Tess Fragoulis: Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss

Book Cover The Goodtime Girl

Most of the major projects I have undertaken in my writing life have been preceded, if not encouraged, by a sort of blissful ignorance. When I wrote my first book, Stories to Hide from Your Mother, for instance, I had no idea how difficult it would be to create and perfect 14 self-contained worlds, let alone how difficult it would be to sell a collection of stories to a publisher. With Ariadne's Dream, my second book, I was happily unaware of the gargantuan task of keeping all of a novel's details, characters and subplots straight, let alone the sheer laboriousness of reviewing 400 pages at every stage of the publishing process.

Having written and survived one novel, I felt primed to take on another one. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and all that twaddle... But instead of sticking even a little bit closely to what I had just taught myself to do, I chose to burden myself with an extra layer of difficulty without truly understanding what was I was doing. No, I didn't write an entire novel without using the letter "e"—I mean, isn't it challenging enough to tell a great story in beautiful language without excluding five of the last ten words, Monsieur Perec?

Due to that pesky thing called inspiration, which we all know is only 1/10 of the work involved in writing and so can afford to be charming and frivolous, I decided to take on a historical novel set in a time I knew almost nothing about and about which there wasn't much written in English.

My third book, The Goodtime Girl, which is set in Greece and Asia Minor during the 1920s, took about ten years to complete. It's safe to assume that had I known I would spend a decade working on one book, I would have chosen to do something, almost anything, else, like go to med school. In fact, I used to make fun of my novelist friends and their ten year prison sentences, as I called them. But I'd heard a song from the period that intrigued me, and the next thing you know I was researching music, fashion, drug culture and war, then writing character sketches and preliminary chapters, and by the time I realized what I'd gotten myself into, it was too late to bail. I tried, I'll admit, but the story wouldn't let me. The story warned that it would haunt me forever if I tried.

Don't get me wrong, I love all my books like parents love their children, even after the teenaged years. I have no regrets. But I have to wonder, had I known how tough the process between inspiration and publication would be, would I have persisted?

Possibly.

Probably.

Yes.

There really isn't a choice when you have a story in your head that must be told, a story that takes over both your waking and dream worlds, that suggests lines to you when you are about to fall asleep and makes you turn on a light and pick up a notebook, all the while cursing, but also feeling a little exhilarated when the words appear, as if channeled, on the page.

No one ever said literature was easy—it's just worked on until it looks that way. But there's no use thinking about the creation of literature as a chore either, like dusting. In the end, it turns out that a bit of ignorance, willful or pure, is indeed bliss, and perhaps has been vital to my creative development. This bliss allowed me to write three books, each one different and more ambitious than its predecessor, and a fourth (yes, difficult-to-sell short stories) is almost finished. As for the fifth, though I have sworn up and down over the last decade that I will never ever write another historical novel, the other day a reader asked me whether I was going to write a sequel to The Goodtime Girl, set in another place, another time. I have to admit I'm considering it.

It has to be easier the second time around, right?

Tess Fragoulis

Tess Fragoulis’ first book, Stories to Hide from Your Mother, was nominated for the Quebec Writer’s Federation Best First Book Award.  Her novel, Ariadne’s Dream, was nominated for the 2003 IMPAC International Dublin Literary Prize, and received an honourable mention for the Books in Canada/Amazon First Novel Award.  She edited Musings: An Anthology of Greek-Canadian Literature and has published widely in literary journals. She has also written for film, television, radio and newspapers in Canada. Her latest novel, The Goodtime Girl, was published in Canada by Cormorant Books in Spring 2012, and will be published in Greece by Psichogios Publications in Fall 2012.

August 28, 2012
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