Tuesday, May 27, 2014
From the Past to the Present...and Beyond.
Since Mom died and I've been re-doing the house, I'm really making an effort to rid myself of clutter. It isn't easy. I have cabinets of files I hadn't looked at in years - correspondence from my earliest articles and columns, yellowed newspaper clippings from when I gave a talk here or there or received an award, files of (bad) query letters typed on an old Selectric typewriter, rejection letters (many), copies of magazines in which my essays appeared (and the follow ups if there were letters to the editor about them).
I'm an inveterate memorabilia collector. Some files contain concert stubs (two Farm Aids along with many others), guitar picks, Mother's Day cards, obituary notices, plane tickets, hotel and restaurant receipts and a Congressional Menu. I have plaques of all kinds and keys to two cities.
I have years of journals....intensely personal and (now it seems to me) often self-pitying. I was a poor young mother married to an alcoholic. I don't want to read about those experiences again and I don't want anyone else to read about them either. Now I want to tell that girl - "get off your butt and do something about it."
None of this stuff means anything to anyone but me. As I go through it, my first inclination is to trash it all but in the end, I simply can't do it. I cut it down to about half but I'll leave the rest to my son. Maybe if I become a famous author, some college will want my papers! (Not my alma mater because I don't have an alma mater.)
I found a a large file of rough drafts from my earliest days of trying to become a writer. I attempted everything - science fiction, romance, children's books, Young Adult, mystery. A couple of them I still think had some possibilities but mostly, they were pretty bad. I even found a manuscript in which I tried my hand at pornography. (I remember an instructor at one of the writing conferences I attended saying it was easy to sell and paid well and evidently, that convinced me.) Oh, my God! I have learned about subtlety since I wrote the Zodiac Club!
I can see myself in these files, struggling to find a voice of my own. I recognize the styles of those I admired in many of them (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery). My first success was as a nature writer. I still love describing lambs and trees and brooks and dragonflies but I'm really not always that sweet. I felt more at home when I found politics and social commentary. I like to take a contrary stance and rile people up, to poke them and prod them to react. I get as much of a kick from a letter of rage as one of approval.
As a novelist, I'm the same way. My books are edgy and graphic and my heroes are not always heroes. People love them or hate them. That's fine. Give me strong emotion either way.
It has been fun to take a trip back in time to see a young writer's journey to the present. As for the future, well, I'm 67 but I'm still working on it.