I write every day. Even those days when what I am writing feels as if it is destined to become a trunk piece, I write it. What’s a “trunk piece”? Well, when musical theatre writers have songs they end up cutting or not using, they tuck them away, and sometimes, later, use them (or parts of them) for other purposes or shows. They save them in the metaphorical “trunk” – and being a musical theatre nerd, I borrowed the term for my writing that ends up not being part of larger projects.
Trouble is, I’ve got this massive collection of trunk pieces and very little real product. I mean, I have one finished novel in which I can’t seem to interest an agent. I don’t think it’s perfect, but I do think it’s quite good. I say this because I’ve let some people read it, and while I admit that there have been a few people who have read it – or didn’t finish reading it – and didn’t ever comment (which sort of sucked, honestly) – the only actual “literary” person who’s read it, a professor of literature and editor, said the following:
“The stuff i loved:
* your writing style. it’s effortless. i was truly absorbed in it — an experience that’s become increasingly rare for me as i advance further in the world of “reading as forced labor.” i’d over-praise it but don’t want to gild the lily. it was just beautiful.
* the general structure. the stories are unpacked with the same kind of sloppy contained-ness of the moving boxes that crowd Libertytown — a little here, a little there, with an accidentally-packed-the-soup-ladle-with-the-linens-but-that-reminds-me.. tone. i realized there was organization but it didn’t smack in the face with its own smug tidiness. and i thought, about halfway through, that a second read would probably deepen the experience, as i could then trace how all the little through-lines are laid. just a further thought about structure: i really can’t stand novels that are tightly woven, like they were laid out using Quicken. neatly-balanced checkbooks. [inevitably written by MFAs.] i like having some debt at the end of the reading experience — for instance, the tidbit about Matthew (possibly? maybe not?) lying to his mother about being beaten (and raped?). i like that not everything is resolved, that the narrator is unreliable, and that his story unfolds with the same haphazard structure of an old country manse.)
* your characterizations. everyone is deeply flawed but also deeply likeable; just when i start thinking someone’s being a dick they go and make themselves vulnerable in a way which opens them to the reader’s empathy. it’s all done with such subtlety and tack — not easy to do. and you’ve done it just beautifully.
*i finished reading yesterday and gave myself today to see what the “afterimage” of reading was like. my most honest assessments usually come from how a book clings to me after i’ve put it down — and this one really stuck with me, bits and pieces of it coming to me spontaneously today. i think it’s truly a wonderful, and wonderfully-written . . . a few turns of a loose screw here and there to tighten up the prose is all, really.
*i wish i had sage advice about how to get it published, though. there’s no doubt in my mind it deserves to be published, and would get critical acclaim — but some of the drivel the “big guys” are publishing these days makes me suspect you’ll have a hard time finding a champion in the industry, which is (i also suspect) what it takes.
I have included these remarks because I go back to them (and the suggestions for improvement, which I mostly took and used for revision) when I am feeling frustrated. Last night the LAMBDA literary awards were given out. I’ve read some of the nominees and winners and many of them are lovely. I have read many, many published books in the years since I’ve been writing and finished having written “LIBERTYTOWN: THE NOVEL” and, at the risk of sounding hubristic, my book is as good or better than many of them. So, I am frustrated that I cannot seem to find it a home. I see hundreds of bildungsroman first novels published every year, and yet . . .
So, I am frustrated with that. And I am frustrated that I cannot seem to finish the first chapter of a project I am working on with a friend. It’s a stinking musical theatre company and audition about which I’m writing. I KNOW musical theatre companies and auditions. WHY IS IT TORTURING ME SO?
I am also frustrated because there are any number of things about which I wish to write IN THIS BLOG TONIGHT that I cannot write about. I am frustrated because I am going to the gym five days a week and it wouldn’t matter if I went seven days a week, I’m never going to look like Brad Pitt or George Clooney or Johnny Depp and I have never been and am never going to be the kind of person whose looks attract people, and I had so hoped that my intellect or soul might do so – but no – and my last chance to be loved seemed to be fame and/or fortune and that too appears eternally out of reach. I am frustrated by the stories told and the stories I can’t tell. I am frustrated at the amount of life energy I have wasted in pursuit of and in service of…oh fuck it, I can’t even – dare not -finish that sentence.
Most of all, I am frustrated by my frustrations. I should know better by now. I will depart with a piece from LIBERTYTOWN: THE NOVEL that the above lit expert pulled out as illustration of the beauty of the work, and I will try to focus on that.
“For years after, I would think about those moments where infinity resided during that accident; in which time, as I’d always experienced it, lost its meaning and I glimpsed the energy of all that is hidden beneath the daily, there where the regular boundaries of reality are stretched out of shape and torn aside, the illusion revealed and the massiveness of forever laid bare.”