This week I chose CivilWarLand in bad decline, stories & a novella by George Saunders because it was the first book that launched GS’s career back in 1996 and it had a novella in it. I try not to blog about my own writing because I know, via Richard Yates in “Builders” how annoying it can be for a writer to talk about their own work, but I also know via RY, if one does it right it can be liberating.
I’m currently working on a novella, and I’m stuck. Right in the middle when all the action ought to be climbing steadily—you know like the little mountain climber on The Price Is Right— “Yodela, Yodela, Yode—” the novella just fell off the mountain.
A novella can fall off a mountain for any writer. It’s called writer’s block.
But I don’t have writer’s block. What happened to me was that I plotted out the novella only this far back before I got sick and now I’m on medication that prevents me from thinking way ahead, creating schemes, or plotting in general. I’m just not as sharp as I used to be. I’m nice and level which is great, but I’m not creative.
So what do I do now? Because the depressive phase is coming and all my body wants to do is sleep. I feel like I’ve fallen off a mountain.
I think about GS’s novella, “Bounty,” and its claw footed protagonist, a flawed, and I notice how all he wants is to get back to his sister to save her from being sold into slavery. This is the very simplest story line.
Protagonist wants sister to be okay.
And then I find that I am somehow climbing back up that mountain. I ask myself what is happening in the novella, who wants what, what is the simplest story line, and I find it.
Even though CivilWarLand in bad decline was written seventeen years ago, the book is still funny and current, and more importantly it reads like nothing else out there. GS wrote this book in the beginning of his career back when he was working as a geophysical engineer for an environmental company.
GS has an amazing imagination, but I don’t think he would have ever imagined a girl suffering from a bout of the bipoles would pick up his book seventeen years later and figure out a road back to her own novella.
This book may make some people walk away thinking, thank god they aren’t as flawed as one of GS’s characters, or it’s so funny to laugh at people like that, but the book made me walk away and look at my flaws and try to learn which ones I should just accept and which ones I can change. And in some sick way, it’s almost worth falling off the mountain for me to figure that out.