On Writing a Novel for Adults

Monday, May 18, 2009

There are few things more gratifying than successful literary novelists. I myself can't get enough of their stories, their confessions.

It is a lovely thing, therefore, to watch Jeffrey Eugenides in conversation with Sam Tanenhaus of the New York Times—to hear what this multi-platinum author of The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex has to say about the work that he has done over the years and the city, Detroit, that has fueled his imagination.

I was intrigued, especially, by the way Eugenides has determinedly evolved his own work—moving, as he says, from a "preoccupation with language" (The Virgin Suicides) toward a focus on plotting (Middlesex) toward what he describes as an emphasis on deeper characterization and psychological portraiture—the "deepening realism" that marks his current work. I loved his overt commitment not just to changing form, but to raising the stakes.

At the moment I am deeply engaged in the early research and writing of a novel for adults. It's not as if I have not tried to write novels for adults in the past; I have written many that have failed. I wasn't ready. I needed to take the cross-wise steps that years spent writing memoir, poetry, history, fable, criticism, and young adult novels ultimately yielded. To learn to trust language, in memoir. To learn to break it apart, in poetry. To pursue the almost impossible detail through historical research. To tell a story through YA novels. To bend a story, through fable. To sustain a certain vulnerability through the blog. Having never taken a writing course (as an adult, I attended three summer workshops), I have had to teach myself to write, and the road that I've traveled has often stumped out, looped back, and confused.

But it has also brought me here. It has given me both foundation and framework. Tools with which to work against an idea I can't quite yet contain.


Becca said...

I watched that video interview yesterday as well, and was so intriqued by his description of the way his writing had evolved. I had never thought about how each successive project could take a writer through another step in the process of evolution. But it does make perfect sense. And I'm excited to hear about the evolution of your own writing, as you work on a novel for adults.

Naturally, I was also interested in what he had to say about Detroit - the scenes in the video were achingly familiar. But there is more Renaissance than was portrayed, if one knows where to look :)

Lilian Nattel said...

This is such an interesting post and I'm replying on the fly between writing and taking my kids to the museum. It's a holiday here but I want to come back to this later because it's such a vital topic for discussion. I haven't seen the video--I'm going to check it out--but I have heard him speak before and it was invigorating.

Sherry said...

This post exposits much of why I've felt, since "meeting" you, that you are and will continue to be an important author.
Vital: that's you, BK. Because you keep going the distance. I don't believe that "can't" is/ever was in your vocabulary.
(I'll watch the video when I get another turn at our only computer.)

LisaSam said...

Love the blog, Beth. I check it out each day for inspiration. I esp like the photos with each entry. I am sort of trying that out myself now.
Can you tell me what kind of bird that is in the photo, the one here that is black with orange? I have one just like it by my house.

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