Monday, July 19, 2010


This essay is the latest variant of something I've read over and over the past few years—the "woe is me" cry of the literary fiction writer. This woman wrote a novel, Stiltsville, which will be published by Harper Collins on August 1. Here's the synopsis, from Amazon:

With its lush flora and constant sun, South Florida is the true star of Daniel's exquisite debut, which follows a marriage over the course of 30 years. In 1969, having traveled from Atlanta to Miami for a college friend's wedding, 26-year-old Frances Ellerby meets glamorous Miami native Marse Heiger, who introduces her to Dennis DuVals and his house on stilts in Biscayne Bay. Though Marse has set her cap for Dennis, he and Frances fall in love and marry within a year. "I had no idea then," Frances says, "what would happen to my love, what nourishment it would receive, how mighty it would grow." Dennis and Frances have a daughter, Margo, buy a house in Coral Gables, and their life together proceeds as a series of ups and downs, beautifully told from Frances's pensive, sharp perspective. As the years pass and Miami changes, so do Frances, Dennis, and Margo, and the nuances of their relationships shift and realign, drawing inexorably toward a moving resolution.

That sounds like a book I'd rather stab my eyes out than read. Hell, that sounds like a book that would make my 61-year-old mother laugh in my face, if I offered it to her. And yet, this woman spent ten years grinding away, compelled to tell the story of a woman and her goddamn stilt house in Florida.

I've read these piteous cries from writers of "quality" lit-fic for years, talking about how they've slaved over their postmodern tales of suburban marital dissolution, or young men coming to grips with the adult world outside the room where they keep all their comic books, or whatever the fuck it is...and then I look at authors I read, like Scott Sigler, or Harlan Coben, or Stephen King—dudes who crank out a book a year and never shed a single public tear in the process. And it makes me think that maybe the reason literary fiction takes so long, and takes so much out of its writers, is that it's every bit as boring to write as it is to read.

(As far as the whole non-productivity thing, I can't quite take the essayist/author's side on that one, either. I have ideas for novels that never get off the ground, but it's not because I'm blocked or agonizing over the creative process—it's because I'm too busy writing other stuff. I've probably written hundreds of thousands of words this year, but they're subdivided into 200-words-or-less increments for All Music Guide, Alternative Press, the Cleveland Scene, The Wire, etc., etc. When I write a thousand words or more at a shot, they tend to be for a magazine feature. I'd love to have enough hours in the day to sit down and crank out a novel, but I write about a half dozen record reviews a week, on average, and maintain two blogs—this one and this one. Hell, just writing this blog post is taking me away from a magazine profile of Joe Morris that I should be working on.)

No comments: