Sunday, July 4, 2010

Leo Tolstoy

I am reading Anna Karenina for the third time in my life. Never have I read it before with such open eyes.

The chapter breaks are marvelous. They are quick. They make so much sense to me. I am patterning the chapter breaks in my own book after what I am learning from Tolstoy's art.

I haven't been blogging. My life seems so full, there is no time for it. Or else I do not wish to do it and over exhaust myself. Last week either I was doing errands (for the Church, for my mental illness peer support group, or going to have a yearly physical) and I was in and out of the car and distracted, or else I was in bed and focused, working on my book and exhausted after putting in an average of two hours per day. There are days that are lost - these are the days when I have to spend time with family or else do errands, and there are days that are found - when I get to work on my book.

Last Thursday in particular I wrote a new section of my book and the story was so tight and vivid that the next day I changed little. It had come to me whole and solid. But the consequence of a blessing from above! When my husband came home from work I told him that I was exhausted and could not attend that evening's women's spirit group at Church. But I wanted to go for our evening walk, I wanted the exercise. And I did bow out of group and instead go for a walk. We ending up at the Pizza Parlor we favor and I had two, count them, two glasses of wine. And unheard of amount for me. It was partly to take the edge off my exhaustion from writing, partly to celebrate the existence of having a good writing session, and partly to celebrate my husband's four day holiday from work.

I read Mrs. Dalloway and am now completely enamored with Virginia Woolf. I must have tried to read her work when I was younger and could not appreciate it. But it is a magnificent book, one that I can learn a lot from. I predict that a year from now I will re-read Mrs. Dalloway.

My husband highly recommended "My Friend Flicka" and the two books in the series that came after it. I was a bit bewildered why I was reading this book, since I am not in love with horses, although I like to ride and took lessons as a teenager. However, the end of the book came together with so much pressure that I was loath to stop reading it. I can't make heads or tails of my reaction to the book. It isn't writing that is glorious and sophisticated like Mrs. Dalloway. Its crafted nicely. No,it is crafted expertly. But still, "My Friend Flicka" is crafted. And it is a safe book. The good guys are thick in it. The trouble is misty in it, although, what looms in the ending is somebody's death. What looms in the middle of it is whether or not the favored little horse is "loco" or not. Family love is thick in it throughout, although, it is a family with stresses and strains and banishment's, little banishment's from one another's good graces. My husband's copy was very old, the glue came undone on me and a section of pages lifted out. But my husband swears that the book has lasted and is still in print, still beloved. What every author wishes for the future of their book.

Before Flicka I read "A Color Purple". Noble book, emotional book. Some parts, especially the dialogue, seem to come to you like one long dream. A dreamy book. An inspired book. Not like Anna Karenina where everything is tight and polished and socially glossy. Tolstoy is restrained, elegantly dressed while Alice Walker is a woman walking around with no bra on and the back of her skirt tucked up under her panties.

Today I worked on character development in my chapter. I think I've got a chapter, beginning, middle and end and it is a Tolstoy chapter. Gave a staff person in the psychiatric hospital a physical description. Had made him talk before but never gave him a look for the reader. That it matches the physical description of a man I ate lunch with yesterday makes no difference, there is only the physical description and none of the character of the man I ate lunch with copied. But I need a look, and his look came to me. Use what you know I guess.

The chapter should wind up being about 17 to 20 pages long, and this is double spaced. I suppose in a book it would be about ten pages long. I'm copying Tolstoy for my chapters, in terms of how much I cram in them. I have in the past written a 65 page chapter, and this, obviously, doesn't work. In my computer do you know how many chapters I have? For all the writing on this book? Five chapters. This represents five days in the life of my main character. Of course within these five folders are segments, or the real chapters. As the book stands, in my computer, the book is an enormous mess. But I have patience. Everything will be gone over and over and re-written. A mess now is not a flaw later. All flaws can be smoothed over. All I need is time. I'm 42 and I'm planning to be at this for the next several years. No, messes now don't bother me. And I think, I'm in good health. Have to go for a blood test an mammogram to complete my physical. But I anticipate that I will be found in good health. God is going to grant me the time on earth I need to finish my book.

Nobody in school ever gave me a single lesson in how to construct a chapter so I have to learn on my own, through trial and error. Last night and today I realized the Tolstoy lesson. And I've only begun the book. But my eyes are peeled wide open. Flicka and Purple didn't teach me any lessons about how to construct a book, other than to suggest that you better supply a great ending. But something about what I was writing, and what I was currently reading, came together in my head today. And so I got something new, something that clicked, about the rhythm of a chapter. In Mrs. Dalloway there are no chapters, only line breaks. Oh, how Woolf goes in and out of character's heads! So lovely. So invasive. As a writer, I love invasive. Shine the light on all sorts of minds. In my book I've got only a firm handle on three character's minds, even then, I don't think until I re-write shall I learn exactly what I've got.

The heat of the day has put all my loved ones to sleep. My husband is lightly snoring next to me in bed, with a fan aimed directly at his foot, and through extension, down the length of his body. I get a little breeze on one arm. I don't care, I figure that I'm stronger than my husband. I can suffer in the heat and not complain. He can't suffer without complaining. So it is best that he not even suffer. My cat is stretched out in the open window, on the fat sill, trying to catch a breeze going in and out of the room. Don't know where the dog and the other cat are but all is quiet. They are preserving their strength. I close my eyes and feel a moment of complete peace. A summer day, in the middle of it, and a holiday. And oh, my husband made me blueberry pancakes for lunch! Tomorrow I'll diet. But today the skirt band is elastic and it doesn't matter how big my stomach is. A true, running through all, holiday.

I'm going to go back to reading Anna Karenina. Then, just before it gets dark, I'll pin up my hair and hopefully go for a walk for exercise. Tomorrow we are going to a store after I do my morning writing session. I need to buy some more perfume, I'm all out. Tomorrow will be busy. But today, we are all just drifting.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Karen!

    Sorry I've been so silent these last three weeks. That's just the way it goes with me sometimes when I take a trip. I get a bit lost inside my solitary (though cat filled) world.

    You know, you inspire me with your reading and writing. I think it is excellent that you are learning how to structure your writing and book from Leo Tolstoy. I've read that that's an important way to learn how to write well--study those writers you respond to. I am starting to return to writing after not writing (not including my blog) for a couple of months. I took out 3 books from the library last week, one of them is on how to write a book proposal. I think it will help to train me to figure out exactly what kind of a book I want to write. If I can actually write a book proposal, I might be able to write a book, but if I can't write a proposal, then it is not likely that I will be able to write a book. I don't know much about it yet, but I do know you are supposed to include 1-3 chapters. Anyway, it's a goal to aim for for me.

    One of the other books I took out is a memoir by Natalie Goldberg called Long Quiet HIghway: Waking Up In America. I heard of her by reading a book called Writing Down The Bones, which was both a book on writing practice and a memoir. Ms. Goldberg is a good writer I think, but not a "great" writer like Tolstoy or Woolf, but she is incredibly dedicated to both writing, Buddhism and painting and that was enough to capture my interest. I would like to be a little like her. I am also thinking of writing a self help book for schizophrenia sufferers and a memoir, which is copying her composite book style.

    As always, I enjoy reading your writing. I will send you an email soon,

    Your Friend,

    Kate : )


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