THE COVE by Ron Rash
me, writing novels involves two kinds of revision. After a few early
drafts to create some sort of narrative, I turn my focus to language.
Much of what I’m doing is, as Flannery O’Connor so memorably put it,
like picking ticks off a dog—cutting dangling prepositional phrases, and
stage-direction adverbs and adjectives, replacing verbs of being with
less comatose verbs. In my final revisions I turn almost solely to
sound, how the consonants and vowels interact within paragraphs and
sentences, the interplay of stressed and unstressed syllables.
Yet there is another type of revision, a re-vision, that is
equally crucial. Every novel I’ve written has begun with a single image
that I could not get out of my mind. In Saints at the River this
image was a child’s face gazing up through water, in Serena a
woman astride a huge white horse. The image that inspires my novel is
always included in the final version, though sometimes it may be two
pages or two hundred before it appears, and, because I never have an
outline or conclusion, after a year or so I always reach a point where
the novel stalls. Something important to the story is missing, I know,
but just what that is I do not know.
There are certain lies that writers tell themselves to keep going, and
one I make myself believe is akin to what Michelangelo believed about
the uncut block of marble. The completed statue is already inside,
waiting; it is only a matter of finding it. I make myself believe that
since the initial image has imprinted itself so deeply in me, deep
enough that I’ve spent a year of my life writing in response to that
image, that the completed novel already exists. All I have to do is
allow the story to reveal itself. This can take weeks or over a year,
but there always comes a moment--and it is a moment—when the missing
part comes clear.
THE COVE began with the image of a young woman peering through the
branches of a rhododendron bush and seeing a bedraggled man playing a
beautiful silver flute. The image arose from research I had done, so I
knew the year was 1918 and that the man was a fugitive. After a year,
the novel flatlined, and for almost another year I could find no way to
resuscitate it. Four more times I abandoned the story as a lost cause,
but each time, after a couple of weeks, I went back to it. Finally, two
years in, I realized what was wrong—the novel was ultimately Laurel’s
story, not Walter’s. Furthermore, Chauncey Feith, who’d been a minor
figure, became a major character. Only then did the story come alive. I
cut a hundred pages and added fifty more. The novel I had been waiting
for finally, finally emerged.
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