Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A message to NCCAT from Marjorie Hudson

Some years ago a number of people told me that I "needed" to meet Marjorie Hudson, that she had written about a novel of mine, Catherwood, in her nonfiction book, Searching for Virginia Dare. As a girl in the Carolinas, I had daydreamed a good bit about Virginia Dare, child of the Lost Colony...

Eventually I "met" Marjorie via email. Some day I hope to see her in Pittsboro.

Last year I read her novel-in-manuscript that's now making the rounds, and I feel sure it will find a home. I recently suggested that she write something about moving from nonfiction to fiction for our NCCAT group. And so she has.



* * * * * * * * *

Marly asked me to write something about my process as a writer. Lots of what I write is very tied to the land, it's as if I'm haunted by the landscape--the sounds, the smells, the soil, the history. I'm here at Headlands Center for the Arts, in the rolling hills outside Sausalito, writing about North Carolina and the long lost Tuscarora tribe. I have palm trees outside my window, for goddsake. Somehow, the mind is able to process and work in a world of its own.

I'm making a transition during the past year from working in creative nonfiction to working solely in fiction. I loved writing my first book and I especially loved traveling around, going to libraries, interviewing scholars, going to archeology sites, doing the research to get the facts. Turns out, though I'm writing fiction, I'm still doing research. One of my fiction characters, very inconveniently, has decided to write a book. It's a scholarly book about Dawin and Wallace and bird migration. I think he's crazy, but the really bad part is I have to do the research so he can write--or pretend to write--his book. My character actually has writer's block, but I don't need to research that part. I have that every day before I hit the keyboard. I do need to know why he's so interested in this subject--some fantastic stories about his life in Malaysia.

A really interesting question for me with this novel is "How much can I make up? How much has to be deadly accurate?" I know the emotions must be deadly accurate. My question is about details about life. For example, I invented a hybrid or extinct subspecies of pine tree that is a "relict" variety for my North Carolina novel. I knew just what I wanted them to look like, but had to see if there really was anything like that, so I contacted an expert. Turns out my tree is completely made up. I'll have to decide if I want it to be an unknown, rare variety, or if I want it to be just a stand of trees that happens to grow large. How will that affect the themes in my story? Very good question.

One of my characters sells heirloom varieties of potatoes at a farmers market. In one of her chapters, she is thinking about how much she loves Peruvian Blue potatoes, and she is trying to convince a reluctant buyer to try them, and she says "look, they stay blue when you cook them." Now, I have read a lot about gardens and I go to a farmers market a lot, I used to even sell at a farmers market, but I don't really truly remember if they stay blue or even are blue. So I am going to have to check that out. For one thing, tonight I am reading an excerpt for some chefs and friends and by golly they will know the answer! So I have to get it right, or my character won't be believable. My character practically swoons over Peruvian blue potatoes.

Meanwhile, I've got a character who is a 20-year-old Downs Syndrome man. I write small sections from his point of view. Even though I am close to several 20-something Downs Syndrome people, and I felt I had some background knowledge about how D.S. works, I knew I would have to look it up so I could address the issue of his sexual development, a key issue in the story. At some point I will probably run his sections by a doctor or development specialist. I don't want to be disrespectful by getting it wrong.

--from Marjorie Hudson, Artist in Residence, Headlands Center for the Arts. Hudson is author of Searching for Virginia Dare (creative nonfiction, Coastal Carolina Press) and Gone Forever, Be Back Soon, a novel (in submission to agents). Her novel-in-progress is tentatively called Accidental Birds.


Anonymous Linda K said...

Marjorie: It is so wonderful that you have written in our blog about your writing. I too, agree that the places we live, the landscapes we settle on influence who we are and what we write. Having grown up in New England, living in western North Carolina has made me appreciate the beauty of nature and how these southern moutains shape so much of what I read by local writers. I have tried to focus on really seeing these mountains each day with the hope that one day I too, will really understand why I find them so mysterious and unpredictable. Like seeing the crow taking flight from the compost pile early in the morning with a whole slice of bread...the bluebird stubbornly trying to get in the house all day. My dog thinking he too can fly. I just love living here in the mountains.

On another note, if your time permits, would you address, and I invite ALL YOU BLOGGER out there to respond. My background has been as a teacher of writing mostly to college freshmen and have experienced on many occasions the response to writer's block-"I give up!-I know what I want to say--but I just don't know how to say it." Can any of you shed some light on this "knowing"--I've often wondered how one can "know" yet cannot say. Any thoughts?

Again, thanks so much for visiting our emerging community of writers.

Linda Kinnear
NCCAT Center Associate for People, Places and Plots Seminar

2:08 PM  
Anonymous marly said...

I've written Marjorie a note and hope she will drop by soon. Feel free to ask her a question, or to visit Phil Williams' post and leave a message or question. I'll make sure they know...

2:26 PM  
Anonymous marjorie hudson said...

Dear Linda K and all
Re: Writers Block. I am a great student of writers block. I think a block is often just an opportunity to write badly for a while as a warm up for writing well, accurately, and with deep feeling. Recently I heard a writer reveal that in response to an exercise she had six false starts and then got to something good. She just kept writing. Anne Lamott says this too: "write shitty first drafts" (I clean this up for tender ears, but not for college kids). When it becomes an assignment, you can write: I don't know how to say this I don't know how to write this I don't know...
So, everybody, get your pencils and start. See? You are writing badly, which is the same thing as running slowly before the race. You've got to do some of it to get anywhere. You know you are a real writer when you are willing to do that!

5:21 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home