Process, Time, Prague

July 5, 2010 — Leave a comment

I’m in Prague. Just before dawn there was a wicked lightning storm that took place, I believe, right over my apartment building. I got up to close the downstairs windows and unplug my computer, and across the street several of my neighbors were up too. I spied one neighbor from behind, in his green briefs, pulled just a bit below the tan line. Another was in her regular spot at her computer, visible through thin curtains. Had they been up all night, or were they, too, woken by the storm, battening down the hatch?

Dawn comes early here. At about 5:00, the sun shines like a searchlight through the open, screenless balcony door and fills the bedroom where my daughter sleeps beside me. By 7 or 8, the brightest light has passed, and we get another hour’s sleep.

Jan Neruda's home on Nerudova in Mala Strana, the subject of his writings. Pablo Neruda took his last name.

This city is part of my writer’s journey. Many years ago I visited it with a friend who was living in Berlin at the time. It was spring break, I was in grad school. When I returned, I wrote a short story about a woman who goes to Prague and takes a tour of the Jewish Ghetto, Josefov. In 14 pages I introduced four characters — the protagonist, her friend she was traveling with, her ex-boyfriend, and her tour guide — and nothing happened other than she made it half-way through the tour. So I kept writing, attempting to both learn about my characters and develop a plot.

I researched Prague. I returned to Prague. Repeat. I learned why most first novels are autobiographical. You don’t need a passport or a grant to return to your memories. You speak your own language.

My daughter is an only child. Before my husband and I even got married, people wondered when we would have children. When we’re 30, we’d say. Maybe. Before our daughter was even out of the womb (well before I was 30, btw), people were asking when we’d have another child. They kept asking until she was 5 or 6 or 7. Then one day they stopped.

A similar thing has happened with this novel. I’ve been writing it for years, and people always (kindly) wanted to know how it was going, had I finished it yet? Fine. No. Fine. No. Then I “finished” it for my dissertation and got a job, packed up the family, and moved to the next state over. How was the novel? Was it finished now? Fine. No. Then it was the summer after my first year as a professor, then the next, then, finally, people stopped asking. In the meantime, I finished my story collection, which is coming out next year, I wrote a novella, which I’ve begun to send out, and have two other projects brewing.

At different times I’ve wondered if this novel would be one of those that just becomes part of the writer’s narrative: the bad novel that never gets published but had to be written so she could move on. But it’s not. It’s a good novel, and I’m ready to finish it.

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