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THE FIRST PAGE OF “THE DEVOTED” STARTS WITH A PROBLEM. I’d written a shaky short story for my fiction workshop. It was about Zen Buddhism, and growing up Irish Catholic; it was about getting sucked into religious devotion that became more like sexual worship. But it was talky and vague and technical and confusing. The workshop hadn’t gone well. But at the end of the painful discussion, my teacher said, “it’s not working well because there’s too much here. There’s a novel here.”
I rode the train back to my apartment in Brooklyn, clutching my wrinkled stack of commented stories, thinking about what my teacher had said. The story was a disaster; but I knew there was something there, the seed of a story, the characters and ideas I’d been mulling over, wrestling with, for most of my life.
Back in the apartment, I pulled out my 1935 Royal typewriter, a graduation present from my parents. Sometimes when the blinking cursor on a blank page on my computer felt too overwhelming, I turned to this ancient, creaking machine to get my writing done. Every key press was an effort. It felt like I was really doing something heroic. I looked out the window, let the quiet of the afternoon fill me, and I wrote a page. It was the same character I’d been writing about in my failed short story, but now the central problem of her life was laid bare, and Boston was wrapped up in it too, those long trips on the train, those muddy backyards and strangers walking by with their coat collars turned up. This time, the first page of the story was an open door into everything I wanted to say about belief, about sensuality, about family and devotion and their hard irreconcilability.
That first paragraph got tweaked and shuffled around a bit from draft to draft, but in the final work, it’s still there — and all the energy and mood, the promise of it, was what kept me going through the years it took to reach this story’s completion.
This month, I’m off to the AWP writers’ conference, which is always a huge jolt in the arm for me; it’s tremendously inspiring to learn of others’ projects, successes, and failures, and to re-connect with writers I’ve met from around the country. Coming soon will be some of the first scheduled events for The Devoted — so stay tuned.
Got a new batch of ARCs in today. #thedevoted #writing
Just getting excited about stamping future copies of #thedevoted over here. #writing
A little cafe #writing today.
Seeking Zip’s approval for my book. #thedevoted #writing
A few early galleys of THE DEVOTED are here in person! 🎉 #thedevoted #writing #arcs
THE DEVOTED has a cover. And it’s coming August 2018. #writing #wwnorton
I got a John Steinbeck scented candle this week and it is amazing writers #writing #candles #smokedbirch
I’m so happy to see a rather morbid little piece of flash fiction I wrote is now available at Cosmonauts Avenue. I’d love to have you read:
Hello, readers. It’s official: I’ve moved to Canada for a writing teaching position, and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the culture and literary scene here. The timing is downright odd, I know, and I’ll be writing about my experiences here as well as my thoughts on what it means to be leaving the States at this particular time. You can see some of my first posts on my Medium blog here:
My Medium stories
And here’s an excerpt of my first post:
Hello, Canada! I’m new to you! The timing might seem suspect, an American arriving in Canada just now, after a crazy 2016 and a maddening election season. It’s so suspect, in fact, that I’ve gotten used to shrugging and smiling when people joke about my fleeing the country. But I’m here because my fiancé and I got teaching jobs at a university. This was in the works for nearly a year. So while I watched the election results with the same obsessiveness as all my friends, and bit my nails and watched too much MSNBC, there was always this knowledge in the back of my mind…that I’d be leaving soon. Either I’d be looking proudly on from afar as our first female president set up shop, or, well…I’d be high-tailing it out of there.
I knew I wanted to observe everything that was new to me in Canada as soon as I got here. My job as a newcomer, I think, is to look with big eyes and listen with big ears. To notice the differences and the similarities. And as a writer, my job is to observe and form theories about the national character. To see the contradictions and learn the jokes. To put my foot in it a few times and learn how to step gracefully out again. So this post will be the first of many scattered thoughts and observations about what might become my new home.
Stay tuned for more thoughts on the writing life from North of the Border, and also come back for some exciting new progress on the novel. More soon.