Salvatore Pane

Tag: Amy Whipple

The Novel The Novel The Novel

I’ve been digging around through my writing notebooks recently and came upon something (relatively) interesting. A timestamp. March 11, 2009. It’s the day I started writing my novel. It was two years ago today.

I’m not Amy Whipple or Katie Coyle. They’re always running around bursting forth with their feelings. They have feelings on all sorts of subjects, and they are always insightful and intelligent. I usually try and bury most of my feelings and instead think about Kanye West or the New York Knicks or Spider-Man. But really, I think this novel has been kind of the outlet for all my thoughts and ideas and (ugh, I guess) feelings about the world and my existence for the past two years.

Cathy Day used to tell us in writing workshops that most writers are either sprinters or long distance runners (short story writers or novelists), and I’ve always felt more at home in the second camp (the only way I can even write flash fiction is to imagine a novel existing in my head and writing the four or five most interesting scenes). And it’s been so, so comforting over the last two years to be able to return to this novel, this world, these characters, over and over again. No matter what changed in my life (MFA graduation, relationship hyjinx, first year teaching anxiety, family members battling cancer, friends leaving my life, friends entering my life) the novel was always there, fluid, waiting for me to come home. Over time, the characters within started to seem more real to me than actual people I know in my everyday life. I can see these people more clearly, understand them more. I feel guilty when they have to go through pain.

For two years so much of my thinking has been wrapped up in this novel. I wrote a lot of stories during the second year while taking breaks from editing, but always in the back of my mind was the novel, the novel, the novel, even though when people asked me what it was about I would stutter and stare and cough (It’s about Facebook. No, it’s about this guy. And it’s set against the backdrop of the Obama campaign. But, it’s not really about that. It’s about digital stuff? It’s a love story? Kanye shows up? It’s a novel. I don’t know what I’m going to call it. What do you think I should call it?).

There’s just something reassuring to have that world waiting for me at the desk each and every day. And I’ve never been good at ending anything in my life, but I know this relationship’s almost over, that I have changed and the novel has changed and I’m not the same person I was when I started writing it and that’s ok and for the best and now it’s time to put this thing away even though it will always be there to be revisited. But I’m so drawn to that feeling, of world building, of having that other existence and set of people you can slip inside of that I honestly can’t imagine not having some version of this. And already, I’ve bought a new notebook, have already begun scribbling new notes, new characters, new outlines, random items that will hopefully add up to something more. And I guess that’s all I can really do.

Mostly, I’m aware of how lucky I’ve been and continue to be. My agent, Jenni Ferrari-Adler, is the best. She’s so generous and smart with manuscripts and she also represents Emma Straub who I love, love, love. I turned in my revision of the book this week and will probably do another light one before all is said and done. But I think the major, all-consuming work is done. It’s done. It’s done. And it really hasn’t hit me yet, but the feelings I’m most cognizant of are relief and gratitude.

That I wrote it. That I was allowed to write.

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Culture Death Match #2: Tom Bissell vs. Sarah Vowell

What’s that? You read Culture Death Match #1 in which Amy Whipple and I talked Batman and Golden Girls and you’re dying for more? BEHOLD! Amy Whipple and I chat up Tom Bissell, Sarah Vowell, and who is assigned writerly authority and why that is exactly. It’s like a thousand Christmas mornings up in this bitch.

Culture Death Match #1: The Golden Girls vs. Batman: The Animated Series

Earlier this week, The Rumpus ran the first in a series of articles co-written by myself and Amy WhippleCulture Death Match is a point, counter-point feature where Amy and I argue over the merits of various trinkets from the culture at large. For our first feature, we take a look at the gay marriage episode of The Golden Girls and the first Mr. Freeze adventure on Batman: The Animated Series.

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Ownership of Experience

Last weekend I went to the American Serbian Club. It’s a bar in Pittsburgh that caters to the Serbian elderly complete with traditional Serbian music, foods and supple Serbian granddaughters. I drank. I danced. I potentially got engaged to a young beauty. The next day, I sobered up and decided that the ASC DEMANDED to be written about.

Happiness, thy name is American Serbian Club

But who can claim ownership over such experiences? I jokingly messaged another friend of mine who attended the ASC trip and told her she could not write about it because I already had 900 words (which I did). Obviously, this was meant in jest. But now, a few days later, I’m wondering if there’s any validity in that statement. If we, as writers, can ever truly claim to represent a location, an experience, a feeling.

One of the reasons why this is so interesting to me is because I’m the type of writer who can’t imagine faces. I can do setting and internalization and dialogue, but I can never truly picture my characters if what you mean by that is actually generating entirely new humans that don’t already exist. I’m a big believer in the amalgam, of taking one real life person and jamming them into another and seeing what happens because of the inherent tension. Also, I can’t picture clothes. That’s why I’m so thankful Facebook exists, because now if I need an outfit for a trendy, thirty-something dude, I can just go onto Facebook, look up one of my friends who matches the description and get to work.

Is this creepy? Fair? Why, as a writer, do I think we are allowed to do this, that we deserve this even? In my work, if I fictionalize scenarios or characters or settings even a little, I feel as though I now own them, that I can rightfuly claim ownership. Is that outright insane? How do non-writers feel about this? And what about nonfiction? A few weeks back, Amy Whipple was telling me about the ethics involved in interviews. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around such a scenario: the idea that a writer has to consider the feelings and privacy of their subjects. Various ex-girlfriends have liked the idea that certain things they said or did would appear in my work. They figured that since people couldn’t 100% attribute those elements to them, it made it ok and even somewhat desirable. But does that really make it justifiable or should I feel guilty when I stick a close friend into a story? I never have before and always fell into the Richard Yates camp. When asked about which of his characters he really disliked, he said none of them. He told the interviewer that in some small, meaningful way they were all him, pieces of his psyche at work. That’s both a very complex and reductive way of looking at what characters and experiences writers are entitled to.

I've always had a thing for amalgams...