Friday, February 01, 2013

Friday's Forays in Fiction: Encounters With Flannery O'Conner

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I've been spending time with an old favorite book which I've not had in my hand for over a decade because the only library I had access to which had it was the Longview one.  As I handle it now and feel the paper dust tickle my nose and water my eyes as I turn the pages I wonder how many more years they will be able to keep it on the shelf.

I speak of Mystery and Manners the collection of essays by Flannery O'Conner published posthumously.  I discovered it in the late 80s and through the decade of the 90s I had it checked out so many times it began to feel like it belonged to me.  It was one of the rare non-fiction book that I would re-read in whole or in part repeatedly, painstakingly copy out quotes and even memorize whole paragraphs.

This book, in conjunction with O'Connor's stories themselves and the Janet Burroway textbook on fiction writing which I discovered in its 2nd edition around the same time, I credit with giving me the conscious vision for my own stories.  Or maybe O'Connor gave me the vision and Burroway gave me the tools of technique but at any rate, my own Fruits of the Spirit storyworld was born around this same time and under the influence of Burroway and O'Conner.

Altho a few of the stories had existed in one form or another before that it was while absorbing those two books that I conceived the storyworld in which the existing stories coexisted and the characters began walking in and out of each other's stories and proliferating into the past and the future all woven together by the theme of the fruits of the spirit--love, joy, peace, faith, hope, patience, tolerance, mercy, grace, and so forth.

Sometimes I have wished I hadn't had that glistening vision then as I've never been able to complete any of the stories to match its jewel like splendor. And of late that original splendor has faded and I despaired of it.  I had been wishing for a couple of years now to get my hand on Mystery and Manners again and see if rereading it might reignite the vision for me but every time I was in Longview either I couldn't get to the library, I forgot to order or look for the book or it wasn't on the shelf.  This time it nearly fell into my hands as I was looking for Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at a Novel.

So far I've only been browsing in the book, flipping through and reading at random, looking for familiar half-remembered quotes and hoping to find a flicker of the flame that once flared in her thoughts for me.  But so far it remains only faint.  I'm in a different place now.  Instead of a decade younger than the Flannery who was writing those essays I'm now nearly two decades older and 1.5 decades older than she ever got to be.  Life has spun me like cotton candy in those years.  And that's had its own effect on my vision.  By which I do not mean eyesight but rather the vision by which I perceive and conceive and cultivate my stories.

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