• Wendy Decker

The Jersey Shore Writers - A Novel Idea by Patricia Florio

I’ve never considered myself an idiot, until recently. For the past two and a half years, I have been struggling to write a novel.

Why a novel, you ask?

I had thought since I’m good at writing memoirs, travel articles, newspaper columns, why not try a novel?

It sounded like a good idea at first. In 2011, I had graduated from Wilkes University with my MFA, neatly tucked under my arm in Creative Writing in the nonfiction genre. Shortly thereafter, I had caught a lucky break when Publisher Phyllis Scott, who had published my short stories, asked if I had a lengthier piece of work. I sent Phyllis My Two Mothers. It was approximately a hundred-page book I had started writing a story about my mother and my Aunt Jennie as my Masters’ Degree project in 2010.

In October of 2010, when the book came out, I was pleased as punch. However, once I began reading, I realized the book was replete with typos. I believed I had written a heart-felt book and my reviews were excellent, but because I hadn’t proofed the book after I sent it over to Phyllis Scott I found numerous errors. I had thought it was her job to make sure everything was perfect. Well, I’m here to tell you, as a writer, it’s your job to clean up your act. I will never be caught with my pants down again. Anyway, I hope that’s true.

On to this novel idea of writing a novel. I borrowed another government loan, signed up again, for another course, even after having received the Masters, MFA, applying for the two-year Masters’ program in fiction. (Overachiever)

What I had forgotten was – schools are great fun and learning for a nontraditional student, but they are businesses, too. With my next loan in place, I began writing my novel, had my mentor all picked out, and off I went into the wild blue yonder, keys clicking, brain churning, and my muse somewhere hiding behind my chair, shaking her head, “No, don’t do it.”

Too late. I was in over my head. If you’ve taken any low residency courses, you’ll understand what I’m about to say: There’s a progression method to their madness, which totally makes sense. You can’t jump over a 501 course or a 502, these are your basic foundations course. Since I had already completed nonfiction second semester, a 510 course, after the residency week, which is as it should be for a nonfiction writer, no one realized, not me or the administration, I had never had any foundation courses in fiction, the very necessary 502 course.

Some of you reading this, might say, “You’re a writer, you should be able to write anything.” Yep, that’s what I thought too.

My whole first year in fiction was an awful experience. My mentor figured I was clueless or thick headed and didn’t get the nuances of fiction writing. I started to believe she was right. Since I’m never at a loss for words, I just kept typing away on the first draft of the novel. Did anything I had created make any sense? Of course, not. But I wrote my little fingers down to the bone and I got nowhere fast.

Maybe this is a warning to anyone who thinks writing a novel is a fun idea. I’m sure everyone believes they have at least one book inside them dying to get out. But back then, sitting at the computer, I soon realized, my one book turned into a thousand pages of what? I don’t even know what to call it. From every point of view, except the point of view that perhaps might sell the book.

As I have said, I don’t give up or give in easy. I’m not about to say “uncle” with a thousand pages written on a subject close to my heart, I had chosen to write a novel about. I’m going to get the first part of the book resolved, approximately a hundred pages; then I’m going to stick with the point of view I’ve selected, right or wrong: third person omniscient; drop some seeds along the way for the reader to think about, as my characters do their acting throughout the novel.

If you have placed yourself in front of a computer, cracked your knuckles, and got on about the business of writing a novel, you will admire all novelists you have read over the years. I know I have a whole different appreciation for the species of novel writers, who aren’t even close to being human.

Last word on writing a novel: flesh out your characters. After a thousand pages, I know these people so well they have come to live in my house, in that very location where my computer sits; I can call on them for anything, and they’ll do exactly what I tell them to do. My kids should have been so well-behaved.

I wish you good luck and good writing. And maybe one day you will spot my name on a book jacket of a novel on the bookshelf at Barnes & Noble. Or maybe I’ll just use a pen name.

P.S. I’m never without Jan Venolia’s book Write Right! It’s been on my desk in the courthouse where I worked as a court reporter and transcriber for over twenty years.

Patricia Florio is a dye-in-the-wool Brooklyn girl, possessed by an East Coast accent and love of Italian everything.  Her memoir My Two Mothers is just a sample of her love for family. She's a two-time winner of the Norman Mailer Society scholarship, who is trying her hand at a novel. Find out more about her on Americanwritersreview.com and patriciaflorio.com 

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