Confessions of a Gadfly

Confessions of a Gadfly

CW Programs Higher Ed Literary Citizenship Teaching

You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?

In 2014, Hanover College selected The Circus in Winter as its Common Reading, and I came to campus to talk to students. I loved the campus, the view, the students. On that first visit, sociology professor and writer Dr. Robyn Ryle told me that, like a lot of small, liberal arts colleges, Hanover had experienced an enrollment dip.

I found this news surprising and very worrisome. Hanover isn’t my alma mater, but I did go to a very similar kind of college—and The Circus in Winter had been the direct result of the quality liberal arts education I received at DePauw University.

So, when Hanover invited me back in 2015, I widened the scope of my “professionalization” concerns–which over time had morphed from a concern about creative writing students, to a concern about English majors, and now to a concern about liberal arts majors.

I gave the first-year students at Hanover a pep talk about why they were at the right school and screw all the haters who were saying, “What are you going to do with that?”

I called the talk “Stars to Steer By.” I haven’t published it yet, because I wrote it as a power point, but I will–just as soon as I can finish a draft of this novel of mine.

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How I feel when Hillary People shake their heads at me

How I feel when Hillary People shake their heads at me

Writing

Throughout my life, I’ve worked hard to balance my idealistic nature with necessary doses of…realism? pragmatism? skepticism?

If you believe in Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFJ.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I married a cynic. Sometimes, the stuff that comes out of my husband’s mouth shocks the heck out of me, but mostly, I am just so thankful that he helps me prioritize and stay focused. When I met him, I was a puddle of naive disappointment. These days, I rarely get that low.

I can remember so many moments in my life when I’ve said something so idealistic that the other person looked away and shook their head in disbelief. “You really think like that?” they’d say, and I’d say, “You don’t?”

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My critique of a critique of MFA programs

My critique of a critique of MFA programs

CW Programs

There’s a long history of articles about the impact of MFA programs on contemporary literature. The latest addition to this oeuvre is “How Has the MFA Changed the Contemporary Novel?” just published by The Atlantic. What’s different about this one: the authors fed 200 novels into a computer–100 by writers with MFAs and 100 by writers without MFAs–and used computational text analysis to study the diction, style, theme, setting, and characters of these novels.

Here are my thoughts:

Creative writing has become a big business—it’s estimated that it currently contributes more than $200 million a year in revenue to universities in the U.S.

I’m not sure how to evaluate this figure since the authors have linked to a 51-page pdf of Mark McGurl’s book The Program Era, which I have read. I just spent about ten minutes of my life scrolling through that pdf to find that $200,000 figure, but gave up. Which makes me wonder why the authors couldn’t have simply said, “According to Mark McGurl…” Another thing I wonder is if this figure includes only tuition payments or if it also includes the savings to universities–who are able to pay MFA candidates a small salary and NOT offer them health insurance (compared to paying TT or contingent faculty) to teach first-year writing courses.

We collected a sample of 200 novels written by graduates of MFA programs from over 20 leading programs (including Columbia, University of Texas at Austin, Iowa, and others) that have been published in the last 15 years.

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What’s the Matter with Indiana?

What’s the Matter with Indiana?

Writing

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, I sat down to write, and I made a horrible mistake: I checked Tweetdeck.

I have a special list called “Indiana” which is how I stay in touch with my state. It includes newspapers, colleges, political and cultural organizations, progressive and conservative politicians, TV and radio stations, etc.

Yesterday, every tweet in my “Indiana” column on Tweetdeck filled me with despair.

A song came to my head. “Anything you can do, I can do better…” So I started retweeting all the bad news with my tweaked ditty.

After awhile, I got so angry that I logged into Facebook and wrote this:

Screenshot 2016-02-25 13.19.10

Yes, I sacrificed my novel-writing time to Facebook-screed writing time.

This is why I’m going to have to go off social media again.

Tell me, why do you hate Indiana?

My friend Barbara Shoup asked me to contribute something to an Indiana anthology that’s going to be published in conjunction with Indiana’s 2016 bicentennial celebration. Although, who knows? Maybe that’s not going to happen either, since it’s not clear if my governor will be able to find the money to “celebrate” Indiana’s history.

So I got out an essay I started here a few years ago and expanded it.

This essay doesn’t celebrate Indiana. It critiques it. And the more I worked on it, the angrier I got, and I’m actually not sure it’s still appropriate for the anthology.

Here’s a snippet:

I don’t think Indiana is honest to goodness. Sometimes, I think it’s the angriest place I’ve ever lived—and I’ve lived in a lot of places.

I’m going to read it this Saturday and see what happens. Please come and tell me what you think?vouched

I guess that the news about plastic bags and Tesla and payday companies wouldn’t have enraged me any other week, but this week it did.

If you know me, then you know how much I love my home state.

But this week, I did not.

I’m reminded of this scene in my favorite novel, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (Replace “the South” with “Indiana,” and that’s how I felt this week.)

“Tell about the South,” said Shreve McCannon. “What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they live at all?…Tell me one more thing. Why do you hate the South?”

“I don’t hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I don’t hate it,” he said. “I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”

Subscribe to my list and keep tabs on Indiana

My “Indiana” list has always been private, but I just made it public, so you can subscribe to it, too.

You’ll see bad news, probably, but I also hope this list gives you hope as well.

If you use Twitter, I highly recommend you use lists. Here’s how. It allows you to follow accounts without actually “following.”

Once you subscribe to the list, create a column for that list on Tweetdeck (or Hootsuite). Here’s how.

I hardly ever look at Twitter via the Twitter app (unless I’m on my phone). I look at Twitter via Tweetdeck, where I can see a variety of columns. Some people think Tweetdeck is overwhelming, but I think Twitter is, actually. Once you get used to the interface, it’s easy, because your feed and your interests are nicely organized–by you.

Maybe my legislators think that no one is paying attention to what they’re doing?

I’m paying attention. I hope you will, too.

Five Things: 2/22/16

Five Things: 2/22/16

Five Things

1. I’m giving a reading

I’m reading on Saturday, February 27, 2016 in Indianapolis. Here’s the Facebook invite with lots of details. It’s taking place at New Day Craft (oh man, I love mead) and includes me, Michael Dahlie, Matthew Minicucci and fellow Peruvian Jordan Zandi, whose book Solarium is fresh-pressed from Sarabande Books. Free, but bring bucks for booze and books.

2. Being “different” in Indiana.

I’m going to read an essay I’ve been working on for awhile about what it’s like to be “different” in Indiana. I started tweeting about it today and got a bunch of reactions, so I’m guessing this topic resonates with a lot of people. It also gives me a chance to talk about Cole Porter (another Peruvian).

3. Advice about Residencies

Things you won’t think to bring but should: a white noise machine, an eye mask, and, if it’s winter, a neti pot and good slippers with a sole. Being at Ragdale took me back to my graduate school days. It was so wonderful to hang out with other writers and artists for three weeks. It put me back in touch with Writer Me, before I became Teacher Me and Administrator Me and Wife Me, etc. Although I teach creative writing at the college level, I rarely talk about writing with my creative writing colleagues because we’re so busy with teaching and service and bureaucratic stuff. When I wanted to talk about writing, the fellow residents were very supportive, but everyone was also happy to just leave you alone, too. How long as it been since I could stand up from a table and say “I’ve gotta go work,” and not make excuses or fear coming off as rude? A long time! I’ve never done a residency before. I’m now a convert. I finished about 65 pages of my novel, and I’m happy with that.

4. Tricks I Learned

Hemingway said you should stop writing in the middle of a sentence, and there’s some truth to that, I’ve found. I discovered that if I made myself stop before I’d “fixed” everything in a chapter, I sort of couldn’t wait to get back to the writing. And that’s a good feeling. If I finished a chapter, I made myself start another right away so I’d have something I could come back to. Another trick I learned was to create arbitrary deadlines. I got the most writing done on days when I was trying to get something “done” before a big dinner or an important meeting. I also created arbitrary deadlines for myself each day: write 7 pages and you can watch Downton Abbey; finish that book and you can go to the gym; get to the end of section 4 by the end of February. Otherwise, I would have just la la la-ed with myself for three weeks, I think.

5. March at Hanover College

In March, I’m going to be a writer-in-residence at Hanover College. I’ve visited this small liberal arts college twice in recent years; they’ve been using The Circus in Winter as their “common read” for first-year students. I’ve never done a gig like this before, but I can’t wait to get there. Hanover has one of the most spectacular and beautiful campuses I’ve ever visited, and man, I hope it snows a little so that I can see the view in the winter time.

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Reading List: Starting a Writing Career

Reading List: Starting a Writing Career

Writing

Yesterday on Twitter, Celeste Ng asked a great question, and people responded.

How do you start a writing career? Some of these books will help you with the craft of your writing (very important) and others will help you with the business of writing (more important than you think).

You also have to expand your notion of what “a writing career” is.

  • Maybe you write grants and promotional materials for a non-profit and work on your novel every chance you get.
  • Maybe you teach high school, sell cars, work in a bank, etc., and work on your poetry every chance you get.
  • Maybe you are a free-lance writer trying to actually make a living from YOUR creative writing or journalism.
  • There are many ways to create a literary life for yourself, no matter what your job title is.

Anyway, on to the Storify!

Five Things: 2/15/16

Five Things: 2/15/16

Five Things

I’ve written about this topic before, but have been thinking about it again for some reason.

1.Why aren’t there more FTWPTT creative writing jobs?

I have this theory about why the discipline of creative writing has not flourished more than it has in higher education. By “flourish,” I don’t mean numbers of students in classes or the number of majors or minors. We’re doing fine in that regard. Demand is high. By “flourish,” I mean jobs–good jobs, full-time (FT), well-paid (WP), tenure-track (TT) jobs–in English departments (or in some cases Art departments or Writing departments). I’ve taught at four different colleges (five if you also count where I got my MFA) and in every case, the ratio of FTWPTT faculty has always been off. Literature faculty generally outnumber Creative Writing faculty as well as Composition faculty and especially Teaching faculty. (In literature, for example, there are reasons for “coverage” and the corresponding FTWPTT positions to provide that coverage, although that model is also coming into question.)

2. Because we don’t have real power.

I think that the reason why there aren’t more FTWPTT creative writing jobs to go around (despite the demand) is that not enough FTWPTT creative writing faculty have risen in the ranks of academic bureaucracy and become deans and provosts, those who ultimately decide whether to create or convert a FTWPTT position or use contingent labor, those who deal with budgets and politics and meetings. I don’t think people understand this: departments only have so much power to run a search, and areas within those departments have even less power than that. You can ask, certainly, but ultimately, the people “upstairs” or “in the xxx building” decide. I know CWers who have taken their turn as directors of CW programs and as department chairs, but relatively few who’ve moved further up than that. (However, a year ago, I asked my CW friends on FB for examples of these folks, and I did get quite a few answers.)

This could be you!
This could be you!

3. Because we don’t want power.

Creative writers define themselves in terms of their published work and/or to their teaching and mentorship–primarily. Navigating THAT is difficult enough. Deciding how much time and energy to devote to your writing and to your teaching, deciding if you want to be “known” as a nationally recognized writer or as a great teacher, or hopefully, BOTH. What’s rare, I think, are creative writers who are willing to play Academic Game of Thrones, who aspire to be movers and shakers within their institution. Most creative writers I know spend as little time as possible trying to move up the ladder in this way. Actually, it’s rare to find any English faculty at all working their way up the food chain, but in my experience, creative writers tend to be the absolute least interested in this kind of work. We are an ambitious lot, sure, but the “prestige” we seek has nothing to do with the grandiosity of our academic title, the size of our office, the amount of power we wield, or even how much money we make. What we want is to be recognized and remembered as writers and/or teachers, not as academic leaders or as higher education bureaucrats. And so we go to work, teach our classes, take our turn, and try hard to avoid commitments that nibble away at what little time and energy we still have for our writing. Keep your head down. Keep your hand down. Do your job. No more. No less. Protect your time. These are our mantras.

4. Because we just want to write, damnit.

Maintaining a writerly identity is hard fucking work–no matter your day job, no matter if it’s inside or outside the academy, no matter whether it’s FTWPTT or “contingent” (meaning maybe not FT, definitely not WP or TT). I mean, here I am on sabbatical (thank you, employer), at an artist residency no less, not working on my novel but instead, getting this “theory” out of my head, where it’s been swimming around for months, like a little blue gill nibbling away at the line I’ve cast into the water. I don’t want that blue gill. I want to catch a big fish, damnit. But this little fish won’t go away. And every minute I spend worrying about this stupid little fish, I feel less and less like a “real” angler and more like an amateur angler or a like a conservationist or an employee of a fish hatchery or a fishing lure designer.

5. Because because because…

I’m not even going to come up with a fifth thing. I’m going to stop right now, because I want to go work on my novel.

Five Things: 2/8/16

Five Things: 2/8/16

Five Things Mrs. Cole Porter

1. It’s okay to be rude sometimes.

So far, what I like most about this residency is how anti-social you’re allowed to be. You can behave in ways that would be taken as rude under almost any other circumstance. Let’s say I leave my computer to walk into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and I’m still thinking about what I’m writing and I find that someone is already there. She’s absorbed in a book while she eats some cereal, doesn’t say hello how did you sleep are you have a good day how’s the writing going? She smiles and returns to her book. I can make myself a cup of tea and walk right out of that kitchen. Or I’m eating dinner with everyone at 6:30 PM, the only time of the day we all come together and eat a nice meal prepared by Chef Linda, served buffet style. It’s sort of like going to a dinner party every night, except you get to wear sweats and slippers if you want to. So, I’m at this dinner party in my slippers talking to the guy sitting across from me about, I dunno, the Lusitania or football or ice cream, and when he’s done eating, he stands up and says, “Back to work,” and I say bye and that’s that. No long goodbyes. No hard feelings. Everyone understands. If only real life could be this way!

2. My space.

"The Beach Room." Not sure why it's called that except that there is a large conch shell on my desk.
“The Beach Room.” Not sure why it’s called that except that there is a large conch shell on my desk.

This is a picture of my room at Ragdale, although I had to move the twin bed against the wall because I kept waking up terrified I was going to fall out.

How long has it been since I slept in a twin bed? College, I think.

Studio with skylights!
Studio with skylights!

And here’s a picture of the studio they gave me, too, so that I can storyboard my novel on the nice white walls.

3. Things I worry about even though I shouldn’t.

A great essay I read this week: “Children of the Century” in the New Republic. Alexander Chee asks the question, “Can a historical novel also function as serious literature?”

Jesus, I hope so.

When I tell people I’m writing a book about Linda Lee Thomas Porter, long-time wife of Cole Porter, I get one of two reactions: 1.) Oooh, I love books like that. 2.) Oh, I didn’t realize you were writing a book like that. Re: #2, by “like that,” they mean what we’ve come to think of as “the wife book,” the “woman behind the man book” like: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, etc. Why don’t the #2s think that I’m writing a book like The Women by T.C. Boyle, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, or Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel? Is it because I am a woman writer or because I’m writing about a female character? Or both? The second set of books are also novels about real people and real events, what I like to call nonfictional fiction, but they were all written by men or have primarily male characters.

Sometimes, as I’m writing a scene or making a decision in my novel, I find myself thinking about how that decision will affect the way the book will be presented to the world–commercial or serious? genre or literary? “male” or “female”?–when what I need to do is just write the damn thing the best way I know how and let my agent (whom I trust) guide me. Every single day, I get anxious about this, especially now as I come closer to finishing, but then I tell myself its useless to borrow worry. Reading an essay like Chee’s reassured me that I’m not the only writer who worries about these matters. Note to self: keep working on my essays related to the subject of my novel and pitch them to The Atlantic and The New Republic; this definitely sends a message about how you want to be read.

4. Nonfictional fiction. 

Linda's first husband, E.R. Thomas, hanging out with Clarence Mackay, the guy in the middle with the enormous mustache.
Linda’s first husband, E.R. Thomas, hanging out with Clarence Mackay, the guy in the middle with the enormous mustache.

Most of the characters in my novel are based on real people: Linda, of course, and Edith Wharton, Emily Post, Bernard Berenson, Elsie de Wolfe, Bessie Marbury, Anne Morgan, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon.

Today, I’m working on a chapter in which Linda is being courted by Clarence Mackay.

The book that gave me permission to write my novel the way I want to write it is Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow. Which features real historical figures like Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, Harry K. Thaw, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, and J.P. Morgan, alongside purely fictional characters. There’s one scene in particular in which Gilded Age “It Girl” Nesbit goes to a socialist meeting where Emma Goldman is speaking and then ends up taking off her corset and allowing herself to be massaged by Goldman.

Now, this never happened. And once I reminded myself that I wasn’t writing a biography, that I could invent, the book started to flow.

5. “altgenres” 

And speaking of genres and subgenres and labels, another great read from this week was this article from last month’s Atlantic, “How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood.”  Believe it or not, this article got me going on a essay about “selling” the English major, the humanities, and a liberal arts education. Stay tuned…

Five Things: 2/1/16

Five Things: 2/1/16

Five Things Writing

1.

I want to thank my friend Gail Werner for recommending that I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, which came to me–as many books do–right when I needed it most. I’ve never read Eat Pray Love. I didn’t watch her TED talk on creativity (where Big Magic got started), even though lots of people were sharing it on Facebook for awhile, singing its praises. Why didn’t I? Why not read her wildly popular book or see what she had to say? Well, because I knew that a lot of writers I admire didn’t like Gilbert much–as a writer, and/or as a cultural phenomenon–and I really, really wanted them to consider me a good, serious, “important” writer. Of course, I wasn’t thinking any of this consciously. I was unconsciously “pandering,” similar to what Claire Vaye Watkins talked about in this provocative essay which came out a few months ago. Every time I think I’ve stopped “pandering,” something comes along to make me realize that I still am. Man, this shit runs deep in me. In all of us, I think. The older I get, the more I realize that the high school lunchroom mentality never leaves us. Even though I didn’t mind not sitting at the cool kids’ table in high school, I still aspired to it–just in a different lunchroom.

2.

The first month of my sabbatical is over, and I’m happy with the progress I’ve made thus far. I have some self-imposed deadlines: finish the current section by the end of January, finish the next section during February, the last section in March, revise in April. I write every day–at least two pages, sometimes five or six. The manuscript is currently at 400+ pages, and at this rate, might get to about 600 pages, but I don’t think it’s going to end up that long. I’ve been writing very scenically, dramatizing much of the novel in something akin to “real time.” This would be fine if the novel’s “clock” was a month, a year, or even a few years. But the novel covers about 20 years. I wanted to “see” the scenes in my imagination and show them on the page, but now that I know what happens, I plan to go back in and do more summarizing, more telling, which is what I really prefer doing anyway.

3.

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult novels over the last few years. Almost all of them take place over a relatively short period of time and are quite “scenic,” unfolding at a rate of, say, one day or maybe one week represented by one chapter. That’s something I’ve been trying to teach myself how to do better–create a “faster read” by slowing way, way down, create a vivid and continuous fictional dream. Novels need scenes. Novel readers need moments when they can just be “in the story.” But frankly, I get a little bored after a while with this approach–both as a reader and a writer. Another book I read recently was the marvelous Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. This book covers a lot of time, and certainly, there are dramatized scenes, but lots of skillful telling, too. I remember one chapter in particular that needed to cover the first 10+ years of a couple’s marriage. Groff did so by focusing just on the parties they threw in their apartment. The style of party changes over time. The main characters change. Their friends mature. Think about how some of the montages in Groundhog Day work–Bill Murray figuring out how to play piano, how to woo Andi McDowell, etc. The thing I have to figure out, I guess, is how much of what I’ve written needs to be “in scene” and how much needs to be montage.

4.

At the same time that I’m thinking about shortening/tightening the chapters I’ve already written (a process I really look forward to), I’m also trying to draft brand new chapters (a process I dread). I love to edit, but I do not love generating new stuff. Here’s how I’m learning to cope with this: I think of each new chapter like a painting. An oil painting in particular, which is created in layers. First, I sketch. I write about the scenes rather than writing scenes. I free write as things come to me. Then I move things around. Decide on the beats of the chapter. I try not to get bogged down in details like what my characters are wearing or their expressions or what kind of couch they’re sitting on. Sometimes those details come first in my mind, and I build around them, but most of the time, they come last. I use this a lot: xxxx. Reminding myself to come back later and fill in the blank rather than get sidetracked with research–and boy, is it tempting. Every day, I try to add another layer, another level of detail to my painting. Let’s say that my chapter/painting’s not done until I complete 10 layers. Maybe I’m still too much of story writer, and I should move onto the next chapter after I finish step 5, but I like the feeling of accomplishment that comes with getting to about step 7 or 8. I love the feeling of “finishing” a chapter. I usually take a day off  and do something physical, and then I start the next chapter and remind myself (again) not to fuss with the first sentence, the first paragraph, but to just start sketching.

5.

Today, I’m heading to Lake Forest, IL to do a residency at Ragdale. Eighteen days. I’ve never done a residency before. I think I was always afraid that I’d get to one of those places and not be able to write. I also thought that it was kind of silly to go somewhere to write when I live in a relatively quiet house with no kids. I even have a husband who does all the cooking! So why do a residency? But my friends swear by them, and I think it will be good to separate myself from the allure/distractions of my home, my yard, my dog, my cats, my neighborhood, my job, my husband. I’ll let you know next week how it’s going. Here’s a nice video about Ragdale, what it looks like, etc. In the summer of course!

Five Things: 1/25/2016

Five Things: 1/25/2016

Five Things

For a long time, I enjoyed reading my friend Ashley Ford’s “Five Things” posts. I’ve decided to give it a try, too.

I’m hoping that doing this will:

  • help me stay off Facebook
  • force me to share my thoughts and interesting links but won’t involve me getting sucked into the Borg
  • help me start blogging again
  • give me a place to put my thoughts so that I can come back to them later

Note: I’m not on social media much these days and don’t plan to “push” these posts via social media. So: if you’re reading this, it’s either because you subscribe to my blog or some nice person shared the link for some reason. 

  • My novel is about Linda Lee Thomas Porter, who will eventually marry Cole Porter in 1919, but right now, I’m writing about her before she meets him. She was married from 1901-1912 to a rich dude named Edward Thomas. I like to refer to him as “the Charlie Sheen of the Gilded Age.” Ned and Linda were friends with the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who will eventually discover King Tut’s tomb, but in 1910 he was just getting started as an Egyptologist. Carnarvon and Ned both loved horses (they bred and raced them), racing cars, and had really automobile bad accidents that almost cost them their lives. 
  • I finished a chapter on Saturday night that I’ve been working on for a week or two. It’s set at Carnarvon’s country estate, Highclere Castle (which you know as Downton Abbey) in 1910. I’ll admit that when I realized that there was a connection between Linda and Carnarvon, I got really excited about the prospect of “visiting” Highclere in my imagination. Because of the popularity of Downton Abbey, there’s a great deal of information on the web about Highclere: blueprints, detailed descriptions of the furnishings and architecture and the grounds, historical background. And thanks to this book, I know what what happening at Highclere around the time of my fictional visit. For example: on September 10, 1910 (my birthday as a matter of fact) a famous aviation innovator named Geoffrey de Havilland successfully flew a bi-plane prototype, and so I made Linda’s visit coincide with that that event so she could bear witness.
  • I purposely did NOT start watching season 6 of Downton Abbey while I was writing this chapter; I was afraid I’d lose my nerve or that I’d see the “real” space on the screen and think “I haven’t described the place enough!” or “I got that wrong!” or even “I’ve included too much!” The trick  is to balance the real and the imaginary, to keep yourself from over-researching, to use the real as a springboard. I’ve always enjoyed this quotation from Mario Vargas Lllosa, who was asked by the Paris Review to explain what he meant when he said he “wanted to lie in full knowledge of the truth.”

“In order to fabricate, I always have to start from a concrete reality. I don’t know whether that’s true for all novelists, but I always need the trampoline of reality. That’s why I do research and visit the places where the action takes place, not that I aim simply to reproduce reality. I know that’s impossible. Even if I wanted to, the result wouldn’t be any good, it would be something entirely different.”

  • I’ve written before about how writing fiction is like time travel to me,  and that’s a lot about what this chapter was about, actually. On top of the hill where de Havilland’s plane began its journey is the spot where Carnarvon wanted to be (and is) buried—Beacon Hill. He’s buried within the walls of a prehistoric hill fort, a place where people lived before England was England, even before Rome invaded. I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that Carnarvon was a time traveler too, someone who wanted to connect with the past, not through fiction writing but through archaeology and artifacts. It’s kind of meta, I know—a writer in 2016 imagining people walking around in 1910 who are imagining people walking around in 1000 B.C. 
  • So: I watched a bunch of movies and TV shows set in distant past. The Eagle with Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell. Ironclad with James Purefoy. The Vikings TV series on the History Channel. Holy crap are these shows violent. I watched them in my home office. My writing regimen was this: I can’t write at a desk anymore because of my back, so I kick back in a chair and ottoman. When my fitness bracelet buzzed me that I’d been sitting for an hour, I got up and hopped on my elliptical and watched 15-20 minutes of people hacking each other up, then sat back down and wrote some more. Man, I’m glad I’m done with that chapter. I celebrated last night by watching Downton Abbey