Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Slow Lit

By Joanna Biggar

Part three of the ASP ( series. Biggar is the author of That Paris Year, the second title released by Alan Squire Press. Join her and other ASP authors for a book launch event on Friday at The Writer’s Center.

Now that revolutionary trends seem to be found in the slow lane, as in the ‘Slow Food Movement,’ I’d like to take a counter-cultural stand for Slow Lit. In an age of Facebook postings, blogs, tweets, e-books and literary twitchings of every sort (and I plead guilty to all of the above), I am deeply pleased to have come out with That Paris Year, a novel that is ‘wrong’ on all those counts.

First of all, it is long – over 400 pages. It is complex. Not only does it have five main characters, five young women who travel to Paris together to study at the Sorbonne, but also a collage of supporting characters, French and American, and it takes place in many locations. It unfolds in one time period, 1962-63, as seen through the lens of another, a decade later. It also attempts to explore ideas – the way travel, close relationships, and love shape identity; the way memory distorts through time – and express them as much through carefully crafted language as through plot.

Moreover, it is physically beautiful. At a time when books are being reduced to cyber-print, Alan Squire Publications ran in the other direction. The richly colored cover, done by artist Greg Robison, well-known to The Writer’s Center, is a thing of beauty. The fonts, print size, heavy paper, the artisanship of the designer and printer all contributed to making it a “real book.” As a bookseller at Book Passage in San Francisco said to me, “You just don’t see books made like this any more.”

But one reason above all others qualifies my novel as Slow Lit: It took thirty years to write. For those who are not yet thirty, this may be hard to grasp. But for those who have hit that landmark and then some, as well as for other writers of fiction, this may be understandable. On the far end of that divide, I once had some time to work on this story, loosely based on experience, but not the writing experience to pull it off. Then I got busy: working, traveling, marriage, three kids, teaching at The Writer’s Center at night. Through all that, I couldn’t ever find the time to “sink into” the book that it required. But I had become a writer.

Then, toward the other end of the thirty years, I found the time and threw myself into the work of writing the story I had carried in my head for so long. Like much that is slow, it was a rich and rewarding experience. I’m glad, too, that it had so long to marinate, for if I had waited until I “knew better,” I probably wouldn’t have dared to undertake a project so complicated, so “old-school.” It wouldn’t have been nearly so much fun to write, and I hope, to read. And I certainly wouldn’t have dared envision the sequels, which I’m already at work on – albeit, not quite so slowly.      

Joanna Biggar is a writer, journalist, and teacher who has published fiction, poetry, personal and travel essays and hundreds of feature articles for newspapers and magazines.
She's traveled solo in the most remote corners of China, chaired a school board in Ghana, worked as a journalist in Washington, DC, and taught school kids in Oakland, California, where she lives. She is married, has five adult children, and six grandchildren who love books. A member of the Society of Women Geographers, the author’s special places of the heart remain France and the California coast.

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