Posts tagged John Ratti
Pine Torch, Revisited

About a month ago, I tried to write here about "pine torch." Today, in my attempt to try again, it was only by searching for and failing to find a pretty photograph of a pine torch that I landed on a solution: instead of pine torches, the tea house woman can light the bal masqué another way. Maybe with little candles hanging from tree branches with satin ribbons. Or maybe like this or this or this or this or this or even this with candles or fairy lights. I don't think it matters, exactly, but what I figured out is that part of her problem can be that the tea house's traditions should of course be updated — not just to make business more efficient but to make her own life somewhat easier. So instead of lighting the annual ball with torches, like her mother and grandmother and great-grandmother did, which she would have to chop and set aflame herself, worrying about party guests knocking into them and catching fire, she can opt instead for, say, hanging lanterns with battery powered flameless flickering candles. 

OK, so, the backstory about "pine torch"? It has to do with my process. I'm a writer who fears the blank page/blinking cursor. I'm far better at editing and shaping existing words than I am coming up with new ones. So nearly a decade ago, under a rapidly approaching deadline to complete We Take Me Apart, I acted out of desperation and cut up Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons. I made hundreds of lists of ten random words from her text, and then I wrote a page of my own — I had to use one list per page. Often, this meant using one word per line. And this resulted in my having lines like: "gratitude is cousin to the squeezing of a heart." Anyway, the method worked and I had enough pages to prove to my publisher that I was making steady progress and I was able to ask for an extended deadline, which I met. This method worked so well for me that I tried it again for Desire: A Haunting. And, again, it worked. The words I used as prompts for this book come from John Ratti's A Remembered DarknessAnd then, for Fit Into Me, I started again with another new list, this time from Anne Carson's translation of Sappho's fragments (If Not, Winter). Somewhere in this book is "pine torch," which I then came upon in one of my ten-word lists, and I got stuck. I researched the pine torch and learned it's the kind of torch Bilbo Baggins used in LOTR, and then I learned how to make one and why one might want to make one: they're impervious to wind and rain. But for my purposes, why would the tea house woman need wind- and rain-proof torches? So I landed on the bal masqué. Garden party. Nighttime. Torches. Of course. But I just couldn't ever write that scene. Now, three years after that failure, a month after the failure of my attempted blog post about that failure, I think I've got it. Or, at least, for the first time I have an avenue to explore. 

I am a slow writer. People are surprised to hear this, most recently one of my favorite former professors, Richard Preiss (why favorite? bc this, for example, or, you know, his book on early modern clowns, or his book-in-progress on sewage, need I go on?). I wasn't always a slow writer. A decade ago, you could say, "Go!" and I'd be off to the races. Now? You say "Go!" and I raise an eyebrow at you and LOL and look for my reading glasses and put a Pop Tart in the toaster that I'll forget about and see tomorrow sticking up looking sad, still chuckling about how badly you misjudged my ability to go when you said, "Go!" LOLOL. But really, I'm just slower, more patient and careful now. I wait. I'll wait and wait until the answer appears. In this case, three years and a month. 

P.S. If you're curious, the other words in this particular list are: night, greatly, desires, darling, reproach, harmless, face, son, and throat. And if you don't know the tea house woman, who appears first as a minor character in We Take Me Apart, then as a main character in Desire: A Haunting, you can meet her now in her own right in Fit Into Me. A few of the fragments from Fit were published here, four years ago when they first came into being.  

Writing Process Literary Blog Hop

Many thanks to Sheryl Louise Rivett for inviting me to participate in the Writing Process Literary Blog Hop. Sheryl and I met in the MFA program at GMU, and it's so wonderful to see (and read about) her ongoing writing projects. All best wishes moving forward, Sheryl! 



I'm wrapping up final edits for Desire: A Haunting, the sequel to We Take Me Apart. If you're curious, the prologue and first few sections just went live this past weekend at Sugar Mule, edited by the fantastic Alyse Knorr (who I also know from the GMU MFA!)! Way to kick ass, ladies of GMU!

As for new work, I'm in the messy midst of a first draft of Fit Into Me, which will be the next book in the series after Desire: A Haunting. If you're curious, Book One of Fit Into Me was serialized last month (April 2014) at Necessary Fiction. 



We Take Me Apart was originally published by Mud Luscious Press, which labeled it a "novel(la)." I frequently referred to it as a "novel in verse" or a "verse novel," but nobody ever really considered it fiction. The kind folks at PEN and the Asian American Writers' Workshop all considered it "poetry." These days, I think out of sheer exhaustion, I think of it as my first novel. 

Desire: A Haunting follows suit in form and voice. 

Fit Into Me does not. If I had to call it something, I'd call it a sequence of prose poems.  

I'm supposed to be talking about genre here, and how mine is or isn't like other novels, novel(la)s, verse novels, novels in verse, prose poem sequences — but I'm weary. It's all just words. A few months ago, in fact, Matthew Burnside asked me and several other writers to compose a sentence addressing what we wish someone had told us when we were first starting out as writers. I said:

"I wish someone had told me to not worry so much about finding my 'voice' — a writer's voice takes time to develop and it must be informed by all the voices that have come before, so read the greats, read the terribles, read the in-betweens, read the television and the movies and the magazines, read the labels and logos on clothing and the advertisements on the sides of buses and the graffiti on street signs and the fine print at the bottom of everything, read the invisible ink, read the age lines and the expressions on people's faces, read their gestures, read what they don't say but manage to communicate anyway, read everything, read it all, read it all, and filter it through your pen or pencil or typing fingers and watch, watch how it emerges as yours."

Fuck genre.

That's what I have to say about that. 



I was just talking about this last night, actually.

I said my characters suffer tragically but that it is up to the reader to decide how to interpret them. I said, Always, in every book, there is the possibility of interpreting the character as a victim of her trauma, or, conversely, as an innocent — untouched, unmarred, beautiful, pure, and ever-hopeful, having emerged from her past victoriously, heroic and triumphant. (Have you read Lydia Millet's My Happy Life? She invented that trick. I'm still trying to learn how to pull it off.)



Marguerite Duras said, "Writing comes like the wind." 

I believe this. 

Perhaps this is why I don't feel the pressure to write every day. I don't even write every year. We Take Me Apart was written in 2009. It came out in 2010. I began Desire: A Haunting in early 2013. The first draft was complete by August. I put it away. I moved to Utah. I got it back out and edited all fall term. I put it away. In early 2014, I began Fit Into Me. Now that spring term is over, I have returned to give Desire a final pass. And Fit is resting. Marinating. 

When Fit rolls in on a cloud again, or "screams at me" (as Duras says unfinished books are apt to do), I will return to it. 

On a much more basic level, to answer this question in a more specific and less abstract way, I let other writers' words fuel me. Nouns and verbs from Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons led to lines and scenes in We Take Me Apart. Nouns and verbs from John Ratti's A Remembered Darkness led to lines and scenes in Desire: A Haunting. And nouns and verbs from If not, winter, Anne Carson's translation of Sappho's fragments, are inspiring the lines and scenes in Fit Into Me. I retype these other writers' nouns and verbs, cut them, put them into a container, shake, and start pulling from them one at a time. The nouns and verbs become lines. The lines become scenes. From these nouns and verbs and lines and scenes, books are born. 

And constant, throughout them all, is the tea house woman