blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1
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Entrance and Exit

I spend a ridiculous amount of time in bus stations and mall food courts, the gift shop at Roger Williams Park Zoo (which I visit nearly every day from March to October, parking my ass on a bench and just listening and watching), or the diner down the street from my apartment. Almost nothing from these visits ever makes it into my fiction, but without them, I wouldn’t have the noise I like my fiction to have. If I have an aim as a writer, it’s to get my neighborhood down on paper. So I carry these voices with me, these bits of conversation about gas prices or sick grandchildren, and then, voila, while standing over a huge selection of potato salad (red bliss or egg or German or la la la) I get a sentence. That first sentence is all I need. I write it down on the pocket sized spiral memo book I buy in bulk at Dollar Tree and go home. Then I start a notebook for this sentence. I use the same kind of notebook, always, no alternatives: the black and white marble composition 100 sheets / 200 pages college ruled kind. I put a big black X on the inside cover with the class schedule, write my name on the first page and write the initial sentence on the next right-side page. The left sides I use to rework said initial sentence or scribble and scratch drafts of the next sentence. I work slowly. Really slow. I’ll write that second sentence thirty times until I’m ready to move onto the next. “Ready” usually has something to do with sound. I read and re-read aloud over and over. The story has to sound, or at least feel like it sounds, as if a stranger sat next to me in a bar and started telling me the most pressing fucking thing he had on his mind, like ever. That’s what a story is to me: the most pressing thing in the whole goddamn world that just has to get said. I think of Paley’s stories, Seidel’s and Montale’s poems. And so the sentence building project keeps going. After awhile I have a few pages and some idea of what’s going on and from there it’s just a matter of time before the story decides that it’s done. I want my stories to have an entrance and an exit, but not a beginning or an end. Beginnings and endings are so artificial. The dude at the Greyhound station eating muffin crumbs from his beard while reading a Danielle Steel paperback? That dude doesn’t care about start and finish, but the now, and the little bit of time surrounding his now, is sweet and sad and fun.  end