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It's Funny How What You're Saying Relates To My Novel

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It's Funny How What You're Saying Relates To My Novel

I'm tremendously sorry about your split with your husband. At the same time, I must confess, had your situation been presented to me as a piece of short fiction, I would have found it hackneyed and forgettable.

You must feel sad and uncertain, much like I felt when I was mapping out the primary conflict in my novel. It's scary, this blank page that you fill with the future. And the primary conflict—or game plan, as I call it—is the toughest part of writing, which is why most contemporary writers ignore it. But you've got to have a plan. It's like if you're building a skyscraper, your primary conflict is your blueprint. It's everything. Don't you agree?

Your mother wants you to go back to him, says weathering the storm is the solution. Where have I seen that before? Oh yes, on page 64 of my manuscript. Anyhow, I could see maybe staying if he only hit you in the arm, but this is serious. You sure don't want to be Marsha Ewell. (That's the wife in my novel. The Ewell family is totally dysfunctional, but no one does anything about it. They all just act like it's okay, especially her mother. Which is sort of like your mom. Wow, uncanny how I nailed that, months before all this.)

Of course you're worried about money. I would be, too. It's so different now than it was, say, 50 years ago—for the Ewells. I made them this insular Quaker family of maple sugarers, because I was really interested in writing about this family that's like bedrock, you know? Richard Ewell, the patriarch, through a lifetime of modesty, religion, and the virtues of a hard day's work, has been able to achieve security. But what about his soul? Does he dream of flying? I had this burst of insight the other night, and made him a mortician, right around the time you were being attacked by your husband, I suppose.

Anyhow, I've been doing a lot of research for my novel, and I found out that spousal rape is actually quite common. So you don't have to hold back with me. Just let it all out. As a novelist, the grotesque is my bread and butter. (That's why I made Ewell a mortician, aside from the obvious metaphor about him burying the vibrant parts of his soul—not to get corny.)

It's interesting you've quit going to AA. Mind if I use that? I'm getting into some dark territory of my own—stuff about my dad. I really am a dark, angry, and unforgiving person, and I spent the first 30 years of my life not knowing that. Then one night I was like, holy shit: I am a dark motherfucker. Ever since then, I've just been in this blessed whorl of insane productivity.

I must say, your daughter Anilise reminds me a lot of Dylan—the spirited, sassy 17-year-old nymph and daughter of Colonel McDougal. She's 10 years older, of course, and her legs are of equal length, but both girls have something of the same youthful quality. When Richard Ewell mistakenly happens upon her skinny-dipping while tapping his mighty maple, the sight of her boyish figure lights a passion in the long-cold stove that is his heart. I kind of identify with him in that scene.

I think that ultimately all this will be good for you. Like with me and my novel: The pain is worth it. The sufferer and the prose emerge from it for the better. The other day I hung out with Darcy—that girl from work I told you about—and I could just feel that there was something going on with her. I found out she'd been kicked out of her graduate program, and we stayed up all night just holding each other. I'm so not the guy to do that. Usually, you know, I'd make a move. But this time, it wasn't about sex.

Oh God, listen to me. Jeez, you'd think I'd know better after all the time I spent crafting Old Man Chancy Joad, owner of a small Vermont dry-goods store, who thinks it's his God-given right to talk his customer's ear off, when the poor dear just wants to buy a sack of feed. So I think I'm gonna see Darcy again next week. Hmm... Chancy-Darcy. Dot-dot-dot... I might take her to the reading I'm doing with Soft Skull Press. What do you think? Date-worthy?

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