From Terese Svoboda, on Writing “How Catholic”

September 17, 2008 § 1 Comment


For the next week or so, we’ll be featuring blog entries from authors found in our newest issue, Brevity 28.  The first comes from Terese Svoboda, author of How Catholic:

For maybe twenty years I have been trying to write a short story about the effect of finding two moons of green eye shadow on a towel in my youth. I have also written three poems twisting the memory around, alluding to its larger context. But what was that larger context? Was it only a “family story,” an anecdote worth repeating only once to another relative just to make sure I didn’t imagine it?

I feared nonfiction telling: that would be me. I went into poetry originally to throw the velvet cloak around that persona, or to flaunt the “I” voice in peekaboo. Publishing my memoir last year–Black Glasses Like Clark Kent–where I could skulk around as a detective and refer to myself in relation to my relatives—wasn’t too bad. But only under the duress of my uncle’s suicide and the horrific revelations of his tapes would I have attempted its writing. Yet something about the form felt familiar. Cannibal, my first novel, was called a roman a clef by Vogue.  According to Wikipedia, that’s the opportunity to portray personal, autobiographical experiences without having to expose the author as the subject. Think “thinly disguised.” The entry suggests that any material based on personal experience is a roman a clef, and used Heart of Darkness as an example. Huh?

What I do know is that all material needs the fuzziness of time until what’s important remains. Time completed How Catholic, enough to gain perspective on what those two green moons meant, and to find a voice to say what I understood about them in a larger context. To find a formal solution for this narrative in creative nonfiction worked. I’m happy.

Maybe I’ve always been happy.

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§ One Response to From Terese Svoboda, on Writing “How Catholic”

  • Lorri says:

    ‘What I do know is that all material needs the fuzziness of time until what’s important remains.’

    Great point. While I often feel the urge to write about a ‘hot’ experience, something that’s just happened, I try always to let the piece cool down (over weeks, months, even years) before finishing it. It becomes a completely different piece, almost always a better one.

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