Tag Archives: marriage

The Novelist’s Wife Speaks Out

To wrap up my series on writers and their secret worlds, I’d like to share with you the thoughts of Amanda Palmer, a musician who happens to be married to a writer whose secret world is as big as they come: Neil Gaiman.

I’ve always had a deep and abiding respect for Neil Gaiman. His work brings to mind Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory: seven-eighths of the meaning is hidden beneath the surface. Reading him is like dipping your toe into what you think is a puddle but turns out to be an entire freaking ocean. That is the most important quality a writer can have, in my opinion. The power of subtext, the ability to say things by not saying them.

Amanda Palmer isn’t like that. As an artist she admits she’s often very literal, not well-versed in metaphor, The Queen of Feelings. The experiences of her life go into a blender on low speed and come out only slightly pureed. She’s not afraid to repurpose her life for the sake of her art.

When Neil Gaiman was writing his latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, he read it aloud to his wife each night before bed. To her it was terrifying and beautiful but ultimately, just a story. When the galleys came in, and she could read it for herself, she started to see the meaning behind the words, but it wasn’t until her husband patiently explained the significance of the story that it finally hit her. This was a glimpse into the secret world of the man she loved.

I just started The Ocean at the End of the Lane last night, so I only know what the few glowing reviews I’ve read reveal, but I do know this: it’s personal. Amanda traces it back to a moment the two of them shared–or more accurately, failed to share. Neil wanted to tell her something, something personal, but she had a new song budding in her head so she asked him to wait until she could get it out on piano. Later on, when she was ready, the moment had passed. The window into her husband’s secret world had shut with them trapped on opposite sides.

Neil writes on the dedication page:

For Amanda, who wanted to know.

And Amanda writes, in the blog post:

one thing i have learned, being an artist married to another artist:
you cannot separate the self from the relationship and you cannot separate the relationship from the work.
call it poison, or call it the muse.

I’m very conscious of what I choose to share about my marriage here on my blog, but in my writing, my fiction? Anything’s game. I’ve been writing about crap that’s happened to me even before I knew it was happening.

Marriage? It’s traumatic. It knocks you upside the head, knocks you flat, even when you think you’re ready for it. It’s two completely separate lives trying to merge. Things are going to break. People don’t tell you about that. Going into it, you think you’re immune to those kinds of problems.

So I know my marriage is going to come through in my writing, because everything does. I can’t help it. I write about relationships, and marriage is the ultimate relationship. When I write about someone’s feelings getting hurt, I will pull from my memory of stored emotions. Ditto falling in love, feeling misunderstood, feeling drawn to someone you shouldn’t like, resenting someone you should. And if these feelings are produced by my marriage, so be it. I’m thankful that I’m able to feel and express the wide range of human emotion, able to make sense of it, able to relate to others and make connections.

But I’m not going to write about it on my blog. Not in any deep and meaningful way, not without permission from my husband. He’s not an artist. He’s not interested in baring his soul before the world. I’m not going to betray his wishes for something as silly as a blog. Even Amanda Palmer, The Queen of Feelings, has come to the same conclusion:

…but our *actual* relationship…the feelings and fevers and discussions and layers of attachment and complication underneath…that’s….for us. our close friends follow the intimacies of this strange journey we’re on with each other. but it’s not for the blog, it’s not really for the public.

Go read her post, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane (A Book & Marriage Review).” Very rarely do I come across something that resonates with me so deeply. (And she’s not even a Neil Gaiman fan. How incomprehensible.)

Advertisements

10 Comments

Filed under books, writing

Writing Without a Map: In Which I End Up Exactly Where I’m Supposed to Be

Downtown Griffin, GA by Amber Rhea

Setting out to write a novel is a lot like setting out on a roadtrip. Everyone does it differently. Some people collect maps and make plans, some have only a destination in mind, others don’t even know that much. For them, it’s the journey that matters, destination left up to the whim of chance.

My husband is a planner. Yesterday morning, when we decided we were going to drive an hour and a half south of Atlanta to one of those wild animal safari parks (where zebras and bison slobber on your windshield), he printed off pages of directions, complete with three different maps in varying levels of detail. Having navigated four weeks of Europe with nothing but Rick Steve’s guidebook and a keen sense of direction, I laughed at his lack of faith and tossed the maps on the floor with the Egg McMuffin wrappers.

“It’s just one road the entire way,” I told him. “Stay on I-85 until you hit LaGrange.”

Forty minutes later, after dissecting the themes of both Breaking Bad and There Will Be Blood, my husband asked what exit we were looking for. And, because my sense of direction is good but apparently not good enough, I immediately started getting a Really Bad Feeling About This.

Two minutes later, we’re pulling off the highway.

“You were supposed to navigate!” he said, frantically pulling up Google Maps on his phone.

“You were supposed to stay on I-85!”

We weren’t on I-85. Not even close. According to Google, it was going to take us another hour and a half to get to the animal park, cutting through what appeared to be a glitch: no roads, no towns, just a massive wedge of nothing between where we were and where we were supposed to be.

(To be fair, staying on I-85 involved taking an exit somewhere near the airport. I just wasn’t paying enough attention to tell him that.)

#

This sort of thing happens to me a lot–and not just whenever my husband and I decide to get into a car together. As of late, my subconscious has been leading me down some pretty strange streets.

Writers may know what I’m talking about: make a plan, and prepare yourself to go waaaaay off-course. It’s almost like daring your writer-subconscious. “I’ll show you,” you think in your more lucid moments, while your subconscious is muttering, “We’ll see about that.”

I learned to trust my writer-subconscious a long time ago. It knows what’s up.

Most of the time, when I stare at the screen and nothing comes out, it’s because I have nowhere to go, and sure enough, the more I force it, the more we go wandering around in confused little plot circles. And when words pour like crazy, leading me further and further from my nice neat list of bulleted points, I know better than to try and yank it back on track. I’ve been sucking up stories for almost twenty-seven years now, so I’d like to think there’s a part of my brain that knows what it’s doing.

(Hopefully not connected to the part of my brain that knows where it’s going–because if our little roadtrip is any indication, that part needs some work.)

For some time now I’ve been trying to understand what’s been going on with WIP as of late, and a roadtrip is an excellent metaphor. Since 2007 this thing has squirted out of me in various forms and genres, all centered on one guy who lands himself in prison for a terrible, terrible crime. I don’t know why this guy fascinates me but I keep coming back to him, even when it doesn’t seem healthy or make a lick of sense.

Together, we’ve walked some strange roads, but none so strange as the ones we’ve walked this past year. For all of my plans, my notebooks full of dialogue, plot points, and description, I would never have planned on coming here, never in my wildest dreams thought my subconscious would bring me right back where I started: a fictional version of my hometown in all its illogical, country-fried glory.

#

Five minutes after my husband and I found ourselves tragically, hopelessly, and unapologetically lost, we ended up in Griffin, Georgia–a town I am sure you will recognize as the filming location of Sundance Channel’s Rectifymy favorite and arguably the best show of 2013 (which is saying a lot cos this year’s been great for television).

And I never would have gone there of my own volition because it’s way out in the middle of freaking nowhere.

Rectify is about Daniel Holden, a man released from Death Row after 20 years due to some murky DNA evidence, and his return to the southern town of his childhood raises questions about guilt, innocence, punishment and forgiveness that I recognized the moment it started–same as I recognized the town where it was filmed.

“Oh my god, that’s the graveyard where they beat the crap out of him,” I said, in much the same tone I used in the presence of Shakespeare’s birthplace and Hadrian’s Wall. “I can’t believe it’s right there beside the road.”

And, about two minutes later: “Look at that! That’s the cute little street, with the bookstore and Susan’s beauty parlor. Did they even do any set dressing? It looks exactly like the show.”

And so on, with the gas station where Daniel buys Smart Water and wonders if it actually makes people smart, and the creek, ten minutes outside of town, where Hannah was murdered. “Creeks kinda all look the same, you know,” my husband tried to reason, but I knew better. This was definitely the creek.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to grow up here, in a town even more rural than mine, what it’d be like to come back after twenty years and try to find your bearings. We moved to North Georgia when I was eight. I’ve never felt like I really belonged. Maybe bringing my characters home helps me define not only who they are, but who I’ve become, as well.

Ray McKinnon, creator of Rectify, might understand. He grew up in Adel, South Georgia, a place probably not so different from the fictional Paulie he created for the show. And like all good Southern Gothic towns, the Paulie of Rectify is a character that exerts a will all its own.

For years I’d tried to set my story of guilt, innocence, punishment and forgiveness in a town that looked like everywhere but could only come up with a hazy shade of nowhere. It wasn’t until I committed to a real place–a place real enough to me, at least–that my story finally started to come around.

How important is setting to your stories? According to agent and author Donald Maass, a setting with character is an essential quality of breakout fiction. How much of your settings comes from personal experience, and how important is personal experience to your writing in general?

55 Comments

Filed under writing

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

(with possible mild spoilers)

OMG THIS BOOK

I read this while vacationing on Tybee Island, Georgia, which is a little unfair to my husband. While he slogged through the latest Dan Brown and muttered, “I know where this is going. . . ,” I kept shouting “OMG THIS BOOK IS RIDICULOUS,” scaring the children and seagulls.

(I think that’s why Gone Girl has become as big as it has. Everyone who reads it goes OMG THIS BOOK and runs to share with the nearest human. My copy already has a waiting list. Hurry up, mother-in-law!)

Okay, now some serious reviewage:

When I was younger, I read thrillers all the time. Law and Order and Dateline NBC were my favorite shows, and I inhaled every Joan Lowery Nixon and Caroline B. Cooney I could find. The covers promised instant drama. A girl is kidnapped! Stalkers! Crazed killers! Murder murder murder! (I kind of wish there were more people writing books like this for young readers. Having written one unintentional thriller that almost made me break pencils in my brother’s eye, I know that person is probably not me.)

Around high school though, my interests moved onto things like dystopia, magical realism, and serious literary allusions (SANDMAN SANDMAN AMERICAN GODS SANDMAN). I looked for books that took me to fantastic and terrifying places. Well, I still do, but now I realize that the most terrifying place is within the human mind itself.

Gone Girl begins with a husband waxing poetic on the unknowable qualities of his wife’s head, down to the very coils of her brain. On their fifth anniversary the wife goes missing, instantly casting suspicion on the husband, because, as several characters point out, the husband is always a suspect. The first half of the book shows him digging himself further and further into the hole of suspicion, making us wonder just what the heck is wrong with him and genuinely want to beat him over the head with the stick of common sense. Alternating chapters of the wife’s diary help paint a more complete picture of this troubled marriage.

I must say, the first half of the book is difficult to get through. I gave up for several weeks before coming back, out of lack of anything else to read. (I will admit this happens surprisingly often for a girl which giant stacks of unread books.) There was so much family backstory to get through, and while it does seem necessary to fully realizing the story and was told in a lively voice, it was still backstory. Chunks of it. That was hard to get through and hard to keep straight most of the time. I kept having to flip back to catch details I didn’t properly absorb. Also, the diary portions made me groan every time they popped up. A saccharinely-sweet voice of an obnoxious, self-absorbed New York rich girl whining about how she should be more appreciative of her “perfect husband” didn’t make me sympathize with her–it just make her look like a blubbering brat with a victim complex. I was super thrilled when I no longer had to deal with them. (Yes I realize their design BUT I DIDN’T AT THE TIME OKAY.)

BUT, because my friend grabbed me and said OMG THIS BOOK, I soldiered on. And I’m so glad I did. Because once I started to pick up on what was going on, I ran around the house shouting “Sheer genius! Why didn’t I think of that!”

See, right before this I read The Sociopath Next Door, which, despite a lot of marketing hype, really helped me understand the segment of the population that don’t care how others feel and who only want to win. It’s a most foreign concept to me, being a highly sensitive and empathetic person, but also an important one. One of the characters in my WIP may or may not be a sociopath, and it helps to explain how some people in this world can be so mean and eat humans for breakfast. (Really been getting into the TV show Hannibal–check it out! Super empath vs. super psychopath is always good for a laugh.) Anyway, maybe because I’d just read the book, I was able to see the big picture and analyze it from a more “psychological” point of view.

Gone Girl a perfect profile of a sociopath. These people become what you want them to be, only so they can tear out your heart and prove how magnificent and godlike they are. And what Flynn does, extending this idea to freaking MARRIAGE ITSELF, is somewhat terrifying. Completely normal people employ these same dirty tactics. We all want to win, we all want our spouse and everyone else to think we’re awesome. A big part of life is this struggle of power with others, wanting people to like us, constantly presenting versions of ourselves that will attract the most admirers. Because, if you peel back all the layers, what you will find inside each and every one of our heads would scare the living daylights out of those we love. Look at young children: they think the world was invented with them in mind. It’s very, very difficult to grow out of that mindset. Some people never do, sociopathic or not.

That’s the neat thing about Flynn’s writing: her characters are awful people. And yet, we love them anyway. Or if not love, at least we want them to succeed. That makes them pretty fantastic psychological manipulators if you ask me. (I should probably read Lolita next, though I first need to work up the courage.)

In the end, Gone Girl is THEORETICALLY more awesome than how it turned out. I loved it and appreciated what Flynn was able to accomplish, but I can’t help but wonder if what she came up with didn’t exactly fit the vision in her head. I remember Neil Gaiman saying this about one of his books (I think it was The Graveyard Book), that it was the first time what came out on paper perfectly reflected what was in his head. He waited 20 years before writing it, knowing it would take certain skill to pull off correctly. I wonder if perhaps Gone Girl could have used a little more creative gestation (or just better editing; the slogging first half has probably prevented many people from getting to the good parts.)

Verdict: SUPER AWESOME but somewhat disjointed. I felt Sharp Objects was a stronger offering. We’ll see about Dark Places. I’m only halfway through.

5 Comments

Filed under books

Packages Shaped Like Kindles!

Someone’s dear sweet husband just bought her a Kindle. It’s nowhere near our anniversary.

AND he made sure he was in his boxers when the UPS guy rang so I’d have to get it, expecting another one of his quality handcrafted heirloom wardrobe essentials. (The guy at the leasing office knows us so well he just rolls his eyes when we come in and gets up to go rustle up our missed packages.)

It’s sparkly and new, waaay lighter than I expected, like something I’m probably going to sit on and break without even realizing it. We snuggled on the couch while I set it up, got used to the navigation, marveled at how they make adult Etch A Sketches now and we somehow got duped into buying one. I scrolled through the list of free books, downloaded a couple, flipped the pages back and forth just to see the liquid paper molecules rearrange themselves like magic, and giggled more than was necessary.

Fifteen minutes later, I was back on my Chrome Book.

“Why aren’t you reading your Kindle?” my husband asked. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Uncategorized