Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Part of the Process"

I spent this morning--or at least the two good working hours thereof--plugging away without much success at my current work in progress: an essay on Jennifer Crusie, optimism, and popular romance fiction. When done, it will be my contribution to the Crusie collection I'm editing with Laura Vivanco, and my goal is to finish it, or at least a passable draft of it, sometime in early January.

At the moment, the piece is in two parts: an introduction, which talks about the century-old critical bias against literature that aims to encourage its readers, and a discussion of two novels by Crusie, Anyone but You and Welcome to Temptation. I've stolen the first part from an early draft of the introduction to our volume as a whole; as Laura realized early on, it was more the early draft of an essay than of an introduction, and it struck me a few months ago that this was the essay where it belonged. The second part was a conference paper, two years ago, which I'm going to update and expand.

Earlier this month, I used this approach--new introduction + old conference paper, revise as needed--to draft my contribution to the New Approaches to Popular Romance volume. That was an intensely painful process at first: two or three days of maddening frustration, then some kind of breakthrough, then a couple of weeks of solid writing, with every other project put on hold. Got it done just in time for my birthday, which went well. But now?

Well, I'm still in the "maddening frustration" portion of the process with this one, which means much heaving of sighs and snippiness when interrupted, but that will pass. What worries me is that I won't have the luxury of the "solid writing" part of my usual compositional rhythm, what with the new quarter starting on Monday, a couple of syllabi to write, and so on.

The trick I need to master, or master again (did I ever know it?): how to keep a writing project moving forward in small increments, steadily, rather than lurching about in great ungainly surges. And, related to that, the trick of steadily building the scholarly base for this new work, so that I have new ideas, new references, and so on in mind as it develops.


On the musical front, I've decided to work my way through a book of medieval music for mandolin that I got last year at Christmas, and left unopened, mostly, throughout the year. Starting (why not?) with the first song, which I'll practice all week before moving on to the second, and so on. I'll have to switch things up a bit once we have the song parodies chosen for my next Alte Rockers gig, but for the next month or so, this should keep me playing at least a little, more or less regularly.

The first song is this, Cantiga 101 from a gathering of songs for Santa Maria by King Alfonzo X:

The sheet music has a bunch of variations in it, and I'll play with the melody a bit myself once I've mastered the basics--try it on various instruments, etc. Good to have a focus, in any case.


Laura Vivanco said...

Does this mean you'll not be writing the essay on Crusie's borrowings from/allusions to detective fiction, or is that bit part of what was "a conference paper, two years ago"?

E. M. Selinger said...

Good question, Laura! That's a different essay, at about the same stage of development--well, now that I check, it's shorter, but ready to be fleshed out and finished. Was that the one I'd promised for the volume? I launched into work on the other, more resolute than thoughtful--maybe I've been working on the wrong essay!

Laura Vivanco said...

"Was that the one I'd promised for the volume?"

Well, it's the only one I knew about, so I'd assumed it was the one you were going to write for the volume. I thought your work on optimism and romance was going to be a much bigger project. Maybe you could use Crusie as an example/chapter in that?

I could be wrong about this, of course, but it seems to me that perhaps one of the reasons you're having such trouble with trying to fit together the

"two parts: an introduction, which talks about the century-old critical bias against literature that aims to encourage its readers, and a discussion of two novels by Crusie, Anyone but You and Welcome to Temptation"

is because they really need a lot more elaboration to draw out the issues. And perhaps that's something best done in a longer work.

Well, it's just a suggestion. I'm sure you could manage to fit the two bits together within the word limit. But if you don't have to, because you already have the essay on detectives, which will also be needing a home, and which will perhaps be easier to write, then why don't you focus on that one?

E. M. Selinger said...

Sounds like a plan, Laura. I'll open the cold case files on Crusie & detective fiction today, and try at least to reach the frustrating & maddening stage with it before school starts again!

Laura Vivanco said...

"I'll open the cold case files on Crusie & detective fiction today"

I suppose literary critics are detectives, in a way. Good luck! I hope it turns out to be easier to finish than the other one.

E. M. Selinger said...

Well, as I say, the first part of the process always seems uncomfortable for me--but now that I've realized that this is true no matter what the piece is, I get through those first few days a little less anxiously.

I have a new (to me) book of criticism in hand that should help with the detective piece, though: Mark McGurl's "The Novel Art," which ends with an interesting chapter about Hammett and his attempt to make "literature" out of his own genre. Looks relevant to what Jenny's up to, at least in "Fast Women."

More in a day or two, then!