Kittie Howard


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Vanity Fair and Mary McCarthy's "The Group": Advice for Writers

Vanity Fair, Food & Wine, and Architectural Digest are my magazine treats, when I flop on the sofa and get lost in their pages. "Vassar Unzipped" by Laura Jacobs in the July issue of Vanity Fair, however, had an interesting point I thought would also catch your eye.

Jacobs does a great job of fleshing out backdrop stories surrounding Mary McCarthy's "The Group," her 1933 book about eight Vassar girls that was on The New York Times best seller list for almost three years. And, in the process, Mary McCarthy revolutionized much for female writers.

As Jacobs summarizes her article about McCarthy's career, she writes, "Novelists lift material from life because they must. First novels are invariably autobiographical, which is why second novels are so difficult: the writer needs to recede and let the characters create themselves. McCarthy never learned to back off and loosen her grip." (page 119)

Can you relate to what Jacobs wrote? I know I can. My first novella became more autobiographical than I thought it would. My second novella gave me fits until I instinctively realized I had to let a couple of characters do what they wanted to do. But, if I'd known to back off going into the second novella, I could've saved myself a lot of time and frustration.


18 comments:

Julie Flanders said...

I couldn't help but laugh a little bit about first novels being autobiographical. My life has been stranger than I thought if that is the case with Polar Night. :D
But it's definitely true that as I've re-read my stories I've noticed I added in details from my real life without even really noticing it.

I love Vanity Fair and am looking forward to reading this article, sounds like a good one.

Inger said...

I read the article too and am not sure I agree with the autobiographical first novel in all instances. However, I have wondered why so many people who wrote wonderful first novels can't seem to follow up more books, just as good. So I'm sure there's something to it for some authors.

Kittie Howard said...

What insightful comments! I was probably too young (or naive) to read "The Group" as well. It was an eye-popper, that's for sure. But, to be honest, I didn't get some of the Vassar innuendos.

I'm shutting down the computer as it's getting late and that storm from Iowa and Chicago will be hitting here soon. We expect outages. Will visit around when I can. Stay safe, everyone! That fire in Colorado is horrible.

Denise Covey said...

Hi Kittie. It's hard not to be autobiographical in our writing, not just first novels. I find too much of myself and my attitude in my flash fiction too. What an insightful article.

mshatch said...

I've written one novel that might be classified as autobiographical (except for the cross country road trip, cute guy, weird aunts, cool car...) but all the rest have been pure fantasy.

Oh, and I do love Arch. Digest. Some of the places they feature are amazing!

Crystal Collier said...

Yeah, it's true--except for my first book I wrote half myself, 1/4 who I wanted to be and 1/4 who I hoped to NEVER become. I find most my characters take a corner of my personality, and have noticed with best sellers like Dean Koontz--who put out book after book after book, they tend to recycle characters. Same personalities, different faces.

Rachel Morgan said...

Hmm, the autobiographical first novel isn't quite true in my case! I think my fourth or fifth novel will have some autobiographical elements...

Sandra said...

Hello Kitty,

Interesting insights, thank you! I will have to keep this in mind for when I write a book one day!

Hope you will be o.k. in the storms.

Thinking of you,

Best wishes Sandra

Norma Beishir said...

My first published novel was definitely NOT autobiographical!

Come to think of it, neither was the first one that didn't get published....

Jim said...

This does sound interesting and makes sense. I would imagine most new writers have only their background/life to fall back on. I would think subsequent works is when they would have to dig really deep to come up with viable/convincing ideas for readers.

Milo James Fowler said...

My work hasn't been autobiographical yet, but I'm sure I'll get there.

Misha Gericke said...

I do. Although my autobiographical tales all fell flat before I finished them.

Not sure what that says about me... ;-)

Tina said...

Well...still writing that first book. I wouldn't say it's autobiographical. Neither of the lead characters is me, though one of the minor ones is an old boyfriend, so maybe that counts ;-) I think she makes a good point though, I'm certainly pouring all of me into this, so not sure what will be left when I'm done.
Thanks so much for your kind and encouraging words today at my place.
Tina @ Life is Good

Ashley Nixon said...

I think I can see this because I know of several instances where I will read first novels and think, "I'm pretty sure the author just inserted themselves in this book." But I don't mind that! It definitely does make for a difficult second book!

Cherie Reich said...

I wish my life was more like my first book. That would be cool! It seems the fourth book I wrote is more me in many ways, but that's okay. It works.

Gina Gao said...

This is something of a problem with me. I tend to write about myself a lot.

www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I suppose we can't help but lend some of our first novel to our own life. The story would have to be meaningful, or why else would we drive ourselves nuts trying to get it down on paper?

William Kendall said...

I've mixed the odd personal quirk or incident into my work- my late brother, for instance, is reflected very much in a character in the first chapter of my book, an archaeological site crew chief.