In work hours when I am not actively re-editing my book or writing query letters, I continue to read fiction. Novels are my favorite genre and have been most of my life. Ideally I would love to have my memoir read like a good novel. I work on the flow, the sense of the story, the narrative arc, dialogue, setting, cutting anything that doesn’t move the story forward.
A couple of months ago, when I was revising the fourth draft of my book, I was especially inspired by a second reading of Walter Mosley‘s The Man in My Basement to make scenes more present and believable to the reader, letting go of rhetoric that was so much a part of my thinking and language in 1969. His language, dialogue and plot structure make an unlikely situation and philosophical discourse believable and real. I hope my work of non-fiction will be able to hold and challenge the reader in the way a well-crafted novel does.
The last three books I read inspired me in different ways: The Gathering by Anne Enright immediately grips the reader into her tale of her Irish family, her brother’s death, the “clean, white bones” of her stories and night thoughts, slowing unveiling its central core. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat captures the generational suffering and colorful dialogue of four women of Haiti in their search for wholeness and love. The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) is such a depressing story of a woman’s isolation on a South African farm that I almost gave up on it before the tragic ending, which is foreshadowed in the first chapter. Through enormous skill in revealing the suffering of women, each of these books compels the reader to stay, to travel deeper into the human heart.
Each of us has stories, suffering, a voice of our own, something special to share with the world. May we continue to learn from those who have mastered the art of the telling.