All the latest news, ideas, and opinions from Denver's Independent Literary Center: lighthousewriters.org
In our final installment of our exposé of one Laurie Sleeper, supermodest and supermod mama by day, unreasonably talented writer by night, she tells us the story of the story we’ll be hearing on Saturday (join in the fun, everyone! Hope to see you there).
AD’s question: All of us in the Thursday night story class were blown away when you submitted, “Naomi and the Writer.” Can you talk a little about the process of writing this story. My impression is that it came out quickly, and yet it also has the feel of a work that’s been elaborately considered.
Oh, boy, how did I write this story? A few years ago, I had a personal health crisis that I had not yet been able to write about, and in the last year or so, I knew I would need to. I started a couple of projects, both fiction and non-fiction, which I quickly abandoned because they just didn’t have the right tone or feel for what I thought I wanted to say. And I didn’t even know exactly what I wanted to say, but I knew it had to be as complicated as I felt about it. And it had to include humor.
At the AWP Conference in April, I attended a great panel called “Sick Humor” about using humor to write about serious medical issues, and it must have been then that I got the first germ of the idea for “Naomi.” It was going to be a conventional story, and I resisted writing this story harder than anything else (which tells you how much I needed to write it). I took a stab at another personal essay, and plugged away half-heartedly at my football story (for those of you who know what I’m talking about). I felt pretty sure I wouldn’t write the story.
But every year, I go to the Lighthouse Writers’ Retreat at Grand Lake in mid-July, where I become hugely inspired both to recommit to writing and to take chances with it, and the earliest dated computer file I have for “Naomi” is subtitled “(Rough from Grand Lake).” I remember the only way I could get anything out was to tell myself that I was only writing it for myself, and that I wouldn’t show it to anyone else. In that rough draft, there are a few paragraphs of what I would call a “conventionally” written story, and then chatty notes to myself saying things like “so here’s the part of the story that’s supposed to show the development…”
Then my turn was coming up in Andrea’s Thursday night workshop, and I didn’t have anything, except “Naomi.” I decided to take a chance and see if I could draft it into a halfway decent story, but when I went to transform those parts that were notes into actual story, I couldn’t do it, it just didn’t feel right. I wish I could remember my light bulb moment but I don’t, I just started beefing up those notes into narrative interjections, turning “Naomi” into a story about writing a story, and feeling thankful that only eight other people would see the mess that I was making.
Except, I have to admit, I kind of liked the mess. At one point, while I scribbled on yet another printout, I remember thinking I was putting everything I’d ever learned about writing into this, but it was like the difference between learning to play golf and playing golf—while you learn to play (or learn to write), there are a lot of rules to think about, but when you’re out on the course (or writing the story), you can’t be conscious of the rules anymore or you’re not going to play (or write) well. The only conscious application of writing skills I made was late in the drafting, when Naomi’s story had been interrupted by the writer a few times, and I thought “well, duh, I know that the writer has to be a character in her own right,” and that’s when the revelations about the writer at the end came into being, which I feel are key to the success of the story, the parallel and counterpoint to Naomi’s story at the same time.
So I ended up with a meta-fiction, something I’ve jokingly referred to as my “mad at fiction” story. But I’m not mad, really, because I think sometimes certain writing conventions can be too limiting to express certain things (at least they were for me), and in writing about those limitations within the story itself, I think I managed to get closer to those complicated feelings I wanted to express in the first place.
One final note: I do admit that this is a story that most writers (myself included!) hate hearing about, because once I decided to go for it in form, it wrote itself very quickly, and has not changed much from when I first showed it to my workshop just two months ago. In case you think that’s how I usually write, I’d be happy to show you all my other stories that I’ve worked on for years and which still aren’t finished. It’s just nice to have something I finally consider done!