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Post-partum depression among novelists?

April 28, 2008 |  6:00 am

Tobiaswolff_lat Finishing a novel produces different feelings in different writers, or so three mighty practitioners of the form said Sunday at the L.A. Times Festival of Books.

Jane Smiley confessed to feeling spent, even a bit shaken, after completing the novels "A Thousand Acres" (1991) and "Moo" (1995). 

Smiley's 1988 effort at epic writing, "The Greenlanders," on the other hand, left her feeling so energized that she immediately turned to finish another manuscript she'd set aside.

Ron Carlson was so thoroughly submerged in "Five Skies" (2007), his first novel in three decades (though he produced four short-story collections in the interim), that the experience was perhaps as exhausting as finishing up a quarter of teaching at UC Irvine, where he now co-directs the graduate fiction writing program.

Tobias Wolff, who has written two novels ("Ugly Rumours" and "Old School") and is considered a master of the memoir and short story (including the latest collection, "Our Story Begins"), usually finds himself in a celebratory mood on finishing a work. But he noted that the prolific Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope would finish one book and immediately begin another, adhering to a regimen of writing at least 10,000 words a week.

"If it were me, I'd be at the bar for about a year," Wolff said. Then drolly comparing his output to Trollope's, he added, "You will see there's a flaw in my procedure. It may be the celebration part."

L.A. Times staff writer Susan Salter Reynolds (and moderator of the panel, "Fiction: Serious Prose") also wanted to know their thoughts on the recent flaps about authors who presented elaborate fictions as memoir. (Remember mixed-race author Margaret B. Jones exposed as white writer Margaret Seltzer, who grew up in upper middle class Sherman Oaks, not in a foster family in the 'hood of South Central Los Angeles? And Mischa Defonseca, who admitted that her 1997 book, "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years," was a work of fiction?)

Carlson quipped: "All the dialog in my novel is 100% accurate!"

Wolff opined that perhaps some of the blame can be laid at the feet of gullible audiences. "Imagine their shock" he said of Defonseca's readers' reaction to her confession after believing that "a little girl toddled off into the woods and was raised by wolves."

-- Kristina Lindgren

(photo of Tobias Wolff by Elena Seibert)

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