Sunday, January 22, 2006

Back From the Dead

Well I’m back. I wasn’t sure I could keep away from this blog for two weeks, particularly after the James Frey and JT LeRoy scandals broke. How my fingers itched to throw in my two cents! But I had promised myself no blogging and minimal internet and email while I worked on my book.

I got the first draft done. It is remarkable how much work one can do when the distractions of daily life are gone. I went up to my parents’ house in Sonoma County and stayed 10 days. I was alone most of the time, although three members of my writing group came for brief stays. No children to drive to school, no real meals to cook, no real cleaning to do -- I only had to write.

I would get up by 7:30 and be writing by 8 a.m. Before I realized, it was time for lunch. When I wasn’t writing I was reading – about 19th century Los Angeles, about World War I and its destruction; about the push for the creation of a Jewish homeland after the war. The solitude let me delve deeply into those worlds and think about how they affected the man I am writing about. Sometimes all the information was bewildering; I would read and read and read and only feel confused. But then I would go to sleep (after Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and the Colbert Report) and wake up in the morning, refreshed and with a clear mind. I would then start again.

I will admit I was scared before the retreat. I was worried that I couldn’t get into my book, that I would just waste time. But that didn’t happen. This experience makes me want to try a writers’ colony soon.

On the book front, I read and somewhat enjoyed On Beauty by Zadie Smith. She’s a wonderful writer; she creates scenes full of people, of chaos, of place, of detail. Her depiction of the strands of life in an elite American college were wonderful. But I didn’t quite believe her characters. They didn’t act in a way I thought rang true. I was not engaged the first part of the book, but then I was drawn into the story of Wellington, a college town (Cambridge) and the Belseys, a mixed race family struggling to determine how to fit in this privileged world.

I also read and enjoyed The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper. It’s the story of a dysfunctional writer who returns to the hometown he skewered in a thinly-disguised novel. Naturally, Joe discovers his recollections were not true, and the people he rejected have something important to offer him.

1 comment:

ed said...

Well, I was so overwhelmed by how beautiful (AND entertaining: no small feat that combo) Smith's writing was that I was willing to overlook some of the characters' inconsistencies. Even more criminal than that, however, was the reliance upon coincidence. Again, not a perfect book, but one of the best books I read last year by way of its strengths.