Monday, May 22, 2006

When i started working on my novel, The Night Oracle (whose title I'm thinking of changing), I knew that a certain minor character was desperate, unstable even. A person inclined to make bad decisions on the level of embarrassing others in public with rude comments or extreme jealousy of the kind that makes most men wonder what they've gotten themselves into. I didn't, however, realize just how desperate she was, and to what lengths she would go, nor really how her part in this larger story would unfold. It has been a revelation to see how selfish, how completely at the edge and unable to see clearly this character is. If I met her in real life, I'd know her instantly, and I would run far from her and her shaky psyche.

How magnificent.

Sometimes, when my characters suddenly spin out of control, even as i'm writing them, I'm thinking 'no, no, it isn't possible! Why are you doing that?' That's the miraculous edge that us writers thirst after. The high that keeps us coming back. When I interviewed authors for Word by Word, I often asked them about things I thought were intentional. "Did you set out to plant images of dead animals throughout the novel leading up to the kid's suicide?" I remember asking of Charles Baxter. He stopped, took a puzzled breath. He had not. He didn't even consciously remember that there was more than one incident.

Roxana Robinson sounded downright irritated after the sixth or seventh question of "how much thought did you put into planning X?"

"I don't plan it. I don't think about my characters when I'm not writing. I just write when I'm there writing."

While I do actually spend a lot of time thinking about my characters when I'm not writing, and I do in fact try, probably a little too hard, to insert images that will give resonance to later events, I too have to admit that the muse has a logic of its own. It is always running ahead of us, spotting moments and openings and parallels and places inside which to slip allusions and refrences and tie off threads and offer up dazzling metaphors just when we most need them.

And that blows my mind. That my conscious mind is plodding along laboring to make words into sentences, making sure that I have explained everything, and some other part of me is worrying about the larger fabric, the themes and the mysterious images that later on seem to have been carefully, even obsessively wrought.

I wonder what it's like for painters or dancers or glass blowers...



At 7:06 AM, Blogger Jim said...

Fascinating, Jordan. It is amazing how much work the subconscious can do while you're peeling potatoes or mowing the lawn or writing small bits of narrative or dialogue. It's always busy down there in the basement.

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Susan Henderson said...

I love it! And I think it's hysterical that this character is running the show right now because you, Jordan, are such a mature and prudent person - and that tension is going to create magic.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Yes, Jim, the subconscious is a brilliant, busy little machine.

Sue: Whaddya tryin' ta do? Make me into a crazy egomaniac? Thanks. It feels nice that you have such faith in me.


At 7:09 AM, Blogger Jim said...

My wife is an artist, Jordan. Or maybe, more accurately, a craftsman. She carves wood, she weaves baskets, she makes paper from natural plant fibers, and she binds books. Her work is truly that of an artist.

Her process--the way she describes it-- is one of continuous negotiation between her, the materials, and the form of the work she's completed thus far. In the midst of a basket, she can be as testy as I am mid-story. For most of the same reasons, I suspect.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger J said...

Don't change the title. It's a grabber.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

J: I hate using "the" in the title. So how about "Night Oracles"...I've decided to pluralize since there are more than one in the book.


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