Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Mid-Atlantic Turning Point in My Writing: The Final Installment

(This is the conclusion of an essay, serialized on this site, on my gathering courage for gutsier writing--and doing it on a crossing on the QE2. It ends with my three secrets for writing bolder. If you've made similar decisions in your work, please do share them in the comments. )

Staking out the lounge outside the dining room, I'd waited almost half an hour, when Francis Ford Coppola, in flowing Hawaiian shirt, arrived for lunch. "Hi," I said, getting to my feet, careful not to block his way in case he wanted to bolt and run. Could I speak with him, I said, waving my notebook as a credential, about writing on board the QE2? Was he working on a script?

With weary patience, he gestured us to two chairs, plopped down the sack holding his laptop computer. He has been writing on this voyage, he said, as he has done on this ship before.

Outside the window, fog hung thick over the water. A somber cello played from the speaker in the corner of the room. The father of the Godfather movies settled back in his chair. On this same ship, he said, he wrote sections of Godfather III. This trip, he was adapting John Grisham's novel The Rainmaker.

He likes to work by day at the gaming tables downstairs in the casino. They're the perfect height; and the process of the writing: "it's like a game." The ship is a place, he said, "in which you can have privacy, a chance of not being interrupted." I looked up from my notes. So passengers haven't been pestering him? "Only you," he said, an amused smile.

"I'll let you go," I said, half-hoping he would defend his privacy.

"No, no," dismissing the idea with a wave.

At that point, Ray Bradbury, formal in coat and tie, stopped to say hello. Coppola had a question for him he'd been meaning to ask: what were his favorite science fiction movies of all time?

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Bradbury began, "it's flawed, but the closing minutes are transcendent, with hope for the future...."

Bradbury went on to his table, and Coppola to his, to lunch with his young granddaughter. I went for a walk. Outside, the fog felt damp and oddly warm, the ocean moving in big grey swells. New York's bright skyline, its publishing offices, were more than a thousand miles behind us.

Like Coppola, I decided, I'm going to put aside my privacy, enough to tell an unguarded story. Like Bradbury, I'll stick by what I love, even if the other kids laugh. Like the Welsh, struggling to save their language, I am going to speak in my own voice. In the coming 25 years, I will tell stories that are peculiarly mine: the ones that rise, irrepressibly, to the surface, weird as sea creatures. I'm going to write those stories, whatever shape they take, whatever they cost me. I've half-known this for a while. Out here in the middle of the ocean, I can look back and see that, some time ago, I crossed a line, steamed into this territory that is new and, at the same time, home.


billie said...

Wow! Francis Ford Coppola and Ray Bradbury! And YOU! :)

With each installment, I've grown keener on the idea of taking a writing retreat on board a big ship. I love the idea of the boat journeying the ocean while I'm journeying in my novel.

Thank you for sharing this series. It's been a favorite read of mine - I'm sad it's over!

Peggy said...

I'm oddly sad that it's over too. I've enjoyed going back to that week.

I decided when I posted the last section this morning that I'd read this piece as part of a talk I'm giving next week at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA. It pulls a lot of my work together, shows what I'm trying to do.

Then I'll read a bit of Sister India, the final version of which came out of this experience on the ship.

debra Whaley said...

Hi Peggy,

Very cool! I had a feeling that when you mentioned Francis Ford Coppola in the previous installment, he would turn up again later! I am so proud of you for seizing the opportunity! Great example of living boldly. To be a witness to a conversation between Coppola and Ray Bradbury must have been truly surreal.

Thank you so much for sharing your QE2 experience. My mom took that journey, and all she could tell me was how great it was to see Carly Simon put on a show. I like your version better! I am also sad that it's over.

I am getting towards the end of Revelation, and am sorry that there won't be another one of your novels to read after that one. I am really enjoying the intensity that you built up throughout the first few chapters. I love how it flows. Swain is a very interesting character.

I look forward to the future of your imagination! It sounds like you already know where you are going to go, and that is exciting. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, so thank you for sharing your gift.

Good luck with that talk in VA! I know that you will be an inspiration to the students and faculty there.


Peggy said...

Debbie, I'm going to remember that phrase "future of your imagination." I never thought of imagination as having a future, of evolving. That's so interesting. It keeps rolling over in my mind. I look forward to the future of yours.

And thanks for making the crossing with me.