and I’m home from a dozen Christmas visits and a half-dozen airports. Home to a great conversation with Andrea Dupree at Lighthouse Writers Blog about staying on task and lessons learned:
Q. You’ve said in other interviews that your novel was borne out of a desire to “write about identity and the formation of that identity.” You took on, like Eugenides in The Marriage Plot, college age kids in love with ideas and books and each other. Do you feel you came up with new ideas about identity formation by writing the novel? Did anything surprise you?
I think I was more of a utopianist before I wrote the book, more closely allied with some of my characters’ aspirations. I was younger. Then, as I wrote and re-wrote the book, I watched as they relentlessly disassembled one another’s dreams. Jack, my protagonist, tries to step into his friend Bill’s life by impersonating Bill as best he can. His friends Paul and Corinna assume they can marry young and settle down in a respectable little village and both security and happiness will arrive at their door.
Did I learn anything? I suppose I learned how you can’t custom design your own life because the world has its own ideas for you, thrash against it as you will. And even when you achieve what you were struggling for you find it’s different from what you’d expected. It was about 1994 when I first started browsing bookstores, fingering those fiction spines and wishing my own book was tucked in between them. That’s what I wanted my life to be, an integration with those voices. Flash forward so many years and it turns out the road I was running didn’t take me where I expected it would. That old bookstore I used to browse is closed, I live in a different city, and all of the books on my own shelves are new. Astoundingly, it turns out I didn’t want to publish a novel after all, or rather, I did, but I wanted to do it exclusively in 1994. I wanted to be 35 and accomplished in 1994 instead of 18 and oblivious. But of course I wasn’t a real person yet, just an aspirant. The characters in Under the Small Lights are like that too.
The body of the chat (and a louche picture of this writer) can be enjoyed more fully here: http://lighthouseblog.org/2012/01/08/real-people-weird-creatures-novelist-john-cotter-on-life-and-fiction/.
And if you live in the Denver area and you’d like to take that workshop we’re talking about, you can sign up here: https://lighthousewriters.org/workshop/detail/id/489/
We’ll read stories from Maureen McHugh and P.G. Wodehouse and other unlikely workshop specimens and we’ll be writing and jawing our hearts out. It’s Saturday afternoons in January and February, and a little bit of March.