Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Some of My Philosophies of the Novel

When I was studying creative writing at BYU, I had a professor named Brian Evenson who probably made more impact on me than any others there, at least related to my writing. (Overall, Eugene England probably made the most impact on me, interpersonally and getting me interested in Mormon literature.)

Anyway, following is a quote from Brian that I've always remembered, that I agree with as a purpose for literary fiction, and that I've tried to apply to some degree in my recently completed novel manuscript. This is a somewhat edited version of a quote he gave in an interview that was published in Irreantum, a Mormon literary magazine I used to edit.

"As a writer, I gather a useful tension from the fact that I am a believer, but that belief becomes imperceptible in my prose. I don't think that writing, real writing, has much to do with affirming belief—if anything, it causes rifts and gaps in belief which make belief more complex and more textured, more real. Good writing unsettles, destroys both the author and the reader. I see writing as anarchic, as a challenge not only to the notions of order and restraint that impose themselves onto the real but as a challenge to the real itself. Writing, if it is going to be effective, will challenge standard notions of belief. It will tear open gaps and holes where there are weaknesses in the fabric, will call into question received knowledge. But I also think that such writing is finally an affirmation almost in spite of itself. It tears holes, leaves you gutted, but lets you know what won't be torn. It makes things more complex for writer and reader, allows both to move out of the artificial world of Pollyanna."

Also, another quote I find deeply meaningful comes from my most-favorite author ever, John Updike: "I'm willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else's living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another's brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves."


C. L. Hanson said...

This first quote is similar to my own thoughts on writing. I don't like to start with the message and especially not with an agenda to prove something. I would rather try to write a story that seems lively and real to me, and then decide what the theme is after it's done.

I'm curious about your novel. Have you posted a synopsis of it somewhere?

Christopher Bigelow said...

Here's my current synopsis:

Kindred Spirits
A novel by Christopher Kimball Bigelow

Sixth-generation Utah Mormon Eliza Spainhower has carved out an independent, single life for herself in Boston. While she still considers herself a practicing Mormon and is striving to live chastely, she has experienced some bumps in her sexual history, including recently getting disfellowshipped for losing her virginity at age thirty-two. Now Eliza is trying to repent and find a more suitable partner, but most Mormon men are too bossy or unimaginative for her taste.

When Eliza meets an intriguing man on the subway who seems open to her faith, she embarks on a campaign to convert and marry him without getting sexually involved too early. Further complicating matters, this man adopted a daughter in his previous marriage, and he still has dealings with his ex-wife and the girl’s Wiccan birth mother, who were close friends before the adoption and remain so. As Eliza struggles to negotiate her place in this clan while staying true to her Mormon identity, she faces new realities about the nature of love, parenting, sex, spirituality, and family.

Interested in being a test reader?

C. L. Hanson said...


It sounds like a fascinating and realistic story. Is it a comedy or more serious?

You can email all or part of it to me at chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com.

(Yeah, I'm an exmo, but I'm very interested in Mormon literature from either perspective: current or former Mormons.)