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Origins of Fiction

Day Two of Powell's Blog. What will happen? Promises were made. Will they be kept? Today I'm thinking today about the origins of fiction, and how to answer "where on earth The Convalescent came from."

I just typed "origins of fiction" into Google and this is what appeared.

I am stalling.

I'm avoiding answering this question because it's kind of unanswerable. Like asking a dog why it was born.I'm avoiding answering this question because it's kind of unanswerable. Like asking a dog why it was born. But I can talk about story development, which is really what happens when fiction writers write. The novel began the same way any short story I write begins, and that's with voice. I sort of muck around for a while, experimenting with voices and sounds and jokes and styles until something eventually sticks that I like. The voice for The Convalescent began with a melding of two of my favorite voices: Mersault from The Stranger and Dostoevsky's "Underground Man." The following sentence emerged, which is no longer a sentence in the novel: "I have just chopped my neighbor, Mr. Friendly, into several chunky, loaf-sized pieces." (I do believe the phrase "chunky, loaf-sized" made the final cut, but that is all. The rest is Development, or What Happens As We Type or Think or Typethink.)

I read somewhere that Updike said the act of storywriting was really the collision of two unrelated events coming together. A teenager hits a rabbit while driving his car, and that evening his father cheats on his mother. Perhaps this is oversimplified; perhaps not. My interest in Hungary began while I was living in Eastern Europe, and met a Hungarian named Tibor who told me, "Hungarians have no history." I asked him what he meant, and he explained that because no one really knows for certain where the Hungarians came from, they invented myths of origin (actually, he was wrong about this — their origin is an amalgam of many cultures, and they are linguistically Finno-Ugric).

Not long after, I found myself passing by a McDonald's in a mall in northern Virginia and saw a picture of a schoolbus with the words "MEAT BUS" emblazoned on one side. How these two events collided is one of those intentional accidents: I did not set out to write a novel about a mythical pre-medieval Hungary and a sickly little man who sells meat out of a busI did not set out to write a novel about a mythical pre-medieval Hungary and a sickly little man who sells meat out of a bus, but as I wrote, the story determined itself into existence. How a hamster, a beetle, a blade of grass, a water polo captain, Isaac Asimov, and Carly Simon come into play is another matter, and one I cannot answer. However I can provide you with the dessert recipe I promised:

The Cream Pile*
*taken from Jess Anthony's Recipes for Fiction Writers Who Have No Time To Cook

1. Line a baking tray with ice cream sandwiches.
2. Smother them with Cool Whip
3. Add another layer of ice cream sandwiches.
4. One more layer of Cool Whip
5. Sprinkle with Snickers Bars

To hear more about John Updike, Thomas Israel Hopkins is joining me for a spontaneous discussion tomorrow about the challenges of writing Writing Challenges.

÷ ÷ ÷

Jessica Anthony is the inaugural winner of the Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award sponsored by McSweeney's. The Convalescent is her first novel.


Books mentioned in this post



Jessica Anthony is the author of The Convalescent

One Response to "Origins of Fiction"

  1.  
    Sifu Tweety August 19th, 2009 at 6:46 am

    When is Isaac Asimov not involved, really.

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