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substance and accidence

When I said lover in my last entry, I meant book. I've spent far more times between paper covers than cotton ones. Interesting how you use a word mostly for a joke and it turns out to be true. Think of the time you spend with a book, one on one. You take it to the couch and to dinner. You fall asleep next to it. You are enthralled by it ... unless of course you're not. Then you drop it and walk away. Some books are a duty, others a pleasure, still others a joke. Some books you use and discard, others you return to time and again. A very few are with you for life. Last week I got a chance to spend time with Crosstown, my first novel. (Which would make me Narcissus, I guess. Yeck.) Ten years ago it was well received but died quickly, making not much of a splash. (One small mag gave it a much better review than Fugitive Pieces, a book which sold approximately ten thousand times better). Seems there's a hint of American interest in Crosstown, but they wanted to see a manuscript copy rather than the finished product. So I spent last week with a word file, looking for typos and glitches. And realizing all sorts of strengths and weaknesses in a story I'd forgotten about. Interesting to see what lasts and what doesn't. Sentiment doesn't. Overwriting doesn't. (I cringed a couple of times, and started deleting.) Funny lasts if it's truly unexpected -- I laughed out loud more than once -- but not if it's smartass (even clever smartass. More cringing). Story lasts. And so does character. When the book came out, interviewers asked me how I came up with Mitch, the drifting alcoholic hero -- on the surface nothing like me. I shrugged and talked about imagination. Reading it again, I am bowled over by how much he was me. Fiction is not a lie, it's a code. The accidence of the story is made up, but the substance must be true. That's enough self-abuse for a while. I think it's time I saw other people.


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