The Letter Project

July 23, 2011

Special Delivery (106)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 11:32 pm
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In this letter to me, Suzy Anderson discusses her writing and saying goodbye to Harry Potter.  –TW

July 13, 2011

Dear Theresa, I enjoy getting mail too, especially when I know to expect a book from Amazon or a letter. But the unexpected ones are exciting, like handmade cards from my aunts in Cincinnati, and they are always a treat. Your letter is one I’ll always treasure. The pink envelope with a hand “+ dull + with + care” made me smile. And the turkeys on the back—I could totally imagine the turkey walking across the envelope, showing me which side to open first. Cutting opening the letter’s seal took me back to the days where people sealed letters with wax and marked it with their insignia.

I totally agree that the mystery and the inability to explain the need to write, the need to use words to express what isn’t easily describable, draws me in as a writer. It is rather addicting to be in love with a story idea and play with it. Writing is like giving ourselves permission to be children, to explore the world in a way so we can discover truths and try to understand. I think one reason stories are so crucial to us is because they help explain the world and who we are as human beings. Look at technology today. We have video games, movies with visual effects, hey let me tell you about my day and other story telling methods. Regardless of the medium, a story is involved. Stories. They are the key to humanity. It’s our job as writers to unlock it. We do what we can, seeking perfection through revision, but we’ll never get it exactly right because we make mistakes. But that’s OK because there’s beauty in mistakes. If our characters didn’t have scars, they would be too unreal. Since they do, we can relate to them and explore through their dilemmas how they deal with life and all of its emotions and memories.

Kerouac’s scroll is amazing! I never thought about that as a possibility, but it certainly is motivation to keep writing, at least til the paper runs out. I wonder if there is a way to bring the idea back. I’ll have to look into getting a typewriter. In April I wrote 40 thousand words of the novel I’m currently working on, and when I printed it to revise, I organized it into sections and cut each section from colored paper to place on white paper. I didn’t realize the color would keep my attention more through the revision process because I’ve always been attracted to vibrant colors. Probably explains my fascination with art and Botero’s work in general. At least I found a new revision method!

Prose should look beautiful on the page. Matt Bell showed my class a trick: zoom out of your manuscript and see where there are big blocks of text that could be cut down, or vice versa, there is too much white space from dialogue. The look of the story should mirror what the text says, a lesson fiction can learn from poetry.

There is freedom in axing “all the things we know” but it is also scary. I’ve been examining my life in greater detail over the past year and there were points where I know I broke some bones and damaged some sinew, metaphorically speaking. It’s a painful process. Healing is sometimes more painful than the original wound, but at least the scars are physical reminders of the trials faced and the fight to get through them.

Thank you so much for pointing out Kafka’s quote: “A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.” While looking it up I also found “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?” I think this quote is interesting because we (especially as writers) need to find books that move us. If the characters’ pain is not moving us, we are not connected to them and not invested in their wellbeing. But if we care, it is easier to let the author guide the readers’ emotions. I know for myself I know if I am enjoying the story if I can feel my blood move, heart beating, breathe quicker, or if I respond out loud (like crying, gasping, yelling at the characters, etc.). But the quote is also funny because we don’t know if the book is going to “wound and stab us” until we’ve read a good portion of it. Oh, what a conundrum.

It’s strange to try and put into words what I experienced riding my bike in the rain, but I’ll try because I think it is an experience I will return to and attempt explaining in the future. So I’ll experiment here. I felt like a daredevil, as if I was taking too much of a risk and an insurance salesman should have flagged me down and quoted the statistics. At the same time I felt loose and unrestrained and if my life ended, I would have no qualms about it. It reminded me of the feeling I experienced when I put the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington when I went on the school trip in eighth grade. If I died then, I would be happy and have no regrets. I was part of something bigger than myself. It was as if I, as an individual person, did not exist.

With my novel, I’m trying to find a balance between sharing what I discover and keeping it secret til it’s finished. I really want to get back into revising it because I have worked on it off and on this summer. This is the first story I’ve truly been excited to write. I was ready to jump out of my skin the couple of days before I sat down to seriously work on it, knowing it was larger than a short story. I told people about it mostly to get people outside of myself to support me and let me know they were interested, invested in this story as much as I was, and excited to see the final product. Further motivation to finish it so I can share it with those who encouraged me along the way. And to thank the people who inspired me to keep writing and helped me grow as a person and as a writer so I can give them public credit in the acknowledgments.

We do get stuck in conventions. I know for myself that life burns brighter when the lines are swept away and risks are taken. Not at the expense of others, though! Sometimes the comfort zone is more dangerous than trying something new. It’s funny how much fear keeps us back, like a seatbelt. We secure it and depend on it to protect us.

I’m glad you can look forward to going out west next year. I’m lucky I was able to go to California over spring break. I wish it wasn’t July already so I could take a trip this summer. The east coast is attractive since I’ve never been further east than New York. We’ll see what happens before the school year starts.

It’s great that your summer is great and you have projects to work on. I will have to take a contemporary course, and I would love to take contemporary fiction if you’re teaching it. The book “Memory Sickness” looks a great read. I will have to check it out. Having your own writing space is a must. Since I moved into an apartment in BG this summer, I knew I would get a desk since we got it furnished, but during the school year I like to keep my homework and writing areas separate. Otherwise it’s hard to plop down and write when I have to move schoolwork out of the way—easier to have two distinct areas. Then I don’t have an excuse to not write. Although I have filled the extra table space with stuff and will need to have a cleaning of my own!

To have a history with your writing desk is extra special. The space should encourage the mystery of writing and the freedom to create. Unfortunately I don’t have a history with my desk, but that’s probably because my dad just bought me a desk this summer. I did have a wonderful time putting it together and picking what books would have the honor of being on it. And it’s been sacred when I sit down to write at the desk.

Hopefully the short story will work out. Don’t worry about me thinking death is morbid. It’s all about how you think of it. I think it’s insightful and interesting to hear other viewpoints. Death is a mystery all its own. As long as serial killers are not involved, death is an acceptable subject to broach in literature and for a deep philosophical conversation.

I love that you said “one kind of art informs another, so no matter what artistic endeavor you are giving yourself to, that time is not wasted.” Music (piano, violin, and djembe) have definitely influenced my writing, especially the cadence and rhythm of poetry and the flow of prose to the ear. Textiles (crochet and knitting) have contributed to my love of taking a string (or what appears to be nothing) and making loops with the aid of hooks or needles to create a final product. Finger painting is fun because I get to play with colors and make a mess. Without my other art forms, I don’t know if I could write what I do. I certainly can draw on wider experiences because of the other arts I do. They inform my work.

I have been catching on my list of movie recommendations. I’ve watched so many since May I can’t possibly list them all or name a favorite. I’m glad you’ve had time to go to Toledo and Michigan, at least get out of town and experience a different landscape. The deal on watercolor paper is amazing!

I made paper in grade school, and it was fun. It would be neat to write letters on homemade paper! 🙂 After I made the hat I wore it for hours even though it was 95 degrees out. I was so proud of it. I will certainly wear it when the weather turns. My djembe has been great for playing music when I don’t feel like getting out the string instruments or going to the music building to play the piano.

This week is pretty rough for me because I am saying goodbye to Harry Potter. I grew up with the books, discovering them when my aunt in Chicago bought me the first one for my birthday. Needless to say I was hooked from the first page! I went to the midnight premieres of the last three books at the local Barnes and Noble and have seen all of the movies, except “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” I’m going to the midnight showing this Friday.

Last summer I had the opportunity to meet Melissa Anelli, a journalist who worked for the Leaky Cauldron and interviewed J. K. Rowling twice. She wrote a book called “Harry: A History” and covered the fan-based phemonon around the series.

The books have always touched me; the last three in particular—I am drawn to the darker material and love having most of the ends tied together. Rereading the books after the last one has shown too that the clues have been there all along! Rowling certainly wrote with each character’s motivations and backstory in mind. This element, combined with her ability to build a world readers want to inhabit make the story so compelling, is the key to her success in my mind.

The soundtracks for the movies have been crucial to my writing because I listen to them as I write (and Celtic/Irish music). In April when I worked on my novel I listened to selections from the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” soundtrack and music from Howard Shore and Fin Tan. Looking back at my drafts I could see how the tone of the music helped bring out the narrator’s voice before I realized there was a connection and guide her on her adventures throughout the novel.

Love, Suzy

P.S. I’ve included one of my finger painting pieces just for you. The postcard was too small for my letter, so it’s just a postcard! I’ll send more when I’m ready. I’m still experimenting with the colors I have and trying to develop different approaches my character would take when he paints.

From Suzy Anderson to Theresa Williams: a portion of the original letter.

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