Monday, January 22, 2007

prairie fly

I'm glad to see that Rick Bass's fantastic essay, "Shy," is still available over at Narrative. That piece captures, more than most on the subject, the experience of writing from a remote locale. And while I don't share Bass' struggle with intense shyness, I do completely understand the gift of that that up-close-yet-a-million-miles-away skill that living away from a big city allows writers to cultivate. Like Bass with his shyness (" an illness!"), I tend to carry my prairie creature-like remoteness with me even when I'm in a place like Phoenix or San Francisco, because the remoteness allows me to watch what people are doing, how they are speaking and what their authentic body language is saying while their affectations are trying to portray something else.

If I believed in reincarnation, I'd often wish to come back as a fly - not a fly here at our place, of course, because although there would be more piles of horse manure than I could possibly dream of, I'd soon be sprayed with Pyranha by some crazy woman writer with an apple picker and a wheelbarrow. No, I'd want to be a fly that could choose at any time whose living room wall I could attach myself to. First I'd buzz over to The Chapmans' place in Hawaii because...well, who WOULDN'T?

After that, it's anyone's guess where I'd go. If you asked me yesterday I would have said that I'd fly out to an old travel trailer on the Navajo rez, or to a random, upscale house full of marital confusion in suburban California, because those are two of the settings I'm working on for my current novel. And I'd go hang out in the houses of guys in general, but not for the prurient reasons you might assume (who, ME?). Nah, it's just that the guy thing is something I'll never get tired of observing. I consider it a great boon to have grown up with an older brother whose friends were constantly divulging to me - their surrogate little sister - the kind of guys-only information that could have gotten them labeled as traitors and booted from the brotherhood (I was all ears; I all but carried a notebook and pencil with me when my brother's friends were around).

Still, despite my years of insider status, I struggle with authenticity when writing a male character, just as I suppose any writer does (or should) when writing about someone who is "other" than themselves. Fortunately, I live with two members of the male species, so the research is never ending there. But in order to create characters who don't in some way resemble people I know or live with, it's important to find other real people who share some of the characters' traits. When I do find them, the trick is getting close enough to observe while at the same time staying a fraction of a light year away. As a writer who finds herself living once again on the fringe of civilization (though it seems to get more crowded all the time out here on the prairie) I like to think I have an advantage where this particular skill is concerned.


  1. Okay, You are so NOT invited for dinner now.. I refuse to be "watched"! And it was gonna be something good too, like Spag & meatballs, or Lasagne..pppfftt..

    Oh and another thing..did you just call us couch upholstry? Huh?? HUH?? ~snork~

  2. What? Huh? Where? COUCH upholstery??

    You've lost me, neighbor.