Friday, November 17, 2006

49 Cents an Hour

Thank God it is Friday!
If there was one more work day to this week I would end it in an asylum!
But, as it is, I worked late [again] and now I am having an evening coffee at Starbucks. The Starbucks that is in the Chapters bookstore.
I just went on a little gambol, a little stroll, and picked up a magazine I had never seen before.
It’s called PAGES: The Magazine For People Who Love Books.
It is great!
I lamented the demise of that other periodical, called BOOK, but now there is PAGES!
It looks great!
I just read the cover story, an article entitled The Lions in Winter: Insight and Reflection from Literary Legends. Fascinating stuff. Really well done.
They interview writers like John Updike, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Maya Angelou, Gore Vidal, Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula K. LeGuin, Tom Wolfe, et al. Writers that have been around the block a few times.
All of it is interesting.
But I think the portion I liked best was the interview with veteran author, Joyce Carol Oates.
I must admit, I have never read any of her stuff, and yet I seem to have read a lot of stuff about her, here and there. Being a great fan of Niagara Falls, I have wanted to read her novel, The Falls for a long time now.

Anyhoo, here is the part of her interview that I found especially interesting:
PAGESForty years into a remarkable literary career, why do you still write?
J.C.O.I write, basically, so that I can read sometime in the future a text that didn’t exist before, and with the hope that it will somehow amaze me. People have no idea how much I revise. It’s always thought that I write very quickly. If anyone could see how much revision I do, people would shake their heads and say, “Why would she work so hard?” My threshold of misery and frustration, it must be very high, because I do things that require a work ethic and a level of misery that is rare for anyone to undertake electively. To whip something off very quickly and send it out would have no pleasure to me at all. I would never do that. I labor over everything. Most writers are working at way below the minimum wage, if you figure out how much we make an hour. With me, it’s like 49 cents, I’m sure.

Besides the fact that this last comment reminds me of how close my own current wage is to this figure, I just found that whole idea of painstaking revision so…. intriguing. The writer, writing. The image.
I like that she does not dash something off and send it off to the printers.
In my extremely limited range of personal writing, I find that I too am meticulous and severe, as regards revision.
My biggest problem in writing is that I am trying to write the final draft from the get-go!
Reading Joyce’s response to the question reminds me of reading Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, where she describes, at one point, a time when she had written an entire novel, and her editor then told her to rewrite the thing from scratch.
I cannot imagine such an agonizing feat of self-speculation, and renunciation of initial treasure.
But she did it, Anne did.
She “booked” [← God, I am so hilarious] herself out on a retreat, rented a house, and on the empty hardwood floor, set out her entire book, page by page… walked in and out of it, examined it with a critical eye, picked it apart, threw certain pages in the garbage…. REWROTE it all!
I remember feeling weary, just reading of what she put herself through.
But somehow, I think that great writing must involve some measure of this. Really, I do.
Then again, there are novelists like Mordecai Richler [whom I consider a genius in both style and content] who said in a 1970 television interview, that his best writing was the stuff that flowed out from him and did not require too much revision or re-writing. Similarly, it is said that C.S. Lewis sent his handwritten work to the publisher and skipped all editing altogether. Anyone who has read him, knows that this is simply amazing. These guys were working in WYSIWYG.
[What you see is what you get!]
As for me, I seem to be still working in WYHNSIWIHNWY.
[What you have not seen is what I have not written yet!]

The article [in PAGES] went on to name the Next Generation of Lions.
These kind of listings are obviously so subjective, but yet I’m sure they reflect a significant general consensus. Those named were:
David Mitchell, Zadie Smith, Bret Anthony Johnson, Andrew Sean Greer, Jonathan Safran Foer.
I did not at all see my name among these!
God, I am SOOOOOOOOOO undiscovered!
So, does anyone out there have anything to say of the work of Joyce Carol Oates?
What is your opinion?
Should she get a raise?


1 comment:

cipriano said...

Great news!
And I am not kidding!
I have just been notified that a reader of this blog has, of their own free will and volition and intense love for me, gone to the PAGES link and ordered me a 2-year subscription to the magazine!
Isn't that beautiful?
Thank you, dear reader.
Secondly, if this inspires anyone else to perhaps order me The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates.... umm, email me and I will send you my mailing address!
Blogging is such fun --> :)