Posts tagged Lydia Millet
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! 

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WHAT I'M WORKING ON NOW

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. 

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HOW MY WORK DIFFERS FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE

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. 

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WHY I WRITE WHAT I DO

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.)

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HOW MY WRITING PROCESS WORKS

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

"A throbbing. A certain pulsing."

Of course today's title comes from AVAI plucked it from the shelves just now and Wittgenstein's Mistress and My Happy Life with it. I want to read lines — sentences, fragments — I want to read a 300-page poem with a first-person narrator who makes me bawl. 

Have you ever sat at a blue country table wanting to write your guts out? I don't often but tonight I find myself dreaming. 

Something I'm glad to know: I will wait years for a few good poems to find their way. There is no rush. 

How do books find us and why, when they do? Is there something in them we're meant to know?

Strange to think that after three? four? years away, I'm back to fiction again. I have no plans for it. I wonder what it will be. All I know is this: I've always loved the teacher. More and more, she demands rewriting. She wants her story told and I don't know what it is or why. I have only bits in fragmented language that won't be right this time around. For instance: 

The teacher brought the father inside and bathed him in her gigantic tub. He had never seen a tub so big. He held her thighs with his thighs. They ate nothing and drank too much coffee. Black. They made love. No. Fucked. No. Some sort of savage love. Yes. No. He held her breasts in his soapy hands. A pair of castanets makes two sounds he said. The female hembra is held in the right hand. He held her right breast in his right hand. Lifted. Gently. It is smaller and higher pitched than the macho. He lifted her left. Which is held in the left. She laughed and he continued. One translation of macho y hembra is hook and eye. Her smile fell. You she said. Fit into me. Sounds like an order he said. Cast a net does too she said. But safer.

Who can resist an Atwood reference? What I want to preserve is that moment her smile falls. What's packed there? Who is this woman with a stranger in her tub? Who is this woman who laughs one moment and becomes, in the next and all at once, sad, demanding, accusatory, scared?

And this:

The teacher took to eating one meal a day. Usually lunch. An appetizer. Something fried. Or cheesy. Or both. Like jalapeno poppers. If they were spicy she cried openly without shame. She would have a cocktail. Orange vodka with soda water. She would go home and have a bottle of wine and dessert that she brought with her from the restaurant. Sometimes she went to a bar in time for last call and waited while a stranger finished a draft beer. Sometimes she asked the stranger to walk her home. If the stranger did she invited the stranger in. The stranger always accepted the invitation. It was why the stranger walked her home in the first place. She knew this. It was why she asked the stranger to walk her home in the first place. One night the stranger was a woman named Iris. In the morning Iris stroked her hair. Hyacinth the teacher said was Apollo’s lover. He died from a discus to the head. Nobody ever said it was his due for being a homosexual. Instead he was immortalized in the form of a flower. Though it was probably an iris. Not a hyacinth. 

Why does she need spice and public space to cry? Why alcohol? Why now? Why the constant late-night need for bodies?

I tell you I have loved the teacher since Philadelphia, where I discovered her and first began to tell her story. I was a different woman there. So much has changed. So much time has passed. And now — why now? — she reaches for me across time and distance, asking me to do this thing, to find the rest of her story and tell it. 

The teacher went to Amsterdam and tried hallucinating on absinthe but it didn’t work. She went to the Red Light District and touched her fingers to the glass of one window where a young woman in a red teddy stared at her with sad painted eyes. She went to the Van Gogh Museum and thought of a poem she had read and taught: & what if she would’ve just taken the ear. And what if the great Mughal emperor really did cut off the hands of the men who built the Taj Mahal. By then she was in Agra where she let a tour guide tell her about Mumtaz Mahal and how she died giving birth to her fourteenth child. The teacher thought for the first time about how she didn’t have even one. She took the tour guide as her lover and stayed for seven years.  

What are those seven years like? What happens to her? Wouldn't I like to know! So here it is; this is why those poems up there can wait: it's time to try "a larger canvas."