Words in, words out

When I started this blog it was not only to talk about things I’m reading, but also my own writing… but that’s an aspect I haven’t written about at all, yet, in this space.

So, a quick recap for those of you who don’t know who I am, or only know me through the electronic music “M. Griffin,” or know me personally but didn’t know I was into writing fiction.

I was a Lit major in college, at University of Oregon in the 80s. During that time, when I wasn’t worshipping at the Ernest Hemingway altar in my off-campus apartment, or hanging around with my Zelda Fitzgerald-like girlfriend of that year, I was experimenting with words, writing weird poetry, even weirder one-act surrealist plays, and gradually a bit of short fiction. My last year, I set myself the goal of writing a novel before I graduated. I did complete an angst-ridden, rather immature novel called Bright Fever, but it was more of an exercise than a serious attempt to write something that might be published, and I never even seriously considered sending it out.

After college I became more serious about short stories and wrote a couple dozen terse, minimalistic stories that I sent out to magazines without much luck (only one short fragment published in Missisippi Review), and took a couple of slightly more ambitious attempts at the novel.

Some time in my late twenties, while living in Seattle, I wrote another angst-ridden and rather immature novel called Hum. This one was a lot more interesting, getting into territory that might be called metaphysical or surrealist, having to do with a protagonist who learns how to “shift” reality slightly so that he’s able to exit out of the world inhabited by other people, and move about in a differently-shaded version of the Seattle he knows, but with virtually all the people gone.

Hum never went anywhere (again, didn’t send it out to any publishers or agents or really anybody outside my household), but it remains a concept I’d like to revisit and possibly incorporate into a more broad and complex idea I’ve had. So there may be more discussion of that title here in the future.

Not long after that, I moved back to Portland and entered a 3-day Novel contest, and one Memorial Day weekend sat down with two cases of Coca Cola and wrote, from two pages of notes, a short novel called House of Longest Days. I had originally planned a story by that title about people who inhabit a house that allows them to live in a young, carefree and surrounded-by-friends state forever, but this concept was somewhat more normal than original plan. It ended up being a story about a handful of former college friends retreating to the large home of one wealthy friend (does it sound like The Big Chill yet?) and sort of catching up on each other, realizing how different they’ve all become, and airing all their unresolved bullshit. It’s actually much less like The Big Chill than my synopsis makes it sound, and much stranger… the basement of the house has a number of secret or semi-secret “theme” rooms into which people disappear for little adventures (the room of fire, the room of color, the pillow room, etc.) This one was, finally, sent off to be read by people unrelated to me. My third novel did not win the contest, but I didn’t expect it would.

Big Chill

I continued with the short stories for a while, and became a bit more ambitious, and a bit less terse and minimal (communing just as often with the spirit of Fitzgerald as Hemingway), though I had also discovered Raymond Carver by that time and become obsessed by him, so who knows.

Then I was about to turn thirty, and went through a really awful breakup after which I took a break from writing. I figured I would pick up again (and I even have some notes and outlines I put on paper during the “not writing for a while” stage) but I became involved in ambient music, started recording my own material, started my record label and became too busy with that to work on any of the other creative activities I’d previously enjoyed.

Somehow I always knew that I would find my way back to writing fiction, and I hoped that my new “life experience” and maturity would allow me to be more brutally honest and self-critical when I resumed writing again.

Fast forward, now, twelve years or so.

I was married a couple of years ago to a fantastic woman named Lena who is very supportive and encouraging of all my creative urges and endeavors. At some point she gave voice to an idea that I’d heard in my head a few times, which was that despite all the time I spend on electronic music, and various other art forms, what I’m really “meant” to do is write. So I chewed on this for a while, and last year I had a feeling that it was time to go through some of my earlier writing and think about it.

I came away from that rearward glimpse both encouraged and discouraged. On one hand, some of the writing I had revisited was very good, by some measures. A lot of the language, the scenery and descriptive stuff, and the dialogue in particular, had some very fine moments. On the other hand, most of the stories were more vignettes than actual stories. Those that had at least some hint of plot, didn’t have much development. In the end my assessment was that this young writer had some skill and some promise but he needed to grow the hell up, and start thinking less about his own poetic convolutions, and give more consideration to the experience of the reader.

I will save for another post (soon, probably) the story of how I actually began writing again, how it went, how it’s going, and what I hope may become of it.

2 thoughts on “Words in, words out

  1. @rob allen

    Thanks for reading, Rob. I wrote this so long ago, I had to re-read it again just now, when your comment popped in.

    One thing I’d modify in my recap of events is the degree to which Lena’s suggested that I start writing again. Really it was a lot more than a suggestion or two. She really insisted, and kept after me that I really must try it again. Also she made all kinds of adjustments and concessions to our schedule, particularly on the weekends, and also took on an even greater share of the housekeeping and yardwork duties, so I’d have even fewer distractions or obligations during my designated writing times.

    I really did always intend to get back to writing again, but it’s possible I would have found excuses not to actually dive into it again, if it hadn’t been for Lena’s supportive insistence.

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