Thursday, April 16, 2009

Janet Burroway

Janet Burroway is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Emerita of the Florida State University and the author of numerous novels, plays, poetry, essays, texts for dance, and children’s books. Her Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft is the most widely used creative writing text in America. From a Q & A about her new novel, Bridge of Sand:

Where did you get the idea for Bridge of Sand?

A novel idea always comes from many directions, and in fact the way I know it’s a novel is that some unexpected connection occurs in my mind, and then other images, ideas, characters seem to gather and attach there. When the conglomeration is unbearably heavy I have to get rid of it by writing it down.

If I had to pick one source for Bridge of Sand it would be this: twenty years ago I toured a paper mill and I was blown away (almost literally) by the massive power of it – especially by contrast with the flimsy little sheet of white paper that I face every day, and which has a different kind of intimidating power. I decided to write a novel about a poet, a man who leaves his family for a sabbatical and inadvertently rents a cottage in a paper mill town. He sits in front of the blank page while tons of the stuff pours off the rollers behind him – and can’t write, of course. Then his wife comes South to patch up their marriage and instead falls in love with a black mill hand.

I had it all worked out. It seemed a good idea. I spent four years on the novel, which was to be called Paper, and every day of the work was dreary, forced, like the worst kind of dead-end paper-pushing. My editor read a hundred and fifty pages and asked me, “What do you love about this book?” It turned out the only thing I loved was the little store that had appeared quite incidentally. I loved that, and the character of Solly, who’d also shown up out of the blue. I scrapped the novel, wrote three plays and a book of essays, and thought about the little store. I gave up the writer as hero. It’s always a good idea to give up the writer as hero.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Bridge of Sand.

--Marshal Zeringue