In the Voice of the Non-Bleeders

Some Moments of Clarity in the Final Stages:

I said I would report back on how I decided to use the present and past tense in the revisions of my new novel, The Western Light, which shares a heroine with The Wives of Bath. The story in my new book is mostly told from the past tense in the point of view of twelve-year-old girl, Mouse Bradford. Occasionally, Mouse’s voice shifts to that of an older woman looking back. (A much older woman, one in her Sixties.)

In fact,  both points of view are the views of an N.B. or Non-Bleeder (as Mouse puts it) because Mouse hasn’t entered puberty yet in The Western Light and the older narrator is well past her child-bearing years. Just to make things more confusing, when the older Mouse talks, she usually talks in the present tense since she is the one who is in “the immediate now” of the story, as opposed to “the past now” in twelve-year Mouse’s voice. And what’s more, the twelve-year-old sometimes talks in the present when she is describing a fantasy or a particularly powerful experience.

Ultimately, to be even more confusing, all fiction by any writer is in present tense even if it is written in the past tense because the story is unfolding before the reader’s eyes as they read.

But my hunch is that tense issues don’t matter much to readers if the writing is vivid. However, novelists have to believe they are following some kind of intuitive system, just the way they have to be able to see and believe in their characters on a deep level. We writers have to convince ourselves, in other words, before we can convince you. In the end, the reader gets the benefit of those convictions in the confident way the story is told without understanding all the mental footwork the novelist is doing with him or herself behind the scenes. And that’s the way it should be unless you happen to write literary criticism.

All this tweaking is part of “putting on the gloss,” as Jonathon Franzen calls the final stages where writers refine their earlier drafts of their book. My novel will be published in August of 2012, and I have already been working on catalogue copy and choosing its cover. I’ve included here a draft of the cover with its catalogue copy. In 2007 I was taken with an image in Joyner’s art catalogue. I had a Eureka moment when I saw the image of this painting by Canadian artist Charles Fraser Comfort called “Related to the Octopus Tree.” It was painted in 1979 and Fraser died in 1994. See what you think.

Publication Date for The Western Light has been moved to August 2012

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