odd disjointed pieces at strange times of the day

signed in 2000 at Oxford Square Books in Oxford, MS

“There was one last book to write and the summer to be lived through. She worked on the book in a desultory manner, writing odd disjointed pieces at strange times of the day, dating them like journal entries, although they had nothing to do with the days on which they were written. They were pieces of the past, a history of obsessions…”

from The Anna Papers

As I was flipping through the book this morning–reading words here and there–this passage stopped me. This is exactly the way I’ve been writing fiction lately–“odd disjointed pieces at strange times of the day” and dating them because I’m not yet sure how they fit together.

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not searching for structure

I’m trying not to search for structure. I’m trying just to write. I wrote a few pages this morning.

With the other things I’ve written, I’ve seen the structure from the very beginning. As I type these words, I realize: I’ve also seen the story from the beginning too. So, hmmm…

Anyway, I’ve just read a few pages in Mark Rose’s Shakespearean Design. I spent ten minutes taking apart Pam Houston’s Sight Hound–8 chapters within which 12 different narrators have sections, some speaking only once.

Now I’m on the floor, playing with books. I’ve taken all of Ellen Gilchrist‘s books off my shelf–all 22 of them. I quickly return to the shelf her 1987 and her 2000 versions of Falling Through Space (her journal), as well as her book on The Writing LifeAnabasis (her novel that takes place in ancient times), her Collected Stories, and my hardback copy of The Anna Papers.

After a second’s glance, I also return to the shelf her two lives-in-stories: Nora Jane and Rhoda. I love these two books in which all the stories she wrote over twenty years about Rhoda are collected in one volume and those about Nora Jane, in another volume.

That leaves me with three stacks: her six other novels, her nine other collections of stories, and her one collection of novellas.

I start with the novels. The first one I pick up is The Anna Papers–possibly my favorite. There’s a Contents page:  a Prelude, and then five named parts. I skip the prelude, read the first paragraph of Chapter 1, skip to the second to last page of the first part and read. I turn the page to Part II, then another page to read the beginning of Chapter 15 (so the chapter numbers continue through the parts). I want to catch the reason for the separate parts. I read two and a half pages and am swept away.

That’s when I hopped up to write this post. The Anna Papers is one of the reasons I wanted to learn how to write. To do this. What she did.

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playing with books

This morning I remember Ellen Gilchrist writing about getting down on the floor to play with her books.  I want to find that passage.  With my coffee in one hand, I begin to pull her books off the shelf.  I think it’s in Falling Though Space, her journal, but I can’t find it.  Next I thumb through The Anna Papers.  It’s driving me crazy.  I’m not saying it’s not in either of these books, but I can’t find it.  Now I’m down on the floor, surrounded by every book Ellen Gilchrist has ever written. 

I had things I wanted to do today–like write.  Instead, I’m pouring another cup of coffee, with my finger holding the place in Falling Through Space, where Ellen Gilchrist writes, “The hardest thing to get hold of in the world is the truth; the easiest to keep once you capture it, once you know it plain.  So I believe, but then I can’t stand secrets.  I want all the cards on the table.  I want to know what’s going on.” 

When I find the passage that started this lovely side journey, I will let you know.