As I Sit Writing: Giving Thanks to William Faulkner

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m writing the sequel to MELT, also in alternating voices. Actually, it may have many voices instead of two. (Don’t hold me to that! Still gestating.)

On this day of gratitude, I want to give thanks to William Faulkner, whose novel AS I LAY DYING was the impetus for me to write in more than one voice.

First edition

First edition

I read this novel while in the masters program for creative writing at The New School. Dale Peck was my teacher. I disliked the bulk of the books we read that semester. I felt that that were too forced in their structure – too beholden to the style they were representing. For example, it was pure torture to read Virginia Woolf’s THE WAVES. Good God. We had to write a paper about each book, and at the end of this one I wrote, “I now know why Virginia Woolf walked into the waves.”

My son read TO THE LIGHTHOUSE in his first college semester. He asked me, “Why does she write like this?” I answered, “Just be glad you don’t have to read THE WAVES.”

Someone once commented on the plot of a Virginia Woolf novel, and she responded, “There was no plot.” I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want a plot in your novel – is it a story without a plot? Or is it rambling?

But I’m not here to bash Virginia Woolf (even though I just did.) I’m here to celebrate William Faulkner, who showed us how brilliant and moving stream of conscious writing could be when incorporated into the structure of story, moving forward to SOMEWHERE.

I remember where I was when I read certain passages of AS I LAY DYING. They moved me SO much. I felt each character’s pain, or lack of. These are people you would never want to be associated with, and yet I was absorbed completely into their lives. Faulkner embodied the human condition so fully, in a way that I had only experienced through Shakespeare and JD Salinger. This book changed my life, and led me to the path toward my next phase of writing. I would not be the writer that I am if not for William Faulkner.

I remember too well the ironic night we discussed AS I LAY DYING in class. It was the day when George W. Bush declared war on Iraq. We were all upset, and spoke about this for a few moments when Dale said, “Let’s not take away from the discussion time of this beautiful novel.” He was right, but looking back, the War against Iraq had similar overtones to AS I LAY DYING.

Did anyone else notice that while the people were protesting in the streets of Ferguson, brightly lit green and red signs proclaiming “Season’s Greetings” were arched above them? This is irony, played out in real time. This is the thing novels are made of. This is humanity, just as Faulkner described it. Circumstances change, but people do not.

I looked up AS I LAY DYING on Wikipedia and found facts I didn’t know:

As I Lay Dying is a 1930 novel by American author William Faulkner. Faulkner said that he wrote the novel from midnight to 4:00 AM over the course of six weeks and that he did not change a word of it. Faulkner wrote it while working at a power plant, published it in 1930, and described it as a ‘tour de force.’  Faulkner’s fifth novel, it is consistently ranked among the best novels of 20th-century literature. The title derives from Book XI of Homer’s THE ODYSSEY, wherein Agamemnon speaks to Odysseus: ‘As I lay dying, the woman with the dog’s eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades.'”

It makes sense for stream of conscious to come pouring out, but it takes courage to open oneself and allow it. I still struggle with the latter. But Faulkner’s courage shows me that I am not alone – and he reminds me that such a task is indeed possible.

Sometimes I feel I am less a writer, and more a conductor for the voices in my head. And it scares me, because I wonder if they’ll abandon me. But maybe they have the same fears. Maybe they wonder if I’ll stop letting them out. We need each other.

Enjoy your day in a manner which pleases and serves both you and your muse. Even if you’re not a writer, be certain of this: you DO have a muse. Enjoy each other!

Bye for now.

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