much as I enjoyed reading The Catcher in the Rye, I don’t believe I would have liked Salinger. His comments—as if they were plucked from The Narcissist’s Handbook on How to be Cruel and Dismissive—were similar to what I was told by the men in my life.

Maynard’s relationship with Salinger only lasted about nine months. While vacationing in Daytona Beach, he told her to fly back to his house in Cornish, New Hampshire, to pack up her things, and be gone by the time he and his children returned.

It was a heavy blow for Maynard, but she managed to move on in spite of having Salinger on her mind and the desire to see him. After several years of not having any contact with Salinger, Maynard, who was writing At Home in the World at the time, decided to confront him on the eve of her forty-fourth birthday with the question, “What was my purpose in your life?”

His response was hostile; insulting her, saying she had an inflated notion of herself and her writing. He went on to tell her that her problem was that she loved the world too much, adding that he had known she would never amount to much. At the end, Maynard tells him good-bye and finally gets Jerry Salinger out of her system.

Critics and readers gutted Maynard for writing so openly about her relationship with Salinger, saying she didn’t respect his privacy. From my perspective, Maynard wrote with honesty. She finally was able to let go of a man who caused her more harm than good.

Maynard’s confrontation with Salinger inspired me to confront a former beau. Although I have no intention to travel cross-country and knock on his door as she did, I’m tempted to write a letter with the questions, “Why couldn’t you accept me as I was? Why did I have to change?”

While I mentally drafted the letter, I had an “aha” moment:  I didn’t care. His response no longer mattered because he didn’t matter.

At Home in the World helped me come to the realization that what men have said to me carries no weight and can’t hurt me. I’m free of the petty remarks and  I’ve finally let go because I have better things to do.

The Process of Self-Discovery

May 23, 2014Inspiration

“Writing is not just a process of creation. It is also a process of self-discovery” ― Cristina Istrati

Once a month a writing group meets at our local library. I’ve gone twice and I’m debating whether I should go to the subsequent meetings or not. They’re a lovely group of people, but none of them are writers. For them writing is a hobby and this group is really all about ego-stroking. They read their work and everyone claps and says how charming their story was and there’s no discussion of technique, where it needs improvement. and so forth.

It’s a shame because there’s a lot of potential among some of them, but they seem uninterested to delve into critiquing or any discussion of craft. I was tempted to bring in a short story so we could discuss it in detail, but I think my efforts would appear as if I’m attempting to disrupt the group. I already experienced that with another group unrelated to writing so it’s best I go with the flow.

How is this related to the above quote? I chose to read a chapter from Julius that I chucked out a couple of years ago when I decided that Julius needed to be redirected into a very different story. The meeting’s theme was about treasure and this section centered on an attic discovery.  After I finished reading the piece, one member said, “This was a chuck out?” I explained that the story had dramatically changed and that much of what I had written was no longer needed. There were a lot of questions, and later, I was taken aside by one gentleman who said that the set up in the attic intrigued him, but was also interested to learn more about my fascination with the Rosenbergs and the Spanish Civil War.

It was very satisfying to hear this, and after some mulling I realized that I’ve been beating myself up too much, listening to that snotty inner critic’s ridiculously high expectations. So onward I trudge to improve the story and hold all self-judgements at bay, but also to make new discoveries about myself through my writing.

Character versus Caricature

May 19, 2014Inspiration, Quotes

DeathInTheAfternoon

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

During my hiatus from working on the WIP, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my characters and suffering over their roles, but mostly whether they’re full-fleshed real people versus flat caricatures. I’ve put them all on trial and the jury is now out and the verdicts are: with the exception of three characters, you have menage of stereotypes. Now it’s back to the interview process and plumping their biographies for ALL of them, including the ones who passed the jury’s muster.

It’s a daunting project because it isn’t just about what how they look or sound, or what their story is at that particular moment, it’s about capturing their essence, true character, what makes them tick and how their attitudes affect their story at that point in their lives. Some of the questions that need to be answered include:

  • How does the character see the future?
  • What makes life worthwhile for the character?
  • What does the character see as worth dying for?
  • What does the character most hate?
  • What does the character try to avoid?
  • What is the character most embarrassed by?
  • What is the character most fixated on?
  • Any chemical substance use/abuse?
  • How does the character handle change?
  • Can the character easily empathize with others?
  • Does the character experience severe mood swings?
  • How does the character see his/herself?

These are the type of questions that need to be raised for every single character. It’s a lot more than Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. It’s a psychological profile. Once I’ve filled in those blanks, I’ll know why they do what they do and maybe I’ll make some surprising discoveries.

Do you play shrink with your characters? What surprises have you discovered?