Wednesday, June 20, 2012

BEAUTIFUL RUINS at Center for Fiction

I'm a member of the Center for Fiction at the Mercantile Library (and you should be too.)

Tonight was another of the Center's amazing programs about authors and editors, this time with Jess Walter and his editor Cal Morgan.

I've been a fan of Jess Walter since his very first book and I was heartbroken when I couldn't attend the reading he gave with Sean Ferrell at RiverRun Bookstore in NH way back when.

But tonight I scooped up a posse of interns and colleagues sufficient to fill an entire row at the CfF to hear Jess talk.

And we were not disappointed.  Here are some of my notes from the presentation:

OVER TUMBLED GRAVES was intended as an homage to The Wasteland: it starts in April; the character names are from the poem; and there are five parts.  When he mentioned this to his editor Cal Morgan, Cal is said to have replied "you might not want to tell people that."  (I was not the only one laughing out loud at that!) (The book was being positioned as a crime novel not literary fiction.)

Jess always wanted to write literary fiction but writing crime novels (his first two books are considered to be that genre) gave him "the scaffolding to finish the book."

He keeps a writing journal for working out both large and small things.  With this new book (one he has worked on for 15 years off and on) he wrote 17 pages in his journal that helped him see where he was going. He uses the journal for figuring out character names and plot points.  (I wanted to ask him to elaborate on the uses of the journal--and most important does he write with a pen or a pencil and is it Moleskine!) but time ran out (perhaps not such a bad thing!)

He loves the editorial letters Cal writes him because he "can't wait to find out what I was writing about."

Cal chimed in that each editing job is different (not just for Jess but for every book he works on.) He brings the editorial tools he has to each job but each book requires something new, and perhaps something he won't use again, but needs this time.

For THE ZERO, Cal had to map the structure of the two narrative timelines, and then make sure that each timeline worked independently and dependently. (Jess said the reader could have probably used that map too!)

Jess isn't a big fan of social media; he says "only terror that no one would come" prompted him to announce his events on Facebook.

BEAUTIFUL RUINS was the first novel Jess started and has only now been published. He's been working on it for 15 years off and on.  He said "time away from the novel can be the best thing for it sometimes."  He had to learn that setting aside a novel didn't mean it was a failure or even that he was done with it.  "I really trust that time away" to show what's needed.

He writes more than one thing at a time as a way to avoid writer's block. If one thing isn't going well, he works on something else.  What he writes "next" is often a reaction to the previous book.

The title BEAUTIFUL RUINS is from a description of Richard Burton, the actor, at age 50.  His working title was HOTEL ADEQUATE VIEW (which I find hilarious!)

It was a wonderful evening and we all bought books of course, and you should too! 

Jess Walter will be at McNally Jackson on Wednesday June 20!


Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Another title for my TBR list!

I've heard of other authors who journal while writing a novel. This is something I'm considering experimenting with for myself.

Elisabeth Black said...

These write-ups you do are helpful. I like the details on process.

Kristin Laughtin said...

It sounds like an interesting program! And as much as the publishing world seems to be urging authors to write faster, faster, faster, I'm impressed by authors who can spend so long working on one story, too, if it's wonderful. (Of course, if he bounces between projects, I can't really say he worked on "one" story--but still, it takes dedication not to abandon something after that long.)

Jaimie Teekell said...

Yes, I think things are written too fast nowadays. Thinking is good. So is editing.

Michael Seese said...

I started writing the YA novel I'm pitching now, "Nightmares," over 20 years ago. I would write, then step away, write, get married, write, have kids. Then I decided to get it done. At the time I started, it wasn't YA. More interesting (when you think about it) 20+ years ago there were no cell phone or the Internet. So it was neat to weave those into the latest iteration.