August 3rd 2012
After singing Pat Conroy's praises a few blogs ago, I decided to read "Prince of Tides" again. It's a big book, though not as big as it was in its initial 1400 page version. An editor at his publishing house made him cut that count by half, which I think was probably a good idea. He was made to re-write the book eight times. Ron Carlson says that if you open a book on any page, it should bleed. And Pat Conroy's book certainly does do that. All over your hands and down your wrists. It's a bloody book, and the presence of the author is very raw. I always think my writing is a bit like literary vomit - I can't help it. I have very little dignity as a writer. The story just comes out heaving and ends up on the desk, and then neatly into paragraphs and pages somehow or other. There seem to be (very generally speaking) two types of writers: there's the vomiting kind and then the ones that stack their stories brick upon brick, very carefully avoiding smudging mortar on anything. DH Lawrence was of the former, James Joyce of the latter. James Joyce could spend a whole day working on half a sentence. Not I. Not Pat Conroy.
I should wait until I finish "Prince of Tides," before giving my verdict. But I do know an interesting fact about it, which is that Conroy listened to Barbara Streisand a lot when he was writing it. He was in South Carolina and she was in California, but when she picked his book up, she couldn't put it down. She didn't know him, but she vowed she would make a film of it, which she did, and handily (though haven't seen it yet) as it was nominated for seven Academy Awards. So, the moral of the story is: watch what you listen to when you write. Stephen King listens to heavy metal when he writes. Enough said.
As for my book, I am still hurrying up and waiting, which seems to be the name of the game and something I have done plenty of since it was first picked up moons and moons ago. Agents and Editors follow this ritual of abandoning New York in July and heading for the Hamptons (this is how the story goes) where they sit around reading books not on their work lists. Sounds good to me, but not what I want my agent or editor to be doing. At any rate, I haven't heard a squeak in at least one moon and, Hamptons or no Hamptons, no one is answering my e-mails. Still, the bottom line is that it says in my contract the publisher has to publish the book within eighteen months, so if the clock is ticking, it isn't my clock. Why should I worry (she asks unconvincingly.)
I want to get moving in other directions, is the answer to that. I feel vomit coming on. Another of my novels, which I have re-written several times, needs more than a new coat of paint; it needs a whole new engine. It's about a troupe of Scottish nationalists stealing The Lewis Chessmen (strictly speaking the property of Scotland, so not stealing at all) from The British Museum in London. It's a great story, but it sort of got drowned in my efforts to be oh so literary. I need to eat it up and try for a more productive spew next time. I would really like to get away from writing in the first person,which I resisted for a long time because it is limiting. But whenever I go for third person narrative, for some reason it gets stodgy. This Lewis Chessmen story is in the third person, and I would love to keep it that way. Writing in the first person seems like a bit of a cop-out to me, though I do my best writing (thus far) in that voice. It's the closest voice to vomit, so no surprises there.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I like Pat Conroy's writing. It leans towards being a bit over the top, but you get the sense of a big intellect behind it, which is always a good backdrop for bloody writing. As a rule of thumb, if you are reading along and keep having to stop to savour the beauty of a sentence, you are in good hands. Messy but adept hands.