Making the Switch–writing fiction after nonfiction

I finished the second draft of my memoir (­čĹĆ), which even has a new title: The Warmth of a Winter Sun.┬áThe book is currently 75,058 words. Not bad.

But now the book has officially entered the “cooling off” phase. You know, that set amount of time (in this case, the coming fall semester) where I DON’T TOUCH IT. (Book: That’s right, Lynn. In the immortal words of Michael Jackson,┬áJust Leave Me Alone.)

The book and I need this break. I’m sick of it, and it’s sick of me. Plus, I can’t see it objectively anymore. Here’s hoping time gives me more distance and that I can complete a third draft over Winter Break … and that a fourth draft will be minimal some time after.

In the meantime, I figure I should use this fall semester to get back into fiction. Except I haven’t been writing fiction for about a year and a half. That’s a LONG time. When I sat down yesterday to write, I panicked. (Whereby I spontaneously started shouting “42!” And when that didn’t work, “ROSEBUD!” and then “ADRIAN!” Sorry, neighbors.)

I don’t know. Is this just another way of procrastinating? Like, freak out and get out of writing? Hm. My subconscious might be craftier than I thought. Even so, I’m not sure how to proceed. Should I just try out a bunch of free writes? Formal exercises? A third lovely option?

I’ll try something today and report back.




The Secret Center of Bola├▒o’s 2666

I finished Roberto Bola├▒o’s epic novel 2666 in the beginning of July, but on a recent road trip with some fellow post-MFAers, I found myself talking about it. It’s a book that stays with you after you turn the last page for a lot of reasons, not least of which is its grim depictions of the rape, torture and murder of women and girls in Mexico’s fictional border city of Santa TeresaÔÇömurders that the police and residents ignore and/or collude in.┬áBut┬áBola├▒o’s prose makes the reading journey worthwhile, even if it’s a harrowing, brutal trip at times.

The book is composed of five sections (or novels), but characters weave in and out of the text and all five sections deal with Santa Teresa in some way. Bola├▒o wanted the five sections published independently, but publishers decided that it made more sense for them to be together. It does. In fact, I think an important reason for reading 2666 falls away without a full read of all five parts, but I’ll get to that in a second.

One interesting thing (or perhaps annoying, depending on your outlook) about 2666 is that nowhere is the title mentioned in the actual text of the book. Rather, the end notes explain 2666 appears as a year in Bola├▒o’s book, Amulet. A character in Amulet describes a cemetery as “not a cemetery in 1974 or 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else.”

Yeah, 2666 is bleak. 

But here’s the thing. Before he died, Bola├▒o wrote that the book contained a “secret center.” Which, if you believe the end notes, is thought to be Santa Teresa. This idea had me scratching my head. If Bola├▒o was going for a secret center, Santa Teresa strikes me as too obvious, too easy to spot. The book is pretty up front about all the connections to Mexico. So not so secret for a secret.

And really? If that was the secret center, 2666┬áloses some of its appeal. At least to me. It risks becoming a bunch of well-written dark stories, borderline torture porn. So I’m throwing that theory out and adding my vote for the secret center. It’s a passage that stopped me, one that I underlined and starred. One that made me think, hm, yes. This might be true.┬á

“… that history, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness.”

To me, this makes sense as a center, an idea that loses its power if the sections/novels are read independently. The outlook is apocalyptic in 2666. The book is a grim examination of the meaninglessness of life. And it is an attempt at depicting meaningless without false hope.

What do you think? Find a different secret center?

Incidentally, that road trip we took? We were headed to the Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave in northwestern New Mexico. For $12, it’s probably the most costly and least impressive landscape in New Mexico. Repeat after me: Tourist. Trap.

We did, however, eat some mighty fine blue corn enchiladas in Gallup with the locals at Genaro’s Cafe.

What’s a little writing now that I’m here?

I’d been writing a section in my book about my parent’s marriage (think turbulent) when I stumbled across this old photo of a Superior diner. (Incidentally, I don’t even remember where or how I got the photo. If you want rights or know more, please tell me.)

My parents met at this diner called Kitch’s Drive-In (pronounced by locals as Kitch-ees) sometime in the early 1970s. Of course, this photo is from an earlier periodÔÇöI’m bad at judging cars, 1950s, perhaps?

But it’s funny how this photo looks, at turns, dark and foreboding, or bright and folksy, depending on my mood. And when I think about my father when he met my mother, I see the photo as some kind of poster for a black and white, gritty film noir piece, and the opening scene is where me and my sister’s future began.

Not so auspicious, I tend to think.