April 20, 2004

exhuming ghosts

I got jittery today. Anxious. Eating compulsively, fretting even more compulsively. Convinced that the projects Iím waiting on (among them, a short story lingering at two high profile literary magazines for twice as long as usual, this is usually considered a good thing) are all going to turn to shit. That nothingís going to work out. That no news is bad news. That the charter school people who visited Damianís class today saw him at his worst and will now reject him, thereby decimating our safety school option (all this because the teacher told me, ďHe was pretty much himself, just a little quiet in circle after handwriting group.Ē) That weíre never, no not ever going to be able to move from this house where weíre surrounded by noisy renters on every side. (Even though we chatted with the very responsive landlord on the north side, who will help us with the old lady with her loud Russian TV.)

So yeah. That was my day. Ms. Negativity, thatís me. Ms. Anxious and Depressed For No Reason.

Coincidentally I started writing a new short story yesterday and worked on it more today, getting into the meat of the piece.

Coincidentally, this story is making me extremely uncomfortable. Itís based on a real incident Ė two, actually Ė and it hurts to even think about. So why am I writing it? Because good stories come out of pain. Oh, not necessarily, not for everyone. But for me? I think yes. I think my best stuff, at least my best short fiction and maybe the longer material too, comes from tapping into some deep-seated and extremely uncomfortable emotional issues. Sometimes they're transmuted into completely fictional scenarios, sometimes they're closer to my remembered reality.

The trick is to shape the latter so theyíre not just thinly disguised therapy, unsatisfying to anyone besides me. And though I know the essentials of how to tell a strong tale and I know the kinds of thematic resonance that can achieve this, I donít really have any idea when Iím in the midst of it whether this one (whichever this one is) comes anywhere near that. I just have to trust. And know that if I donít make it this time, I can toss the story and nobody has to know. But if I do, then Iíve written something with some emotional punch. Maybe. If Iím lucky. If the muse is with me and if I have enough clarity to see past my own reaction to the raw material.

Thereís this voice in my head, it started up last night. It says ďWhy are you writing this? Everyone writes a story about this. Itís one of those rites of passage sorts of stories, I bet every magazine editor from Alaska to Florida has read one of these this week. And I bet every magazine editor from Alaska to Florida has rejected twenty of them this month. Why should yours be any different? Why not just abandon it now? Youíll never succeed, this will never get published, it doesnít deserve to be published,Ē (this based on the two pages Iíd written yesterday) ďitís trite and overwrought and melodramatic and ridiculousĒ (did I mention? two pages?) ďand an unworthy follow up to your last home run of a story, just put it down and walk away slowly, youíll never amount to anything, youíre a one hit wonder Ė assuming that other one even gets published, because even if that one is good, one of your best, that doesnít mean it measures up to the other stories out there because youíre just not that good, certainly not as good as you think you are or someone would have discovered you already, come knocking on your door and riffling through your files, because that's how people get published, not all this send it out and wait nonsense. You're doomed, face it.Ē

I recognize that voice, though I havenít heard it in years, not with this intensity. It comes from the time this story takes place. It comes from the pages of the story itself, a frozen insecure painfully eager to please but sure she canít self. A much younger self.

I write this story partly because itís good fodder for a piece of fiction, partly because itís time. But writing it is hard. Ghosts lurk here. Nasty, slimy icky ghosts.

Now I just have to figure out how to work them into the story.

Posted by Tamar at April 20, 2004 09:36 PM

god I know that voice. And I also know you'll persevere despite it, trusting the story, driving at night in the dark.

good luck and thanks for the bravery,

Posted by: Chris at April 21, 2004 03:48 AM

My word! I can't believe that that voice has the temerity to make itself be heard!

Seriously, I read a few journals, some because they are funny, some because I know the people, some for whatever reasons. You, I read for content, and writing. Writing! You are such a wonderful writer that even when you write about things that I disagree with, or things that might be mundane, I enjoy the reading!(Gees, could I gush any more?...)

I think everyone hears that voice.

Will you let us know where your stories are published?

Thanks! /Bee

Posted by: Bee at April 21, 2004 04:36 PM

Yes, I think every writer -- every creative person -- hell, every person trying something difficult -- hears that voice. I think it's stronger right now for me because the person the story is about is vulnerable and scared, and her reflected insecurity and pain hits me hard.

Thank you for the compliment, Bee! And yes, I'll be writing about any and all publishing successes here. Naming names, too, you bet!

Posted by: Tamar at April 21, 2004 10:47 PM