Sunday, May 23, 2010

Guest blog from Deborah Schupack, author of Sylvan Street



I first became aware of Deborah Schupack when I read and loved her novel, The Boy on The Bus.(James Patterson called it, "My favorite book of the year, an incredible page-turning idea, written with grace, style, and deep, true emotion." I was supposed to meet her one rainy New York evening, but we both had readings on the same night, blocks from each other, and the rain was pounding, I remember. In any case, her new novel, Sylvan Street, is even more splendid. I'm honored that she's posting a guest blog here--thank you so, so much, Deborah.



QUESTIONS AUTHOR-ITY

There are some questions you think about when you write a novel—questions of craft, of character, dialogue and action. You think about how to get your characters through their daily lives, what they’ll do and say—or won’t do and say. You think about how to negotiate the passage of time on the page, how to render an interior monologue, how to end the novel. You think about whether or not to use semi-colons and how to describe a chuckle or a beady-eyed stare without, heaven forbid, using the words “chuckle” or “beady-eyed stare.” You think about scene changes, and you think about how to get a character from one side of the room to the other.

Then there are questions that you assiduously do not think about when you write, questions that threaten to crush the whole enterprise with a heavy hand. You do not think about what the novel means, its themes, what a particular image symbolizes, what your inspirations are and what you have to say on a certain subject. Your novel must simply be what you have to say.

But, if you’re lucky, once you finish writing, the novel gets published. If you’re even luckier, people actually read it, and if you’re luckiest of all, they think about it and ask you questions.

With SYLVAN STREET, I’ve been asked many times about the themes of the book, what the book was saying about money, or about human nature, about marriage, the suburbs, capitalism, immigration. These are all fair questions—and I’m honored that people think I have something to say about them. It’s just that, quite honestly, I feel less prepared than just about anyone to answer these questions, like the one in the room who hasn’t read the material before the big test.

As Flannery O’Connor says, If I could tell you the meaning, I wouldn’t need to write the story. (Or Isadora Duncan: “If I could tell you what it meant, there’d be no point in dancing it.”)

Reluctantly, Discoveries

Perhaps because I’m a fiction writer and am used to feeling like a fraud much of the time, I soldier on and try to answer questions as honestly and insightfully as I can. In the process, I’ve made discoveries large and small about what I meant, what I know, and what I was trying to say.

I’ve discovered, for instance, that I think money distorts our relationship to desire. It pushes and pulls us to imagine our desires, with no guarantee of satisfaction. Inherent in money is promise—but inherent in promise is evidence of its other side, its loss. Promise, like money, is a bittersweet thing. [I discuss this, and other, discoveries in no uncertain terms on video, although I’ve just confessed to you my uncertain terms.]

I’ve discovered that I think neighbors represent a singular and fascinating balance of proximity and distance. The closer you get, the more there is at stake. The more distant you drift, the more there is at stake, as well. I’ve discovered that money—with its singular ability to torque our relationship to desire—is a great way to push neighbors at once together and apart.

I’ve discovered the role 9/11 plays in the novel, and that I wanted to convey not the bright, horrible glare of the attack itself, nor the dark chaos of its immediate aftermath, but the oblique and lingering shadow it casts on us today. It’s a shadow full of loss and fear, of course, but for my characters who were closest to the attacks—Keith and Daniel—9/11 left them feeling not so much loss as longing. In that severe clear, things were for once starkly defined, right and wrong, friend and enemy. And, for Daniel and Keith, their mission was, for a moment, clear.

And finally, I discovered what I would do if I found a million dollars. After suspending myself in the world of SYLVAN STREET, knowing its arc and knowing my characters’ fates and states at the end, I think that honestly (though I don’t know if I’d sign committal documents on this), I’d turn it in to the police, get it out of my custody. Ah, but if no one retrieved it within a year, then it would be legally mine. (Spoiler alert: as the author, I know how it ends.)

To read an excerpt of SYLVAN STREET, go behind the scenes, or buy the book, please visit deborahschupack.com.

323 comments:

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Jessica Keener said...

Another wonderful post, Caroline. Deborah, your book sounds wonderful.

Jessica

http://confessionsofahermitcrab.blogspot.com/

Alan Smithee said...

From "Conversations With Flannery O’Connor":

Breit: What we're seeing now is only part of the story, "The Life You Save May Be Your Own." Flannery, would you like to tell our audience what happens in that story?

O’Connor: No, I certainly would not. I don’t think you can paraphrase a story like that. I think there’s only one way to tell it and that’s the way it is told in the story.

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