Alexander Chee: How To Write An Autobiographical Novel



I'm so excited to welcome you all here to have a conversation with Alexander G I'm Lea the editor of liminal magazine and I just like to start tonight by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land the Orangery and been among people of the Kulin nation I pay my respects to elder's past present and emerging this land was never ceded it always was and always will be Aboriginal land in 2019 the legacy of white supremacy permeates our lives it defines our past terrorizes our present and projects a horrific future at a time when far-right extremism white supremacy and race politics are on the rise we must renew our commitment to active anti racism and equality as part of this I think as a writer of color I'm constantly considering how best to move forward in this world Alexander Chi is a writer who was created and generously shed his own kind of road map in his debut novel and Umbra his historical fiction the queen of the night and in this very good amusingly titled a book of essays how to write an autobiographical novel Alex proposes a model for bravery for writing the self in uncertain times for celebration and interrogation of his intersecting identities and much more please welcome Alexander Chi we're so lucky to have you here thank you thank you for that introduction how are you finding Melbourne delicious we've eaten very well since we've arrived and all of my plans are for when I return to eat at other places this today I decided that it was a kind of sightseeing to be eating well in Melbourne it's kind of sightseeing in velvet we saw it we would start off with a little tray for you guys that have a short rating from something in the book I often don't know what I'm going to read before I read things and I recently met someone else the writer Jim Shepherd who also has this problem so I feel that's bizarre but I thought I would read you know Lee and I were talking earlier about what to read from and I thought maybe I would just read from the title essay which I don't often do so here we go it's it's not a how-to not book by the way just in case I will only tell the truth you decide it's right there after all like you could hold it perfect in one try this vision of the novel you are sure you can write sits in your life like a gift from any god you might be willing to believe in as suddenly real as any unexpected visitor you must write it you decide it would be so easy you watch each other carefully for years when you begin you are like someone left in the woods with an axe and a clear memory of houses deciding to build a house you decide you will teach yourself to furnish everything with that axe you are the axe the woods is your life and yet when you sit down to try the perfection is gone the beautiful symmetry the easy way of it all of it is replaced by awkwardness something worse than if your mind made only noise when you stop dejected you see it again perfect again as if it is mocking you soon you learned that you see it only when you do not try thinking this may be its way of stopping you but either way you stop trying and then start and then stop perhaps you are unfamiliar with why you would try to undo yourself why you would be your own worst enemy or best friend or that person who has sometimes both now you try to live with what you know you still see it even if it eludes you when you reach for it what is the way into the place where it is you wonder perhaps it is like the Venetian towns built to confuse pirates you think you are headed toward the square with a fountain and instead find yourself an alley out along the cliff wall another life there is that noise still in the mind drawn over the surface of the entrance like camouflage you find this only when you decide you must try again you don't know this yet but gods even when you don't believe in them do not give something easily not even when the God is you you didn't make this out people say to you when you finally write it and give it to them to read I did you say but then you feel as if you have dropped your disguise is this me they asked coldly their disguise also dropped you would hope they would also see how perfect it was you wonder if it is them and you forgot somehow if you are stupid in some way didn't anticipate the living reside uncomfortably in pros this includes you you luck the child who believes they're invisible because they stood in a shadow this person your reader now says there's no plot you see this also the novel revealed now is a string of anecdotes and you cannot see what comes before or after the events of your life like an empty field and you there shouting novel the writer who cried novel yes yes that was you and then something that fits the shape of what you know to do this use the situation's but not the events of your life invent a character like you and but not you you in the forest of yourself with the axe building the house sealing yourself within its walls you are the ghost of the house you build and never live in this house you make of your life the space you occupy more like the space between the wall and the paint this is also the difference between you and the one you have invented to be you this golem of the self this house now something anyone could visit and understand unlike you that is what you hope for now I'll stop there [Applause] protection from stage lights it's also very pretty thank you um thank you that was that is one of my favorite essays in the collection and if you haven't read it yet it's all kind of in epic epigram so for isms I guess it's very wind up like a skeleton I guess you could tweet it I was in a series that's wondering how did you come to the forum of this particular essay Oh hmm I think the writer and Carson introduced me to the idea that an essay could be more like a poem and that a poem could even be like an essay that there could be something in between and one of those at least one of those lines in there is something that I have said to my students for a very long time such that when you know I so I had the good fortune to receive a prize from one story magazine as their mentor of the Year last year and they do this beautiful thing for the prize where they reach out to your former students and they invite them to submit recollections of you and what was hilarious to me was some of the consistency of the advice over the year and and that line about about the axe and the clear memory of houses was something that I said many times so it was it was funny to find it again there and I think sometimes when you when you teach a lot you are always drawing from a kind of reservoir knowledge that expands and remixes itself as you are talking to students and some of those things that you stay that you say excuse me it's become like those lines that you get into your head when you're about to start a poem or at least that I do maybe not everyone starts a poem like that but but I do but in this case it was an essay so something it's a little bit like a little bit less like writing and I said a little bit more like writing a poem or a song or something finding that space between a poem in an essay kind of it was originally numbered as a kind of a list and then we took the numbers out I think the list the list poem is a wonderful structure because the list asserts a relationship between the things on the list and and so the reader is is thrust into making the connections themselves and and so they can experience the list very differently each of them according to what their associations are kind of like the other one 100 things about writing a novel yes that's right those are the two lyric essays in the collection sorry I'm like very interested in how the collection kind of came together can you use be how did you decide to pull it all into one book well I was invited to I was invited to speak at the Columbia University nonfiction programs reading series by a wonderful writer by the name of Liz Harris and I immediately realized that I did not have a book of essays or not a no nonfiction book and I felt sort of naked I mean I knew there was no way to get a book out in time for the reading but but in any case I think I even sent an email tool is essentially saying like I'm so sorry I don't have a book just in case you didn't notice and she said just send me a list of your favorites so that was kind of how it began I was making this list of favorite essays for her to share with our students and and as I did I thought oh this looks like a table of contents to about what I probably should have already published so the essays were drawn from about the last 25 years when I sat down to put the collection together I realized that I had about 65 to 70 essays to choose from I could have a collection out next year if I want everything my husband was saying that I probably shouldn't flood the market I thank you I am I did know pretty quickly that I wanted the title essay that I just read from – to be the title essay and – and that kind of helps shape the book and in its way it had a had a tone and a somatic suggestion as well so we we started choosing things that were about how I came to writing how I came to write my first novel and the eventual structure of it the essays begin with me as a reader always learning to write things for his own pleasure as a young boy I'm an exchange program in Mexico I had run out of things to read and I write started writing x-men fan fiction before I knew what that was does it still exist it may be in a notebook somewhere in my mother's house but war in my should I took a lot of those things away in there now in a basement in the Catskills the the last essay is me as a teacher of writing on the on the day after Trump's election of the United States and at the school where I taught it was like a terrorist attack had happened and people were campus was empty the town was empty the only dad never had any trouble parking on campus people were walking across the campus weeping people were weeping in offices students were weeping it was pretty catastrophic and then the next thing I had to do was to go teach a class so I do I think you compare it to 9/11 in that kind of aftermath that deep psychic depression I think I had you know one of the things that was uncanny for me was that I was so it was my first year at my new job at Dartmouth College and I didn't really know I was still meeting the community when I arrived that day I had no idea what it would be like I certainly I expected I might even see conservative students celebrating but I didn't I don't know where they were it was you know I'd certainly seen a few of the make America great again hats on campus before the election and I think what was really sweet that day was there were students who started posting I kind of like posted graffiti on campus on the trees and on the walls and Chakra fede also just like messages that were like you are loved or cheer up which was but in the context it was kinda it was like so everything was so bleak that the the sort of the sweetness of it actually had a interesting paradoxical appeal you know because they say Alex Alexander's talking about is essentially about why we write in the aftermath of Trump I guess well why I think why write at all ya know I think the it's a you know the the thing that happened in class almost immediately was one of my very best students who is now finishing a novel she said what is the point of writing if something like this can happen which I thought wasn't a really interesting question it was it had a kind of childlike complaint to it but also it had a sort of radically direct appeal you know why would you write anything why would you why wouldn't you do something else you know that's the kind of thing that has always been in the atmosphere around any attempt to discuss being a writer I remember growing up there were lots of people who would say you should you should be a writer but then they would also say things like my grandfather who was who said you'll be happy but poor and then laughed hilariously like he told a joke and you know there were people who were suggesting that maybe I should get an MBA just in case or so it was this it was this kind of mix of like go do this thing this thing will bankrupt you go do this thing you know that that I was always aware of going to parties would tell people you're a writer and immediately in America at least the conversation flips to you you know have I heard of you should I know you are you famous sometimes even so what are your sales like yeah thank you to the person go and there is this as I say in the essay there's this kind of underlying belief that they should be able to ask you these questions because of course this is what you should be you shouldn't be unfamous as a writer you shouldn't be unsuccessful as a writer you you know all these kinds of assumptions are always around one of my favorite moments in my life was I I went to brunch the day that I got the galley for my first novel in the mail with a friend of mine who was an actress and we were in New York City we were at this brunch spot that we both loved it was like our place you know and I was waiting for I had the book in a little bag on the table I was I wanted to show her and these two women sitting next to me started talking after they gave their order and one of them said just so sick of how every waiter has a side gig it's like they're always trying to be an actor trying to be a writer trying trying trying trying like just go be the thing and I was like oh my god I really don't want to go to jail today and then and just as she had delivered that line my friend appeared came over sat down and then we got to have a very loud conversation about how I just finished my new novel after waiting tables for years as I worked so and they had a very quiet brunch next to us intensive like the post the post Trump in times did you feel like I need to get this collection out cuz it comes out like you came out a year and a half after he was elected maybe I had already been putting it together and I think at that point I had sold the book and was finishing it and one of the things that was immediately apparent and was very interesting to think about was the way in which a book and its context have this relationship its historical context have this relationship it was I don't and that was part of what reminded me about September 11th you know because I remember after September 11th people thought like there were some things that they couldn't publish some things that they could there were people who spoke of a writer's block where they felt like everything was insufficient to the tragedy and in much the same way there was there were people talking about the writer's block that they felt the despair they felt you know most of what we were afraid of has started to happen or worse things have happened so everyone who was accusing us of overreacting it turns out a little not Heath I remember you know I had dinner that night that first night after the election at a restaurant that was almost entirely empty it was normally very full there was I I was doing this because that day I had noticed and I talked about this in the essay that I could not do I could not do the thing that I normally do in the morning which is that I make coffee and I make my breakfast and this is one of the ways that I have always acted for myself and so had I knew that I had to go and ask like order these things from other people and they would do them and then I would be fed and everything would at least move forward in that way so thus I was at this restaurant and there were two people there a Bernie Sanders supporter who said she hadn't voted and a Republican it was the bartender who also said he hadn't voted and they were talking about how great it was going to be and how America was going to get out of all these wars and the Republican was an ex-soldier who was Rhian listing I don't know where he is now I wonder I wonder what he thinks I wonder if he's fighting I bet he is um I first picked up this book because this line kept floating around the internet which was it was a summer of wanting impossible things it's inquired and card and card it and it is funny that's interesting I did that I hadn't thought of that one as being one that I mean but I think I see a different side of things and what readers see based on whether people tagged me or not it's kind of it's I found it mostly funny because like a book like this for me is a mixed-race right out it felt really impossible and there's this such a lack of language around what it means to be mixed all liking the curse you call it mestizo is that Pisces so the the word it's a it's a Mexican word mestizo which literally means mixed I'm the stic oh yeah but I'm interested in like halfway through the book you talk about how you could be the first Korean American writer and then someone beats you to it so you become the first gay Korean American writer which I left but like how how did you decide to just be the first and create this kind of language to articulate your self and your body I guess it was um so at a certain level you just think that you're writing a novel you know and I remember when the my first novel Edinboro was under submission and it I should say the novel is not set in Scotland much in the same way that this is not a how-to book and the it uses a piece of a piece of Edinburgh as history as a metaphor the the part of the city that was so full of the dead after the Black Plague that instead of removing the bodies from the neighborhood they simply left them there and buried the neighborhood and built on top of it and the yeah I just I thought I was writing a novel and the sales teams were getting back to my agent with questions from the houses that were considering the book and they were saying things like is this an immigrant novel asian-american novel is it a gay novel what is it and I would say it's a novel it's not a coming out story which is what they thought a fiction was at the time this was the this was like 1999-2000 when these conversations were happening it wasn't about immigrating to the United States it wasn't about your parents who immigrated to the United States it was about other things and these were just the situation's of the character but it was really profoundly disturbing how people seemed to look past it even though it was right there and in a way that doesn't seem to happen now which I really appreciate and it's so it's been beautiful to see it back in print and to see readers enjoying it now mostly and to see people talking about it and thinking about it you know I think at the time that it did actually come out eventually it had a wonderful critical reception I I think you know the my first publisher was an independent publisher who was great at getting it in front of reviewers their distribution was last great and but then Picador we published it and that made all the difference in the world but still was this you know you do see your sales eventually and it established me as a writer for sure in a way that not everyone's first novel does and I was very grateful for that I think but you never decide in some ways to be the first even though and so it's like it's like that trick of walking a tightrope you know I remember when a group of Asian American literature scholars at the Modern Languages Association conference in I think at that point it was in San Francisco 2008 they told me the news that I really was the first and I it felt so lonely you know like like I was the first fish to walk out of the sea or something and the and I said are you sure and they said we checked which was kind of hilarious so you know sometimes I say it and people think I'm kidding all right as I told a student this refew years ago and he looked at me in shock I was trying to urge him he was a gay korean-american student to write I thought he was very talented and I was trying to get him to take it seriously so the proposition roughly was like I was the first I'm still one of the few join me I think he was kind of like what so but I think it's it stayed in his mind I suspect it's been nice to have spent the last year having conversations with so many young queer Asian American writers Asian writers around the country around the world who are now working on projects and I'm really excited about what our literature will look like in a year three years five years ten years you know so I think the the waves that I've been waiting for our are finally happening all of the other walking fish image I'm so sorry for that evolution sometimes uncomfortable because I think in the Guardians you write that Edinborough is a kind of palette pal annoyed that when it was published you thought the work was done but you realize a few years later that it's it's not done and I go ahead sorry no let me know let me not engage what I call fake mind-reading please no what's the end of the sentence like my question is is the work done now oh that's interesting well I suppose you're always waiting to find out I think you know so the the reference that she's talking about in the collection is you know I had written a novel about sexual abuse a kind of a fictionalized version of my own experiences brought into like a somewhat fantastical arrangement of things and as I had after I had published it I became aware that people thought that I had dealt with it all and in fact what I became aware of was how I had not that writing a novel about it wasn't the same as having gotten to therapy for it and that there were these ways in which you know the impulse to hide what had happened to me had even gotten me to hide it from all of the therapists I'd had such that when I finally did seek someone out for this kind of therapy she was really shocked and essentially said to me most of the people I deal with can't say what happened to them might write a novel about it so she she was sort of in the group of that was saying like well I think you're I think you're done and I really wasn't and so the you know the the in some ways I think the novel was a way of getting me to the place where I could recuperate myself you know I think the recuperation of the selves and the and the growth that you go through as a person or always these things are always ongoing processes you're always figuring out new ways to live with it that particular essay the guardians is about how these ways that you learn to protect yourself as a young person can become ways that you actually can damage yourself when you get older because it's like you've left some old system that you jury-rigged as a child in charge of your adult life and you have to figure out how to reread your mind and your whole emotional life and the ways in which all that had hidden me from myself or what the essay is about and that's not really what is in the first novel so I think that's what I meant by yeah work not being done I think it's what's interesting to me now is I feel ready to begin the adult artistic work of my life stopped as if all this was just fun yeah and I'm aware of the kind of horrific hubris of that statement but but at the same time I you know I think when Edinboro was published I do remember feeling like wow I've shown people one way to approach the novel now I'll try to show them another just took me fifteen years so hopefully it won't take so long the next one I'm not gonna ask when the next one is out but I really want to actually I did Chris I was thinking about this text this essay collection is kind of a way of rewriting Edinburgh like pulling it from fiction into a kind of space between autobiography and fiction mmm I used to jokingly call the collection everything bad that happened to me that was there was a period where my publisher was not happy with this title they were like did you come up with another title and I ended up sticking to my guns of the title obviously but that that was the that was the other choice wouldn't have been a bad title actually but it was in response to this way in which you know when I was working on the novel originally the first draft of it that was more autobiographical my agent read it was and was her response was well no one's gonna believe this many bad things happen to someone and I I thought oh okay you know I'm an impossible person in some way that I hadn't anticipated and and that caused me to think about this relationship between you know being someone who was trying to write a tragedy you know the I studied Aristotle's Poetics for the creation of tragedy to figure out the plot for my first novel and and that led to you know me touring with the novel which was kind of fictional tragedy and then being someone who knew the private one that informed it which then became the structure for the queen of the night that's the that's that was in some ways the way that became that you know so the Queen of the Night is it in a very very difficult way to parse I hope is like a long meditation on a lot of what I went through with all of that but it all said it of course in the 19th century during the Second Empire with enormous and jewels and opera just in case that's not clear I mean it's you don't have to think about any of that when you read it and you probably should but if that's interesting to you that is there I read it after the collection and it immediately reminded me of all of the different jobs that you've had because the character has so many different like occupations I didn't even put all my weird jobs in this book do you have a list I mean not really not officially the resume jobs that you don't put on a resume but you know when I was writing the Queen of the Night actually there was this interesting thing that happened where I wrote I wrote 90 pages and then I thought oh that's not the book and then I wrote another 60 pages that I thought was definitely the book in them that that's not the book either then I wrote 75 pages more that's not really it and I had this file that I called chop bag Queens which was I would take giant chunks of text that I would cut out of the novel and put it in there with the idea that and what didn't belong in the novel but probably maybe it wouldn't belong later and so at some point I looked and I realized that I had like 300 pages in there and then in the thing that I was calling him a novel I had like 60 pages and then I thought well you should he should figure this out and so it was as if like with each of those different sections of her life I couldn't think about the other sections while I was writing it sort of in the way that she would have partitioned her mind off it was very strange I mean the whole writing process for that novel was a lot like being haunted by someone who's never lived you know and lots of conversations with them but we'll see if that ever happens again I'm waiting on the next novel thank you I've been thinking a lot about like the concept of date colonial tools like how we can what we can do with in writing to like decolonize that like ela fest queer Asian Oh Korean American Retta um like how we can use the forum to decolonize like the self or the mind or even the reader's mind is that something that you're like actively thinking about or just comes out regardless I I think that the process is possibly something that decolonize decolonization is something you can dramatize perhaps but I don't know if it's something that you could and maybe we'll find out like put in a novel in the same way that you might administer some sort of remedy you know the but I do think that it is interesting to try to – do you know what I call hacking myth essentially where you you take the structure of myth and you use it to do other things with it different things perhaps you know they are at some point I realized that my childhood fascination with myth and gods and and the supernatural was actually a fascination with the way in which these things taught us the rules of the world and even encoded them in people by the way in which we would come to believe them and so you know with my first novel I tried to recode a myth and and see if it could do something else and in this case I was trying to create a novel about things that really people really didn't want to speak about and I wanted them to to think about it and talk about it and so that paradox was what I was trying to engineer and I I think that's what happened it's my hope that's what happened it's a good hope I had the myths that you hack in Edinburgh is like quite interesting because you're taking is it's a Korean myth or a Japanese man so the Fox demon is a creature that is in China Korea and in Japan and and that was interesting to me I was thinking about it in terms of like you're using this by Korean storytelling alongside like within the English language so you're bringing these two cultures together in this one space no question that was a terrible example of a question because we're just supposed to can't walk to question time here we go very sorry um hi thinks I'll exam two so much for the talk um when I read how to write an autobiographical novel um the longing realization I had was maybe this is the first time I'd read a memoir that was written without a collective memory I think you know writing your own story particularly if you're from a diaspora or have had some history of migration or separation can be really overwhelming because there are those parts of periods of losses whether it's a collective loss of family loss or an individual loss of memory through a coping mechanism or an active arisia that makes it really hard to tell your story but reading your novel I felt like you were able to approach this idea that you have a narrative with gaps in between is that something that you saw as a theme of your novel is that something that you wanted to explore or is it just a coincidence that it comes across that way that is actually a coincidence but I'm so happy that that was the realization you had I think you know and when you're putting together an essay collection the problem that you encounter is that the essays were usually published apart from each other and they come to a kind of uneasy coexistence that you hope to make slightly less uneasy one of the sort of it seems like it should be more obvious than it is but one of the problems is that you introduce yourself as a character in the essays to your audience and as a group you don't want to have the effect of it being like hey it's me Here I am again what's up and you don't want it to be redundant either where where were the readers reading and and they're thinking like he just left San Francisco and now he's back in San Francisco what back so so that's why we decided to try to structure it chronologically in a sense and I think the the interesting accident of what was created is something that I think of as interconnected stories of the self so at some points I introduced a theme or an idea or an event and in other places I expand on it and and so this intersection these intersections happen a sort of fretwork because it all does belong to me starts to grow into place and and so I really look forward to people engaging with this idea that you I'm I think I'm still pointing to the question here I'm sorry I don't have my glasses on to this idea that you've that you've introduced because I think that's a remarkable way of thinking about it for people who are trying to do that to try to let go of the idea that you need to make those connections that you can't make you know typically for me when I'm writing nonfiction I try to make what I consider to be the the problem the thing that would make the writing impossible I try to make that into the structure and to deliberately describe the struggles with it as a way to get around it and I think that's that could be something like this hello there we go hi so it's really interesting that you said earlier how you were talking about hacking myth because one of the essays of yours that really strikes a chord with me is the one where you talk about what you do with your father's the inheritance from your father after your horses and I was really interested in how you for me kind of hack this myth of death like when I was reading it and I was going through a lot of my own grief stuff at the time I kind of was like amazed by the moment when you buy the sports car and that's like the first thing you do with the inheritance because I was like yeah I like booked flights to London and it's kind of cool that you hacked this like myth of death is this kind of like really potent like emotional feeling when sometimes you do just kind of these silly things and have to deal with the realities of money and stuff so I don't know I was wondering if you could talk a bit about how if have you ever considered it that way or how maybe you worked through writing about death and grief and inheritance sure that essay began for me as a way to think about how how it was that receipts made me feel pain people would say if you want this receipt and I would say okay like I knew that I should take them but I always it felt like this kind of faint burning sensation each time it landed in the hand and and that so then I thought okay it's time to think about your relationship to money and the and that led me to grief and and to this experience with inheriting money after my father's death which felt like this thing that was both amazing and horrible and eat the amazing parts made the horrible parts feel more horrible and vice-versa so I I think you know the I didn't realize that there was so little written about it also when I published that essay online at BuzzFeed an excerpt of it I had all these readers who wrote to me and who thanked me for breaking a taboo and I thought I had no idea that was a taboo about writing about money so all of you should write about money more that's just something I put out there and I don't I'm not sure what that what that is but it for me I think you know I've had some finance bloggers actually write about this essay and talk about how the emotional narrative to your relationship to money is something that everyone needs to think about I you know I I have always wanted for there to not be any money even as I have also always wanted to have lots of money and as a child I had these fantasies of having my own Island I think someone someone asked me when I was a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said I wanted to live on my own that was that was my job it was when I was like I think 8 years old and it's still kind of appeals to be honest but you know these are the these are the ways that we are we'd like to think that money as a sort of neutral relationship to us in some way but it's always so intense and so personal and and I think the less we pretend that the better off we are yeah I hope that made sense yes hi my name is Daisy and I'm trying to work on a boy first no more at the moment quarter life crisis and something you said really struck a chord with me you said that when you run when you done your first book that they said that you you want the work wasn't done like the internal work right and this is something that worries me because I see like I've talked to a few first-time writers and it's like one hand people say make sure the works done and other hands like that's okay continue to write so to what degree do you think people should publish the work if in some way it's sort of some therapy for them but the Tejeda obviously is not complete there of you what's your view on that I my view on that is if you so if you are reading about something personal to yourself and you're figuring it out as you're writing it I think that you should be doing some personal writing that you don't publish at all about the same topic and engage in a process that I call tell yourself the truth first before you tell anyone else so that you can really think about it and think about how you want to shape the writing that you're doing around it it's very demoralizing possibly even reach Ramat izing to be writing about these difficult things and to be writing about it for deadlines for publication because you will be engaging in all kinds of reactions to any blind spots or triggers that you have or you know all these all these things will come into play and your editor is not a therapist and neither is your writing group and I through probably neither are you just you in general not not you specifically I mean you might be a therapist but yeah I think the so the there's the work that's working on yourself which may never be done so don't wait until that's done to publish something about it but there's the work that the writing requires of you and you just want to be you know making something out of your experience such that you can offer some wisdom to others and so I think the writing that you do that's therapeutic that's just for you is is a way of ensuring that you have some of that wisdom to offer in the manuscript so does that make sense I don't think there's any reason to stay away from trying to publish that memoir you know I think just be just be just be sure to yeah be sure to really really walk yourself through what you're trying to describe I think we have time for one more question yeah hi I just like to say your essay the rosary I just particularly beautiful and what struck me was your relationship with nature and how a space and a process shapes you but we're shaped either in two ways like cutting a sculpture from marble weathering something away or being built up accumulated by our experiences do you think in your writing you are the chiseling away of something or the accumulation of it and how that affects this sort of cyclical process of coming to a house with a murder leaving with a beautiful garden wife coming from death and how that changed you not how you changed it hmm I think that I saw the for those of you have read the collection the essays talking about is I its the chronicle of creating a rose garden in this backyard in Brooklyn for a period of about seven years and it began yes they began as a gardening journal that I that I kept because that's what you're supposed to do when you garden you're supposed to write about your garden in case you didn't know that these you're just out there gardening without a journal just so because it helps you keep track like how much Sun do you have what are the seasons like what are the cycles of the seasons etc those are the kinds of things you learn eventually by keeping a garden journal and it's a lot of fun because it's writing that really is for you and also isn't really about you even though it also is probably really about you and and I was really abused by some of the things that made their way into my gardening journal so it's times when it just becomes a journal and and so I think I think you are both when you are a writer you know I think that's sort of the possible paradox of it I think for me as a writer at what I learned in the process was that I write a bit like a gardener where I have these different projects that are coming up over the over time and I check on them to see it's happening with them and the collection ten of the essays had been previously published six had not it was the collection was in some ways a way for me to consider finishing some of those I say that had lingered for years and finished including the rosary which had been in my and my files for so long that my agent had despaired of ever seeing it and unfortunately I had spoken to her husband about it who would ask every now and then like did he finish that gardening essay and yeah so that's a you know I think there's all these if there's some way that looking through all of that helps you figure out what your relationship to it all is absolutely run with that and thank you and thank you all because I think we have reached the end of our time for you splashing well we're all waiting for how to write an autobiographical garden journal please give a warm round of applause for Alexander visit wheeler center.com for the best in books writing and ideas from Melbourne Australia and the world

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