AMERICAN HISTORICAL NOVELS discussion

Reliance, Illinois
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How I almost didn’t finish Reliance, Illinois

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Mary | 33 comments It took me about a year and a half to write my first novel, Crown of Dust, and another two years before I saw it published. I was grad student with time and no money, living in other people’s spare rooms and I wrote with a naïve faith in the story and in my ability to tell it. I did little but research, write and rewrite, working with an obsessiveness that will surprise no one who knows me. This writing thing, I figured, I can do this! I had no idea it would take me seven years to finish my next book, Reliance, Illinois.

What happened? Life, I suppose. For a hefty fraction of the time between books I did write in a state of purposeful inspiration. I also got married, took my first full time job, and banished two other novels to the recycling bin. Oh yeah, and I had a baby. On top of this I enjoyed an intense and prolonged a case of research luster, a debilitating authorial disease in which a writer mistakes reading and taking notes for the act of creation. Then I wrote and rewrote the first chapters until I was so happy with them I couldn’t bear to move beyond the radiant promise of the novel in my head, to the messy draft work out of which stories are born. In short, I was afraid of screwing up. Of failing.

Strangely enough, it was having baby that helped me overcome this paralyzing perfectionism. As a new mom, I was too exhausted to be perfect. I let my imagination and my unconscious mind take over (the only mind I had left after a few hours of sleep a night). The result, I admit, is better book than I could have written if I had continued trying so hard.

Maddy, her mother Rebecca, Hanley, Miss Rose, Mrs. Dryfus, Mrs. French, even nasty old Melborn Stockwell are people real to me. And as flawed, brilliant, needy, brave, arrogant, naïve, and bumbling as they revealed themselves to be, I grew to love them. I don’t expect this of you, of course, but I do hope you enjoy the story they gave rise to.


Beverly Mary, Thank you for this description of your writing process. I find it so fascinating to hear about other authors experience in writing their books...each unique and very personal. I thought your identification that having a baby helped you get over your perfection was a great insight and makes perfect sense. Sharing your vulnerability tells the rest of us we don't have to be perfect either. Thank you.


message 3: by Donna (last edited Jun 27, 2018 02:43PM) (new)

Donna Everhart (donnaeverhart) When people ask how long it took to write my first book - I can empathize with your process. Life, as you put it, happened. It also marinated on my desktop for years, while I "thought" about finishing it.

Like Beverly said, I too enjoy hearing about how other writer's work, and how they managed to tackle the beast otherwise known as an idea for a book.


message 4: by Barbara (last edited Jun 28, 2018 11:18AM) (new)

Barbara Artson (barbara_artson) | 21 comments Your process sounds so familiar. With my graduate degree in English Lit before turning to doctoral work in psychology and psychoanalysis, I believed that I had at least one novel perking somewhere. But with a family and a full clinical practice, and life, it remained deeply hidden within my unconscious -- waiting to be invited out. When I turned 70, I said (literally out loud), "if you don't do it now, you never will." And so I sat down at the computer and the opening sentence magically announced itself: "Henya Chanah is a woman who no longer bleeds, so she puzzles over how this could have happened." And that's how I discovered the subject matter of my historical novel: a 3 generational saga from persecution in the Pale of Settlement in Odessa to the shores of Ellis Island with its promise of liberty and onward to the challenges of life in the new world. If only we give our "unthought knowns" the opportunity to speak, it will happen.


Mary | 33 comments Beverly wrote: "Mary, Thank you for this description of your writing process. I find it so fascinating to hear about other authors experience in writing their books...each unique and very personal. I thought your ..."

My pleasure Beverly. Thank you for reading. And best of luck with your writing! Mary


Mary | 33 comments Donna wrote: "When people ask how long it took to write my first book - I can empathize with your process. Life, as you put it, happened. It also marinated on my desktop for years, while I "thought" about finish..."

Tackling the beast is right! I'll post one of my favorite quotes about the task of writing below. Thank you Donna! Mary


Mary | 33 comments Barbara wrote: "Your process sounds so familiar. With my graduate degree in English Lit before turning to doctoral work in psychology and psychoanalysis, I believed that I had at least one novel perking somewhere...."

Oh my! What a great first line. And the book sounds wonderful. I too feel full of stories! They are a delightful burden but a burden just the same - until they are put down on the page.

I love the phrase: the "unthought knowns." I'm confusing my philosophers... who was it who argued humans were born with innate knowledge that lays buried until exposed by thought and conversation? Or something to that effect?


message 8: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Artson (barbara_artson) | 21 comments Christopher Bollas, a contempory British psychoanalysis coined the term "unthought known," relating to patients who know something that they don't know is known. I think about it as unformulated experience, something that has not yet put put into words, something unarticulated but when it arrives, at times, unbidden, you know and acknowledge it. To my thinking, it is in the realm, but not quite, in the unconscious mind, perhaps preconscious. As you may see, I am a trained psychoanalyst, retired.


message 9: by Mary (last edited Jun 29, 2018 08:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mary | 33 comments Barbara wrote: "Christopher Bollas, a contempory British psychoanalysis coined the term "unthought known," relating to patients who know something that they don't know is known. I think about it as unformulated ex..."

Well it's fascinating. Very often I struggle to understand how the story should be told. The stories themselves - the dramatic shells - appear in simplified form very quickly, almost as images. The work is to translate the image. And it's funny how quickly I come to distrust my translation, even as my first conception remains strong.


message 10: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Artson (barbara_artson) | 21 comments I believe we all have our individual styles and we must follow our intuitions. Of course, at some point, we have to put our critical hats on (to mix metaphors) and make judgments.


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