June 1st 2012
Just to finish the thought from last time about what a writer is, let's ask the question about what the art of writing is, or any art for that matter. I'll turn to Hermann Hesse here, who said that art is the universalising mirror. When I look into a Renoir face, that wistful look of the woman in Les Danceurs, I get, without any explanation, what that look is. To me the Impressionists got the balance just about perfectly between the impression and the expression. As soon as we get out of the Impressionist period, we get the expression taking over, and that (at the risk of pulling a wall of bricks down on myself) is how we got to modern art. So, the same goes for literature - there has to be a resonance, and at best a perfect resonance between the situation and the truth of what we're about as human beans.
Anyway, I shall move on, because hardly anyone agrees with me on this. I have had too many arguments in modern art exhibitions, getting red in the face over Art for Art's sake. I don't buy it.
On a more mundane level, and in case anyone is interested and still following this blog because it was supposed to be about publishing, here are some of the points my editor at Simon and Schuster asked me to fix in my upcoming book. (A small piece of trivia: the Simon in that duo is the father of Carly Simon.) Most of these points offer good advice for any writer:
1. Really get into the emotional lives of your characters and make the reader feel what they feel. Otherwise, you've just got a lot of facts. Another writer called Ron Carlson says that when you open a book at any page, it should bleed. Very good image.
2. With regard to the two lovers in a love story (which my book is only partially), the interaction should be electric. Thing is, this doesn't always happen in reality, but literature isn't reality, block by block - it is more like an allegory. For instance, dialogue between literary characters has to be somewhat unrealistic, more condensed, more to the point of the story - otherwise, you'd have a lot of "Hmmm's" and "Eh's," and "Excuse me's" and "Do you want milk with that?"
3.In my particular book, which takes place partially in the past, my editor thinks the tilt of the book should be about 65-35, past to present. The readers need to be more immersed in the past life, because it's more foreign to them.
4. Being a Scot, I sometimes assume my American readership is going to know what I mean when I allude to things like "The Stone of Destiny." So, explain it, why don't you?
5. My heroine, Maggie, has a teenage son in the present. He is one of the chief reasons she keeps feeling the pull back to her modern-day life. However, I haven't really taken that relationship to a level that would warrant that feeling.
6. The ending. My initial ending left the characters up in the air and faded into the mists rather melancholically. This was the first version, and the one I showed to my agent. His response was, this is a great story, well told, with a lot of commercial viability, but CHANGE THE ENDING. It was his opinion that no one likes a downer for an ending. I rather liked the ending the way it was and stood up for it. He told me I was shooting myself in the foot. Fine. I made the ending much more resolved, much happier. My editor likes that ending, but she wants me to amp it up even more. I'm thinking about it. We all like a happy ending. It just makes you put that book down with a smile. It gives you hope that everything everywhere will turn out all right in the end. I don't mind giving people that feeling. I'm just not entirely sure where taking this path might fall off into sentimentality. As I was saying earlier, the burden on the artist is to look in the mirror and keep it real.