On January 5, I turned in the completed manuscript for my first book, which will be in bookstores September 2011. This past year was one of living precariously, casually dodging inconvenient insecurities and distractions that seem particularly designed to only plague writers. The book I completed is a cultural studies discussion on paranormal reality TV and American society. In it, I delve into a little bit of academic cultural theory. I share a few “ghost” stories. I provide a ditty or two about my life, and I chat it up with a few famous folks.
The writing process was a journey. I am honored to have experienced securing a first book deal and birthing a product that I feel is impressive. Of course, I am biased, but I have bloody well earned the right to be. Writers are allowed moments of narcissism. Trust me — confidence dissipates once a writer sits down to start the next project. And yes, there is a next project for me, and a future one in the works.
For now, however, I take a small reprieve. The past year has been the Year of Non-Fiction. That is all I read (and wrote) — the not-false kind of stuff. I enjoyed the process of reading, listening to the stories of others, and then assigning these things meaning and context. That is what I did with my book. I talked to academics, paranormal investigators, and paranormal reality TV stars. Through these conversations and attached research, I created a story. This is what writers do; we bring ideas to life by sewing together tales and utterances. Yet, I missed fiction and its delicate language of imagination, which is not intended merely to inform, but to transcend.
The mental exercise of reading and writing fiction is so different from non-fiction that I feel it literally recalibrates my brain. There may be a real neurological link, for some studies suggest that fiction reading may increase mental function and help delay dementia. Well-written literature is my drug of choice, and poorly composed books simply do not give me any buzz at all. I need words that feed on the very air they create.
Writing fiction, however, requires far more transcendence than non-fiction. I become lost, distracted, and distanced so much from reality that I can rarely afford to give in to that process. I have children, you see. My husband is not here. I feel, at times, I cannot enjoy the luxury of birthing fiction until I have what Virginia Woolf declared as a “room of my own.” I need a Life of My Own before I give in to the process of losing oneself. That is another thing writers do; we become the worlds that we write, if only temporarily.
But, for now, I can read. And I do. Nicole Krauss’ book Great House, Salman Rushdie’s Luka and the Fire of Life, Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez…
And then —
–the words start to come. They emerge, like apparitions, when I least expect them. I see language float by at the grocery store, in the air between a lady and the cell phone in her hand. The tiny quantum particles of space become buoyant with narration. The way a child moves is calibrated into syllables. It is a magical way to live, for it is as if stories can literally be plucked from the air between objects. And, and, if I can turn my head to just the right angle, I can hear the words actually speak.
Arundhati Roy, the author The God of Small Things, pondered if authors call stories into the world, or if the stories choose us. I believe the latter. The words, if writers pay sufficient attention, are always lodged in the atoms around us, slightly tapping our ears, waiting for us to make space. They hoover while we build the rooms needed to bring them forth.