Reading the poetry of Joy Harjo has long inspired me to get closer to the Earth--literally, to put my ear to the ground and listen. Devouring her poetry hasn't ever been enough, so when I found her blog a while back--I was positively giddy to read her ongoing meditations and thoughts. (see http://www.joyharjo.com/news) In her latest, she talks about the Maori novelist, Patricia Grace, and her book, Baby No-Eyes. I instantly became a shamed literature buff because I'd never heard of Patricia Grace and here she is--a famous New Zealand indigenous writer who has had a long and successful writing career.
I bundled the kids up into the car and headed out to the library. Of course, they didn't have any books by Patricia Grace. The kindly old gentleman running the nearby information desk helpfully offered a different book, "That other one is out of print, dear. It musn't have been very good." I smiled at him, thinking of the million and one incredible books that have fallen out of print in my lifetime. I almost didn't mind it when Rosie ran screaming down the reference aisle and I had to make a quick retreat. That way, I saved myself from the embarrassment of lecturing an elderly male librarian on the dangers of telling unknowing readers that out of print titles are "no good". No local bookstores have Patricia Grace either--but, the power of the Internet means I can get any book I want. I'll let you know how it was when it arrives.
What Harjo discussed related to Grace is her "spiral approach to narrative". She explained that this is an "arguably instinctively indigenous" characteristic because the writing of native peoples is "not a linear process" and "doesn't follow the western story arc". She quoted Grace as saying, "Each writer has to find their own way, their own voice." I can relate to both the concept of spiral narrative and the search for personal voice through the process of writing my own novel. No, I am not an indigenous person...but, perhaps it can be more broadly applicable. My story has NOT followed the traditional western story arc in any way. In part, my struggles with the beginning section of this novel stem from the constant looping I am doing in my process. I circle around to backstory and sidestory and inner workings and possibility. My characters are so fully realized, I hear them breathing in my ear--but, when I edit...it doesn't follow a clean line. The editor I'm working with doesn't seem bothered by this. But, I read novel after novel and only very rarely find one with wanderlust like mine.
Another fascinating gem excavated from Harjo's blog was the quote by Witi Ihimeara, a Maori novelist and scholar. Of the fiction process he said, "Novels should be constructed like a house with a heart." One room at a time--this is what I'm trying to do. My "home" is certainly a funky little tumble-down rambler with a tree-swing outside and a pile of bikes for my three muses leaning against the fence...maybe it's all heart. I just don't know yet.
Speaking of heart and my three muses...Jennifer Eyre White (a contributor to the Literary Mama anthology I reviewed in my last post) has created what I wish existed back in 2002 when I thought I was completely crazy for wanting a third child. Click on the link below to visit "Having Three Kids" which should answer all that you ever wanted to know about jumping into the beautiful insanity of life with three children. Some of my thoughts about being the mother of a larger brood are also included there...much to my delight. Incidentally, as a roundabout way of tying up all of these loose ends today...Patricia Grace is not only this fascinating teacher and award-winning novelist--she is also the mother of seven children. That's not a typo...by the way.