Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chapter 32: FINALLLLLY PEG I have figured out WHY I'm Writing Sister Mysteries!!

Peg I'm glad you don't think I've totally lost my mind. And I can't tell you how much I appreciate your calling me the other day. I know the semester is just starting and you are incredibly busy running the Writing Program. It was so kind, and I am so grateful, that you took time out of your day last Friday to talk books with me and to try to help me decide which novel I should serialize on The Huffington Post.

As you said, it's an incredible opportunity and it's the very first time that the Huff Po has EVER done anything like this, so I want to be sure I approach it the right way, with the right book.

Peg, I am so blessed to have you as a friend. Do you remember the last lines of Charlotte's Web? I just pulled Jocelyn's yellowed copy off her shelf: "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

Well, Peg, YOU are both. You are an amazing writer, and an amazing friend and support. You were there for me all through this long and grueling project.

Today is an anniversary. It was SIXTEEN YEARS AGO this week that I started writing the nun story, Castenata. It poured out of me. AND NOW, finally, I see what drove me. I will explain.

Meanwhile, though, thank you PEG. THANK YOU! Thank you for all those years you stuck by me as I tried desperately to package the nun story within silly outer frame stories that flopped miserably.

You humored me through all those long years of writing. All those failed attempts to write Sister Mysteries, or as you lovingly renamed it, Sister Miseries. Ah, yes, what a misery it was!

And then when I was diagnosed with the cancer in 2002 -- and now we're talking real misery!! -- I told you that I thought it was the book that had made me sick (because I had started writing it as a gift to another friend who was sick with cancer.) But you kept insisting that I was all wrong: it wasn't the book that had made me sick. You kept saying that the book was a healing thing; that the book was going to make me better.

Well, so, you were right. But wow. I don't want to think about how long it took, or what it took to stick with this project. All the different versions of the story that I asked you to read! Ayayayayayay.

Not once did you refuse, or even complain. You would say that you just loved the nun story -- and didn't want to see a word of it changed -- but then you'd very gently and very carefully say to me that you weren't sure why I was framing it with the outer story.

My God, Peg, you lived through Malvina and Heather, and Lucy and Chris -- those ridiculous characters that I hung onto for way too long. Over and over again, you kept saying:

"Hey, Claud, maybe you should just write the TRUE story. YOUR story. Just tell the story of how you came to write Castenata, the nun's tale."

Well, so, it only took me a decade and a half to finally heed your advice, Peg. (I can hear you laughing even harder.)

OK, so now. I have a chance to take Sister Renata "national" on The Huffington Post. (I can see you LOL even harder.) While it's tempting, I think I might be making a mistake serializing the nun story. Even though, as you point out, it's a mystery. And even though, it is for all intents and purposes "finished."

I'm beginning to think that my husband and Lori are right. The world isn't ready. The nun story, and this Sister Mysteries, thing -- I suppose that you and I would call it metafiction, writing about the fiction -- are rather non-traditional narratives. All that you were saying the other day about traditional stories, and non-traditional or experimental stories, all that makes sense to me. We grow up reading a certain kind of stories and we don't even realize that we've been conditioned to read that traditional sort of "once upon a time" tale.

But this is the thing: readers of The Huffington Post are not likely to be readers who want an experimental or "disrupted" narrative.

Peg, I hope you won't be disappointed, but I think I am going to save Castenata and Sister Mysteries for the blogs, at least for the time being. I think instead that I'm going to serialize Seeing Red on The Huffington Post.

Seeing Red is a kind of an old-fashioned love story, and it takes the reader on a lovely journey across the warm and sunny and very romantic region of southern Spain known as Andalucía (wonderful time of year to go to Spain :) It is a story of discovery. It's a woman's journey to find herself as an artist, and a woman's slow and often painful realization that even though she adores her guitarist lover Jesús, and even though she has chased him half-way across the globe (ah but he has those eyes liked melted chocolate!) in the end, she doesn't need him to be happy.

As I say in the promo for the book on the Seeing Red website, Ronda Cari spends half a lifetime searching for true love, and then she discovers it, in the magic of her own (flamenco) dancing!

It's an easy read. And the point with serialization is, you need a good read to keep your readers reading. You want to deliver up a powerful story that grabs their attention and holds on to them until the end.

As you yourself pointed out the other day, maybe the readers aren't quite ready for what I'm doing with the nun story, Castenata, and this sister "thing" I am writing, this companion tale that winds here and there and everywhere, this metafiction that I am calling Sister Mysteries.
I am not going to give up writing this book up, I will continue on the Sister Mysteries blog, which is interconnected with Castenata, the nun's story. As I go forward, I will be making more transparent the writing process, that is, I will share with readers insights about writing, and what's involved in writing a book!

What you said the other day has really stuck with me. I think it's really true that, as you said, "sometimes we have to teach our readers how to read our work!"

Maybe in the end, that's my task here, to teach readers that writing is an incredibly fluid process, and that it is difficult to identify what it means to "finish" a piece of writing.

You know exactly what I mean.

Being that you are Assistant Director of the Writing Program at the University of Massachusetts, where that very famous writing teacher Peter Elbow used to dwell, you certainly know what I mean. You certainly know what you are talking about when you talk about writing! (And I invite your comments, as always!)

Getting back to The Huffington Post, though, I am going to have to decide very shortly which book to serialize. I have to let that book editor know my decision soon. (As in, tomorrow! :)

Whatever I decide, I don't want to put aside the many interesting issues that you and I discussed on Friday, including the many questions that are raised by the ideas of serializing a novel on-line. Because this I truly believe is the future of writing and publishing Peg!

I think it makes sense, if you are willing, to continue talking about these writing -- and reading -- issues, right here, write on Sister Mysteries. All that you said the other day about traditional narratives, and "disrupted" or what you and I consider "feminist" narratives, there is so much to talk about there, especially because Castenata -- for all its being an antiquated murder mystery, a 19th century whodunnit asking over and over again, "is Sister Renata guilty? did the nun kill her cousin?" -- it is a feminist narrative!

It works against traditional PATRIARCHAL stories!

And so, now I finally see Peg. I finally know why I am writing this book.

For years you have been asking me, "Claud what is the point? Why are you writing this Sister Mysteries thing?" And now, 16 long years later, on the anniversary of starting the tome, I FINALLY HAVE THE ANSWER PEG (hey some questions take longer to answer than others! :)

I finally understand what I am doing writing Castenata/Sister Mysteries, or what I have otherwise begun to call my "Blogga Saga" --

I am trying to re-invent storytelling Peg. (HA! no small task there!) I'm trying in these books Peg to DISRUPT what you and I would call traditional or PATRIARCHAL NARRATIVES!

I'm also trying to break down the "binary" nature of stories: in journalism we call it the traditional "he said/she said" nature of story-telling. In Castenata we've got the "he said," by a man, Antonie, writing stories, his version of events, and we've got the "she said," in Sister Renata's diaries. Antonie's clever stories "frame" Renata, very literally -- she ends up in prison, accused of his murder. But of course the feminist notion that men "frame" women all the time, and objectify them in all kinds of ways, as "virgins" and "whores," that is playing here too. Renata is desperate to get free, to free herself from Antonie's "stories," and the accusation that lands her in jail.

And as I've said so many times, it's up to me to tell Renata's true story, one that frees her -- and me too!

Anyway, as I've said to you over and over again lately, it wasn't until blogs emerged a few years ago that I could write a story like this, one that bounced back and forth in time, and between links, the way Castenata and Sister Mysteries do. Until this new technology emerged, I could not possibly write like this, saying, for example, "hey Peg, remember what I wrote the other day about serializing a novel on-line," and voila, have you be linked right there!

Peg it is getting ever more clear to me as I write in this "new" way that writing on blogs is truly a revolutionary thing! It is so incredibly freeing. I just love it. I discover so much about writing as I do these posts. And as you so often have said in the past, the writer MUST be engaged in discovery as she writes, at the same time that the reader is discovering as she reads. In your words, "No discovery for the writer, no discovery for the reader."

The writer needs to be excited about what she is writing because otherwise the narrative feels dead! That's true no matter whether the writer is writing fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose!

Hey, so no wonder then so many people are blogging. They are discovering their voices. They are finding out what they feel and think! They are finding out that they love to write!

It's really incredibly exciting when you think what the internet and blogs have done: a ton of people are now writing, every single day, all day long. You'll love this: my niece, Megan Kirsch, is a student at Wisconsin. She started a blog for her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega. She called it "Living Outside the Lyre." She told me in an email the other day that she started it "as a joke" for the sorority.

But then, all of a sudden, her sorority friends all started reading it because it turns out SHE IS AN AMAZING WRITER PEG! Isn't that cool? I got a link to it and now I am going to repost one of her pieces very soon in MyStoryLives. Peg, she has that natural gift -- she has a great voice, a sense for telling detail. And a terrific sense of humor.

So who knows, Peg. My niece Megan, like so many many young (and older!) people, may just keep writing. Because of a blog that she started "as a joke," she just may turn out to be a writer!

How incredible is that? I am thrilled by this. I am delighted to think that people, via blogs, keep discovering that they love to write, that they CAN write.

I think this is the future Peg. And yes, I think it would be incredibly fun and wonderful for you and I to put together a textbook to use with students like Megan, students who are the "next" generation (or THIS generation) of student writers, students who grew up with the internet.

Let's talk about it right away, or as soon as you have time!

"Peg" is otherwise known as P.M. Woods, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the Writing Program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of a fabulous novel, "Spinning Will."

1 comment:

Lynn Biederstadt said...

I so LOVED this post... sigh.
xo -Lynn @ skydiaries