Monday, February 24, 2014

This Is How I Write

It was during my last semester of college that I was introduced to "creative nonfiction" and that was the bridge that led me to write fiction (after years of writing angsty, introspective poetry). People who know me well can find the sections in my novels that have been "stolen" from real life. The danger in writing autobiographical fiction is that people begin to make assumptions about the rest of the novel. All of my characters are created from fragments of actual people, but none of my characters are based on a single person. So if someone recognizes themselves in my fiction, the risk is that they will think everything about that character is based on how I think of them.

In my most recent novel, A Long Thaw, there's a section where Abby is creating a collage. It's an apt metaphor for the way I write:
This is her hobby. She pretends that it’s soothing to create collages on the covers of photo albums or journals. The truth is that she stresses over them, fitting the pieces together like a schizophrenic puzzle. A long triangle of a navy blue satin gown, the sun setting on a horizon, a pair of eyes clotted with mascara, a phrase usually from an advertisement for cosmetic surgery, something like be your best, disempowerment repackaged, out of context. She gives them as gifts, personalized.
It's funny; I didn't recognize the symmetry when I wrote this. It was not intentional. But this is the way I write, taking something true and repackaging it, changing the context so that it means something different in the story than it meant in my life.  

The other part of the metaphor is the way that I often present my writing as a pleasurable hobby -- and there is a significant element of pleasure that I get from it -- but the truth is more complicated. My writing is something I stress over, fitting the pieces together, peeling them apart, resetting the glue. The pleasure comes in fits and starts, sometimes only with the relief of having it done.

Right now, my current work in progress is eating at me. I think about these made up people all day. I decorate their kitchens and imagine their first heartbreaks and research their path through dental school. They're with me, always, nagging at me to finish their stories.

And on that note, I need to go write about a kitchen.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book Stuff

Since my second novel, A Long Thaw, was published at the end of January, I've gotten a few reviews. One of the best parts of this process has been getting feedback from readers. One such reader, Casee Marie of Literary Inklings, wrote a lengthy review, saying (in part):
The pacing of O’Rourke’s prose is beautiful in itself, her narrative handled with serene straightforwardness; the recollections of Abby and Juliet’s New England summers as children captured, at least for me, the truest and most personal essence of familial memories. The novel’s atmosphere had a way of feeling instantly familiar while the story and structure were a constant reminder of its singular uniqueness. That alone makes A Long Thaw a worthwhile read, but perhaps its greatest charm lies in the full-heartedness of its two heroines and the contagious feeling of connectivity we get from them. With its deeply thoughtful prose and warm, honest storytelling, A Long Thaw proves again O’Rourke’s talent for taking us out of our own world and into the realm of truly engaging literature.
Reviews like this one mean so much.

Last week, I was able to write this article for the Women's Fiction Writers blog about the sexist reading habits we develop in school. It's an idea that's been percolating for awhile and a conversation that seems way overdue.

And for those of you who are still resisting the digital reading craze, I've made A Long Thaw in paperback.