Monday, July 20, 2015

My New Work in Progress Published in WIPs...the journal for works in progress!

One of the (many!) challenges about writing a novel is those looooong periods of time where you’re afraid you don’t know what you’re doing, where you’re afraid that what you think you’re doing is no good. Combine that with the difficulty of getting a burst of satisfaction that you might be on the right path that comes (rightly or wrongly) from seeing your work published, from getting that scrap of approval from the larger landscape. Because who would sign up for this plan: Write on your own for three years and then we, the world, will let you know what we think. But please don’t bother us until then!

(Okay, we, the hopeful writers, sign up for this plan.)

So it’s nice to discover a literary journal that offers encouragement by exclusively publishing works in progress: Works (in fiction) In Progress, or WIPs.  Even more nice (for me anyway), is that the first chapter of my novel-in-progress was selected to be featured!  And I love that the editor, Roland Goity, interviews each author with a set of thoughtful questions that explore the work and offer context to the greater whole.

Here’s the opening to my novel, SILVER GIRL; this chapter is called “Headache”:

Suburban Chicago, 1982

The phone on the kitchen wall rang. Jess and I stared at it in surprise. Though we had been sharing this college apartment for two weeks already, we still didn’t feel as though we belonged here and the ringing phone seemed to emphasize exactly how out of place we were.

 “You answer,” she whispered.

 It was eleven AM, hardly a time for whispering, but I whispered back, “No, you,” and then we laughed.

 We had met last year when we were freshman living in the same hormonal all-girls dorm that had been built with money donated to the university in the early 1960s by some uptight woman who sensed—and feared—the coming sexual revolution. Allison Hall. The school packed all the freshmen girls there. The halls smelled like hairspray and popcorn. The joke was that entire floors of girls synched their periods. It was a place to escape from.

 And we had. Now Jess and I were sophomores—long since free of all those girls, free of Allison Hall, uninterested in sororities, and living together off-campus on the first floor of a small house half a block from the el tracks.

 The phone still rang. This was a time before answering machines, before voice mail, email, instant messaging, and Skype. Letters and phone calls were what we had. This was a time where not answering a ringing phone was an act of subversion. We wanted to be subversive—or I did, anyway, secretly—but we were basically good girls, depending on how “good” might be defined. Anyway, letting a phone ring was something we couldn’t do….

Here’s an excerpt from the interview about the chapter:

The narrator “liked seeing that someone one could care deeply about something like a poem. I couldn’t be that way, even when I tried.” And later expresses guilt for not being a good listener, and not always providing Jess support (“that’s what a friend does”). Are we to question her telling of events as they unfold? 

The unreliable narrator fascinates me. I’m interested not necessarily in the ways a narrator might lie outright to the reader, but more so the ways in which a narrator might—or must—lie to herself. We’re all liars to some extent—though we may be uncomfortable thinking of ourselves so—and it seems to me that self-deception is a fascinating complexity to explore through fiction. Maybe the classic unreliable narrator is Humbert Humbert in Lolita, but I think my early model was Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye; first reading that book in my teens was a window into complexity in literature and in life. In more recent reading, Eva Khatchadourian in Lionel Shriver’s outstanding novel We Need to Talk About Kevin is the ultimate unreliable narrator, stripping off layers to work her way, slowly and relentlessly, to a core of truth that took my breath away.

 Like Holden and Eva, I don’t think my narrator is a natural liar; I think circumstances have brought her to this tenuous place, where she has been pushed into secrecy and silence, and the pressure is too much to bear. Like the saying goes, chase your main character up a tree and throw rocks at her…which sounds cruel, especially since I’m sure this narrator expected to find safe haven up that tree, and I know she deserves a bit of shelter.

 Finally, I think I’ve become so fond of lying narrators and lying characters that often when I’m teasing out a story or chapter and feel stuck, I drop a lie into someone’s mind or mouth. Insta-tension!

And here’s the link to this fantastic journal… …and information about submitting your own work in progress:


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.