The biggest surprise to me was that I wrote something others found worthy of publishing! I honestly didn't know if I could do it. For the past 25 years I've been writing mostly advertising copy for movies and, for the past three or so years, grants for non-profit organizations. I had not sat down to any creative writing, any "me" writing, for many years. Not since college, really. Yet, all through the years, I never missed an opportunity to grumble to myself "I should be writing a novel." When I was 43, some friends staged a creative intervention. They urged me to join a local weekend writing workshop led by Tom Spanbauer, (The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon). It was a put up or shut up challenge. It worked.
For advertising, you practice the art of brevity. More often than not, you're reduced to writing the three-word headline, the 25-word copy block. Writing the novel, I didn't have those constraints. I could do anything I wanted. Anything. It was a totally liberating experience. As a result, in what may seem like a rebellion against all things terse, the opening sentence to When All is Said and Done is close to four-pages long. You might say it was my declaration of independence, or, at least, my declaration of independent clauses.
2. What writing projects are you working on currently?
I'm at work on a new novel. Many shifting points of view. Many characters, all of whom are extremely elderly. I'm having fun with the language.
3. Do you practice any writing rituals?
My most practiced writing ritual, unfortunately, is procrastination. I'll circle the keyboard for hours, sometimes days, before my fingers come in for a landing. I don't write every day at a set time for a set length of time. I work in bursts, and once in them, I'm committed for the long haul. I'll keep working until I've reached the other side of whatever "arc" I'm creating. That could be two hours of twelve. I don't recommend this system for everyone. But it works for me.
4. What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you're reading now, or have read recently, that's impressed you?
Books I've recently read and loved: Percival Everett's God's Country; The Last Flight of Jose Luis Balboa, a short story collection by Gonzalo Barr, Tom Spanbauer's new novel, Now is the Hour; and for overall lasting stunning-ness, Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.
5. Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionate about?
Of equal weight: foster care, global warming, the disappearing middle class, the grotesque rampage of corporate profits that hides behind the American Flag, historic preservation.
6. Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life?
For life in general: the Golden Rule. For writing: never write "down." Treat readers with respect.
7. If you were marooned on an island, stuck in an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you have with you?
I'm fairly practical. On a deserted island, I'd hope to have any survival guide that lists the basic instructions for fire, shelter and food. In a stalled elevator, I'd want something titled The Art of Staying Calm or the equivalent. For any other situation where I'd be cut off from society, I suppose the Bible would be good. I'm not particularly religious, but it does have some pretty good stories in it. The Oxford Dictionary would be a welcome companion, too.
When All is Said and Done by Robert Hill
"Cole Porter never wrote songs for couples like us. Couples who have children and dogs and freezers rusting in the garage and problems that can't be solved la-dee-da, like it was just one of those things."
All first novels should be this perfect. How refreshing to find a first effort that's not self-conscious, for one thing, and one that doesn't shy away from trodding the less-traveled road, taking a few chances with a style that's more difficult than straight narrative. I was extremely impressed with the stream-of-consciousness influenced prose style, and the deft way Hill handled himself with this not so easy method of writing. No first novel birth pangs at all for Robert Hill, or if he had them they certainly don't show.
When All is Said and Done deals with what is generally seen as a distinctly unromantic plot, that is an examination of a longtime married couple with children, and all that goes into holding such a relationship together. The story centers on a Jewish couple living in New York City, until they decide to leave the rat race and move out to more rural Connecticut. Unconventionally for the time, the high-powered executive in this family isn't the husband, Dan, but the wife, Myrmy. The setting is 1950's/1960's America. The fact that Myrmy is the breadwinner opens up all sorts of other related issues the couple must deal with, especially after a bout of pneumonia leaves her too weak and ill to work for a long period of time.
At this point it becomes very apparent Myrmy is the strong pillar holding this family together. She's the driven one in the relationship, for better or worse. Her character is very strong and complex. I liked her from the beginning and my admiration for her never wavered throughout the book.
This isn't a sexy, exciting novel. It's a novel about the long haul of marriage. That in itself may not be singular, but the very high quality of the prose is. Robert Hill writes in a style that verges on stream-of-consciousness, yet is never self-consciously literary. Never does the reader feel the need to struggle to understand what's happening in this book. It's all crystal clear, yet the style manages to achieve such an impressively high literary standard. Truly amazing in a new author, and if Hill continues to write this well I anticipate him potentially becoming a real force to be reckoned with.
Very, very impressive, and worth taking a brief break from my Booker Project to read.