Jen Michalski is author of the novel The Tide King, winner of the 2012 Big Moose Prize, the short story collections From Here and Close Encounters, and the novella collection Could You Be With Her Now. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww, a co-host of The 510 Readings and the biannual Lit Show, and interviews writers at The Nervous Breakdown. She also is the editor of the anthology City Sages: Baltimore, which Baltimore Magazine called a "Best of Baltimore" in 2010. She lives in Baltimore, MD. She tweets at https://twitter.com/MichalskiJen.
I'm so close to finishing the first draft of my next novel. It's taken almost a year, but I've got 65,000 words that aren't in terrible shape. I know I need to set it aside for a bit before I dive back in. What interested me most, scanning through it last night, was the metatext of my life that ran through the pages. I remember writing page 66 and the ten pages before it on a Sunday night in November, the football game on. Pages 213-219 were written sitting in bed on a Friday night, the first 40 pages written during 3-day span of my residency in Georgia, and some were written the week before my beloved Boston terrier, Shirley, passed away, in early October, and the novel became the last thing on my mind for many weeks.
When I read other people's work, I sometimes think about the subtext. Did the writer go through a terrible divorce, the loss of a child, at the time of writing? Do strange choices of diction offer any clues? Is there a subconscious energy on the page directing the author places they would have not gone, had their own internal circumstances been different? How often has the novel outline we began with ended up somewhere else completely, and how much of that tangent was the influence of our other life, our "real" life, happening off the page?
If I have the patience next time, I'm going to keep a novel journal while I write. Not the normal novel journal, with plot points, research, and character sketches, but more of less a memoir of my life. Perhaps then my own novel will be peeled open to me, its motivations, my demons, in a way I could have never imagined. Writing is therapy, they say.