Monday, July 27, 2020

A Writer Moves From Memoir Back to Fiction

Most of the blog posts I wrote these last few months had a pandemic journal subtitle. It's a Dog's Life ... July and the Simple Life ... a pandemic journal.  I'm thinking I shouldn't attach the a pandemic journal anymore to these blog posts. There's no end in sight to this crisis and a pandemic journal could run for years—a reality show that endlessly spins and spins. Everyone agrees on that—the part that there is no end in sight. The despair is deep and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth if you focus too much on it, although the stories people tell me of how they are living are filled with such courage and honesty I will continue to blog about that. It always surprises me how much grit people evince, the ones who are quiet, especially, the ones whose modesty and acceptance teach me how to live through this time. 

Oh, I'm just a writer. That’s what I say when people ask me what I do these days. “Oh, I’m just a writer ... you know.” Weeks revolving around deadheading petunias and reading novels on my Kindle fill the time too, but it is writing which absorbs me during this pandemic. The oh, I’m just a writer part really doesn’t let people in on how much work writing is, though. How many hours it takes. How writing is something that you either do, or you don’t. Sometimes, there aren’t enough hours in the day to write all you want to write.

As the pandemic rages, I've been thinking about Ava Stuart, the heroine in A Portrait of Love and Honor. The people she’s met, her memories of when she and Jay first fell in love, their son who would grow up and never get to know the man his father was. 

I read an interview with novelist Elizabeth Strout after she reintroduced Olive Kitteridge in Olive, Again, a book I read this summer and loved, as I did Olive Kitteridge. In this interview in The New Yorker, Strout says:
"I never intended to return to Olive Kitteridge. I really thought I was done with her, and she with me. But a few years ago I was in a European city, alone for a weekend, and I went to a cafĂ©, and she just showed up. That’s all I can say. She showed up with a force, the way she did the very first time, and I could not ignore her."
Like Olive, Ava has much to say as she ages, a woman alone. So, I'm  putting my completed memoir on the backburner and writing fiction again. I feel free, letting Ava tell her story, instead of me. 

Although I have written two memoirs, who can ever truly analyze oneself? I have begun to believe it is impossible, especially the older one gets, and considering the times in which we live, where there are more questions than answers. And how does one write with clarity about people with whom one is intimately involved, without in some small measure, at least, betraying confidences and making the whole business seem trivial through endless dissection? I know ... changing names, changing identifying characteristics, creating compelling scenes, all tools of fiction writing, anyway. I did this in both my memoirs and loved the process, but it seems a new story needs telling from another point of view.

Ava can speak about writing, because she is a writer. She can speak about growing old because it has been years since Jay died and her loneliness and her solitude are worth exploring. She’s acerbic and sometimes judgmental. Regret, disappointment, it's all there, and she doesn’t have to worry if her grown kid likes what she writes, or if an old boyfriend might sue her for libel because she reveals his inadequacies, and her own, at the same time, which can be sad. There's a freedom and energy in letting Ava tell her story. It’s not a watershed moment in one’s life, like chronicling an abusive childhood, hiking the high trails above the Pacific, grieving the death of a child, performing a unique job like trampoline artist ... just the ordinary days of a woman searching for meaning.

Although even when I wrote fiction people thought it was memoir, this move back to fiction feels freeing, gives me energy in the morning to write. It's all good, as people say. Writing is a force during this dark time. What could be better than that?


Teresa Rhyne said...

After 3 memoirs, I am having a very similar experience currently—waking early to write fiction. It’s absolutely freeing! Enjoy Ed this post very much!

kathleen pooler said...

Susan, you certainly build a convincing case for why switching from memoir to fiction is more freeing. I also believe one has to feel a calling to do so. The beauty of writing—as hard as it truly is—is that it leads the way in determining what genre is the best fit. Like you said, we use the same tools in memoir as we do in fiction. Enjoy your leap into fiction. I can’t say I feel the same pull but I also feel I need a break from memoir and all its sensitivities.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thank you, Teresa. Happy writing.

Marian Beaman said...

You are a writing whiz, not "just" a writer, Susan. But I think you know that.

I don't have the distance from writing Mennonite Daughter to speculate if/when I'm ready for novel-writing, but I agree with Kathy about the pressure inherent in writing memoir.

Tomorrow I'll pick up my "Olive" book. From the reviews and blurbs, I expect to enjoy it as you did.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thank you, Kathy. I am excited about writing fiction again. Whatever that is. Lol.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thank you, Marian. The memoir went on the backburner and will probably stay there. After a reading by an editor and two beta readers who deemed it interesting and my best work, I got to thinking how it would have worked if I were Virginia Woolf or another famous writer but otherwise no since so much of it was about me and writing. By turning to fiction, I can make the story of a woman alone something sharper and more entertaining. I am thinking of one story i wanted to write in particular where the person might have recognized herself and not in a flattering way. It felt constraining. I don't see my job as a writer as protecting others but life writing can feel that way at times.

Marian Beaman said...

Go for it!